Looking Beyond Appearances


Breaking Down the Misconceptions Surrounding the Pit Bull “Breed”

There are many different stigmas and stereotypes around the Pit Bull breed in society today. They are said to be the most vicious breed, constantly ranking in the number one for dog attacks. Press accounts dating back to 1982 have tied the American Pit Bull Terrier to 3,397 human attacks, ranking them in the top 5 percent of dog attacks. The average number of Pit Bull attacks is about 106 per year, which is significantly higher than all other dog breeds.grc_3045

The issue with these statistics is that Pit Bull is not a breed. American Pit Bull Terrier is a breed, but it is so often mixed with other dog breeds that there are not pure American Pit Bull Terriers practically anywhere. Pit Bull is no longer a breed, but an appearance. Stephanie Filer, the manager of special gifts and partnerships at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa had a lot of insight on the subject, “The term “pit bull” is a slang term for a grouping of dogs that have strong bodies and blocky heads, but it can represent up to 23 breeds.”

Filer has worked with the ARL for almost six years and has seen a lot dogs, cats, gerbils, and so on come through the doors of the shelter. She may not always work hands on with the animals, but being a part of the ARL team she knows a great deal about them. Filer had a lot to share on the subject of Pit Bulls and the grouping of dogs that fit that appearance, “We’ve found recently that the fear and stereotypes are way less than what they used to be. A lot of people have either had a positive experience with a dog that looks like a pit bull, or they have a family member that has one, or they have had one themselves as a child.”

The ARL usually has a lot of dogs up for adoption that fit the appearance and description of a Pit Bull, so if people are warming up to them why are they still populating the shelters? “Pit Bulls are currently the fifth most popular family dogs in Iowa, so they’re everywhere, which is why you see so many in the shelter because our shelter always represents dogs that are popular in the community,” says Filer.

The temperament of a dog is purely nature versus nurture. “How a dog acts, and how people act, is a product of nature and nurture. Their experiences can be the same, or different, but how they react to those experiences is always different to that individual dog,” Filer says, “A dog is a dog, and every dog is an individual.” When twins are born they do not share all of the exact same personality characteristics, just because one twin is normally talkative and outgoing does mean the other will behave the exact same way. Twins may look the same but they are still individual people who act differently, the same applies to dogs.

Pit Bulls are generally kind, sweet and very loving dogs considering they are just dogs, like any other breed. However, because of their brute strength and look, many people have trained them as fighters. This has caused the group of dogs that have a certain appearance to obtain a very negative reputation. The nurture of this situation has created a terrible experience for the dogs involved and thus they may react differently, solely based off of their environment, not their DNA. Also, there is considerable evidence that owners of Pit Bulls and other high-risk dogs are high-risk people themselves. Owners of vicious dogs were significantly more likely to have criminal convictions for aggressive crimes, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, crimes involving children and firearms.

grc_3032The discrimination against what people think is a breed is stemming from an appearance that a group of dogs have, and it is a large group. Like Filer stated, the look of a strong body and blocky head can represent up to 23 different dog breeds. “Why are we regulating these dogs based on how they look and not on how they act?” Filer says. She complains that the issue here is that a dog is a dog, whether you know the breed of your dog or not, that should not change the way you classify it. Just because your dog is a certain breed does not mean it will behave a certain way. Filer talked about how the ARL focuses more on a dog’s personality when matching up families with furry friends.

Sue Torres is the author of Loyalty Unleashed: Pit Bulls and the People Who Love Them and in her book she describes her journey with a rescue pit bull that changed her life and she also wrote the book to educate, promote shelter adoptions, and with the hope that individuals and families looking to adopt a dog will look beyond the myths and the stereotypes and give a homeless pit bull a chance. “I have had some amazing dogs in my life but my first pit bull, Mickey, is the most loving dog of all,” Torres says on her website.

Cesar Millan is a dog behaviorist and is well known for his show Dog Whisperer; he wrote an article titled: Why I love pit bulls, in which he says, “Dogs of every breed do good things and bad things. If a dog poops in your yard, do you care whether it was a pit bull or a poodle? You just don’t want poop in your yard. Dogs, and especially dog owners, should be held accountable for their actions — for their deeds, not their breeds.” To group and discriminate against a breed based off the actions of one, or a few dogs, is the same as discriminating against a group of people. Dogs, like people, have individual personalities and traits that make them special, no matter the breed. “A dog is a dog,” Millan says.

grc_3114Although people are becoming more and more aware that Pit Bulls are actually great companions, there is still a lot of backlash against the dogs of this appearance, including regulations against them. Many shelters are forced to label their dogs that appear to be Pit Bull as other breeds just so they can be adopted. The main thing to focus on when considering dog adoption is the personality; most shelters will provide biographies and background information about each dog describing their personality and what kind of family they would fit well with. It is important to look beyond appearances and see a dog for the individual they are.