With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

I love history.

Maybe it’s because I’m old (16.75 years!). Maybe it’s because my Dad studied history in college. Or maybe it’s because I giggle when the History Channel comes on TV and Mary Todd Lincoln charges the screen when she hears aircraft (fact).

But there are certain “histories” that I don’t love.

“Historically, pit bulls were bred for fighting.”

We hear this over and over and over again as justification for the different treatment of pit bull dogs. It ranges from the obvious (e.g., “breed” bans, flawed dangerous dog laws, discriminatory insurance companies) to more subtle cases (e.g., shelters who won’t adopt out pit bulls, agencies who require special adoption contracts and/or procedures, therapy dog programs who won’t allow pit bull dogs to participate).

Below are some examples of how “the history of the pit bull” (and the seemingly inevitable conclusion that can be drawn from it) is used to justify discrimination against the dogs in our presence today:

So where is all this coming from? I assumed it was dog fighters. Certainly, there is ample historical evidence of American Pit Bull Terriers being used for fighting and, sadly, no one can deny that, nor can they deny that some dogs today suffer at the hands of criminals.

But below is what renowned American Pit Bull Terrier breeder and former dog fighter Louis Colby said:

"If you mated two champion dogs and harvested a litter of 12 pups, there might be one champion in the group."

(It’s worth noting that “gameness” in the fighting pit and aggression toward dogs are NOT the same thing. But that’s another blog post that would best be written by a dog behaviorist, not the Sarge-ster.)

So if the odds of producing a champion fighting dog are, at best, 1-in-12, then why are we focused on the 0.8% of dogs who might excel in a fighting pit to describe the history of American Pit Bull Terriers – let alone all “pit bull” dogs – today?

Good question.

These days, it seems as though the pit bull advocates themselves are one of the primary sources of this information and hysteria.

I did a Google search of the definition of "pit bull" and "fight" and "rescue." Here’s what I found:

(A high pain tolerance? Rubbish! No science has ever validated that claim, most often used by abusers to justify that pit bulls actually LIKE fighting.)

You can see why the Sarge-ster got confused. Let’s consider for a moment the unintended assumptions embedded in the dog advocates' arguments, which fuels the fire of fear and hysteria (and worse....):

(1) Were all, or even the majority, of American Pit Bull Terriers used for fighting? Or were some of them kept as companion animals, working dogs, or other purposes?

(2) Of the dogs who were intentionally bred for fighting, were ALL of them “successful” as "fighters"?

(3) Most importantly (!) , should we be afraid of "fighting dogs" and condemn them to death, or has experience shown that many victims of cruelty have gone on to be cherished family pets -- and in some instances, members of multi-dog households, or even therapy dogs?


Our inclination to protect the dogs put us all on the same team. But it's time that we realize how some of our words are being used to discriminate against the dogs in our presence today.

More and more, we are seeing mainstream dog owners understanding that regardless of breed or mix of breeds, every dog is an individual. We cannot know or predict anything about how an individual dog will behave based on looks alone. So why rely on old tales from days of yore to describe the dogs in our care today?

Certainly some will argue that such an approach is "naive," or "pollyanna," or "denying the 'traits' that make Pit Bulls' the dogs that they are."

My mind was blown after reading Janis Bradley's article in "The Bark" on breeds and behavior. And I quote:

“If you take more complex behaviors that are actually selected against in the wild, like compulsively fighting other dogs and failing to respond to the doggy body language equivalent of ‘crying uncle,’ for example, your odds of reliably producing the behavior through artificial selection go down dramatically. This explains how so many of the so-called ‘game-bred’ dogs from fight busts (like the ones rescued from Michael Vick’s fighting operation) have gone on to live companionably with other dogs as relative couch potatoes in normal homes.”

As my friend Jim Gorant explained in his book, The Lost Dogs:

“In truth, the pit bull was simply a dog, imbued with all the positive and negative attributes of its kind. Just like any dog, pit bulls could be sweet, friendly, and loving, and they could also be unruly, ill-manned, and prone to doing incredibly stupid things by human standards.”

Last, but not least, I want to close with a quote from someone I've never met, but has been a relentless advocate for the equal treatment of all shelter animals who are the victims of a failed relationship with the humans who domesticated them:

“The past provides lessons on how to harness what is best in humans, as well as how to overcome what is worst, such as the habit of allowing our limited experiences to validate false and misleading dogmas that justify oppression as the inevitable, or natural, state of the world.” - Jennifer Winograd

It's time we stop using the boasts of criminals and the assertions of those "experts" or advocates who believe or embrace them to defend -- and, in essence, to oppress -- the dogs who deserve our unbiased support today.