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The Problematic Portrayal of Pit Bulls

Violet Amezaga | May 29, 2019

When you think of pit bulls, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of that news article you saw about a pit bull hurting a child, or maybe you just dislike them for a reason you can’t quite remember. If this is true, you’re not alone. For many people, their first thought about pit bulls is negative. This breed is particularly subject to discrimination, as they are viewed as the most dangerous breed of dog, and are constantly represented in the media as blood-thirsty and vicious. In reality, pit bulls aren’t at all. Because of these misrepresentations, however, pit bulls are less likely to be adopted from animal shelters or be kept by people wishing to live in bigger cities.

This problem goes far beyond our own perceptions of pit bulls. There is very obvious breed-based discrimination, mostly in the form of breed-specific legislation. “Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals” (ASPCA). These laws are mostly against pit bulls in regard to where they can live and spend time. They make it especially hard for people who move often or live in big cities to adopt and keep their pit bulls. The result is both less pit bulls being adopted, and more being left at the Humane Society.

Pit bulls make up most of the dogs that live at the Humane Society, and it’s very difficult for them to get adopted. Often, even when prospective adopters don’t know exactly what they’re looking for in a dog, they know they don’t want a pit bull of any kind. Many pit bulls coming into the Humane Society have been abused or abandoned. Some come in severely injured, malnourished, or missing limbs. After spending hundreds of hours working with these dogs, I have found that they are all very gentle, kind, and often shy (personal experience from Humane Society volunteering).

If this is the case, why are pit bulls so feared? Their negative reputation is not random or unwarranted. Many things throughout history have lead to these perceptions. The major reason is media. In 1987, the cover of Sports Illustrated titled “BEWARE OF THIS DOG” introduced the pit bull terrier as a dangerous and malicious animal. This was in efforts to promote the sport of dog fighting. Because of the natural build and strength of pit bulls, they began to train pit bulls in order to make them better fighters for the sport. Over the years, pit bulls became more vicious in the eyes of the public, even though only a select few were actually so (Humane Society Volunteer Training).

Nowadays, people fear pit bulls not only because of the aforementioned dog fights, but also how they are portrayed in the modern media. Pit bulls are always shown biting people, mauling them, or hurting small children. These stories can quickly paint a frightening picture in someone’s mind and taint their image of a pit bull.

Pit bulls are not a specific breed, as many believe. Instead, a pit bull is a category of dog, containing many different breeds. The American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and the American bully are all considered pit bulls. This increases the probability of a “pit bull” biting a human because of the large number of dog breeds that fit this classification.

Secondly, if a pit bull bites a dog, the media is a lot more likely to both post an article about it and include the term “pit bull” in the title. According to an article dedicated to whether or not pit bulls are truly dangerous, “There is no definitive source for animal attack statistics, but pit bull fanciers claim that statistics show other breeds of dog bite more frequently—German shepherds lead the list—and accuse the media of publicizing only pit bull maulings. DOG BITES MAN isn't news, they say, but PIT BULL BITES MAN is” (vault). They also sometimes mislabel their articles in order to get more people interested. For example, they may say a pit bull bit someone when really it was a German shepherd. This contributes to the amount negative perceptions of pit bulls, and has to change.

Although this misrepresentation of pit bulls is both overwhelming and seemingly hopeless, there are many things that are being done to protect and help pit bulls around the world. The most important one to me is the work people are doing at the Huron Valley Humane Society to break pit bull stereotypes. The volunteers will bring pit bulls from the shelter to events and parties, and even people who disliked pit bulls before end up changing their minds. The Humane Society has played an enormous part in getting hundreds of pit bulls into loving homes, which is always something to celebrate.

Many initiatives around the world have been taken to help pit bulls, as well. For example, Adam Goldberg, an animal photographer and shelter activist, has created “The Pit Bull Picture Project”. “[He] set out to photograph pitties in a way that would help dismantle untrue negative stereotypes about the dogs, and show off their goofy and lovable side to inspire more adoptions. [...] About 300 pit bulls have been photographed so far for the series, which has received national attention. Most of the subjects are shelter dogs who need homes. ‘When I volunteer at the shelter I ask to only take photos of pit bulls,’ Goldberg said” (Today). This popular project has produced beautiful pictures of pit bulls that shows their gentle and non-threatening personalities. The project is also an example of how the internet can be used as a tool for pit bulls, not as a weapon against them.

In the end, people need to remember is that one pit bull doesn’t represent every pit bull. If one breed of pit bull hurts a human, that doesn’t mean every pit bull is vicious and aggressive. Remembering this will make the biggest difference. We have a long way to go when it comes to pit bulls being safe and cared for. However, with so many efforts in support of pit bulls, I am excited to see how much progress we can make.

Created By
Violet Amezaga
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Created with an image by Shelley Kim - "untitled image"

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