Wednesday, June 27, 2012
In the early 20th century German Shepherds were reviled. They were regarded as aggressive, mean and untrustworthy. The mental association of the breed with German Nazis didn’t help its image either. What turned the tide in the negative public perception of this breed was the advent of a nationwide television hero named “Rin Tin Tin.” Suddenly, a breed that was shunned, feared and hated became adored as a family pet and admired for its courage and loyalty.
Every era needs its scapegoat, and so it goes today, with the popular media and even some so-called “dog bloggers” (who really should know better) railing against “pit bulls.”
For decades, one of the most popular types of dog in this country has been the “bully”-type breeds. This type of dog has served as the mascot for the “Little Rascals”, the logo dog for “Target” stores, the dog listening with rapt attention to the RCA Victrola, and the “Spuds Mackenzie” dog in beer commercials. Helen Keller owned a beloved bull terrier. Millions choose dogs of this type when selecting a family dog, and why not? According to aficionados, the Bull Terrier was known in Victorian times in England as the “nanny dog” because it was so reliable with children. Whether the legend about this nickname was true or not, it certainly COULD have been true. Bully breed dogs are smart and loyal and brave, known on many occasions to save the lives of their owners. Just like all dogs of all breeds.
Breeds that are popular tend to be over-represented in shelter statistics and bite statistics. This only means that there are more of them around, not that they are a problem based solely on their type of breed. There are a lot of Chihuahuas in shelters too, and they figure way up at the top of the list for dog bites as well. The most pressing concern about dog bites is the risk of rabies, and that risk is the same regardless of whether the bite came from a bulldog or a Chihuahua.
It's amazing that people who would be immediately offended if a human racial slur was slung are so willing to fall into that sort of insulting and ignorant activity when it comes to dog breeds.
Now we are seeing unsubstantiated claims thrown about that “pit bulls” are a large percentage of shelter intakes and deaths. To illustrate the fallacy of this idea, here is a message I just received from a friend of mine in response to an article I posted about shelter stats on our breed club list:
“I am not sure where they get the information on "Pit Bulls" - it seems to me that pretty much anything large can get that designation. A neighbor's AKC Labrador escaped and was impounded. They swore they had not had any Labs brought in, yet there he was. But he was a Pit Bull. Good job she went and checked personally instead of just taking their word for it.”
This is a typical scenario. Shelter workers are conditioned to be disgusted at the sight of “pitbulls” and to watch warily for them at every turn. And all those misidentified dogs are lumped into the statistics claiming that “pit bulls” are rampant in shelters.
The California Federation of Dog Clubs has produced a Breed ID workshop for shelter workers. There is a quiz included with pictures of dogs of many breeds, and quite a few of them look similar to so-called “pit bulls”. In fact, according to the CFoDC, there are 25 purebred breeds that are commonly mistaken for “pit bulls” including Boxers, Rottweilers and (yep) even Labrador retrievers.
Try for yourself and see how easy it is to identify a dog breed just based on appearance alone:
At the risk of sounding trite, how we can treat man's best friend this way? He gives his all for us, and we villainize him, outlaw him, and kill him.