The History of the Pit Bull: Santa Claus Was a Dogfighter


We hear this over and over from politicians looking to pass breed-discriminatory legislation (BSL) to ban pit bulls, and from sensationalist media reporters looking to add shock-value to a news story. The phrase also shows up in almost every piece of legislation banning pit bulls.

But we also hear it from pit bull advocates, rescue groups, and shelter workers.

They say that "the history of the pit bull" requires us to take special precautions when adopting out pit bulls (if they'll even adopt them out), and to make adopters jump through extra hoops to protect the pit bulls from their own special powers. One pit bull rescue in the Midwest even describes pit bulls as "the ultimate canine gladiators" and warns potential adopters that without extensive "knowledge of the breed" and its "superior and specific fighting abilities," the dogs will "become more problems than fun," "destructive and difficult to handle," and "can chew you out of your house!" After all, they say, "there is nothing a Pit Bull cannot do."

The result?

By scaring away or rejecting any adopter who isn't himself a "gladiator" in the market for a mythical beast with supernatural powers, pit bull dogs are killed every day because no one could possibly be skilled enough to adopt one.

After all, "the history of the pit bull" has proven that these dogs are, in fact, unlike any other dog, and it takes a VERY special kind of warrior to own one.

But is that really the only thing history has showed us?

Today I found a 1933 issue of The Times-Picayune from New Orleans, Louisiana. Back then, the newspaper had a kids' section called "The Young People's Paper," where kids could letters to a fictitious "Aunt Jane," and Aunt Jane would print their letters along with her responses.

On January 1, 1933, a little girl from New Orleans wrote a letter on behalf of her beloved pet dog named Bullie.....who happened to be a pit bull! She talks about her pit bull's dog friends. And she even describes the Christmas presents that Santa Claus brought to her pit bull (which begs the question......was Santa fighting dogs? Oh, Santa! Please, don't tell me Rudolph was a bait reindeer!).

Since the photo is so small, I transcribed her letter for everyone to read (see below).

Why do I love this? Because it illustrates "the history of the pit bull" that got left out of the conversation. Pit bulls were/are/will be cherished family pets, even though a small minority of the dogs were/are/will be exploited for dogfighting and become victims of cruelty at the hands of human beings.

Whether you're a politician looking to ban pit bulls or a pit bull advocate trying to get them adopted, may you never forget that the history of the pit bull is as diverse as the dogs themselves. And may animal advocates never again cause a homeless dog to be killed because of their narrow version of "the history of the pit bull."

Dear Aunt Jane:

Bow-wow! Woof-woof! Oh, I did not mean to frighten you, Aunt Jane, but may dogs become members of your club? Yes? Oh, how proud I am! And do you send dogs club pins? I suppose it seems funny that I should be able to wear it, but that jolly old man whom they call Santa Claus may bring me a collar and a chain for Christmas, so you see I could wear it on that. Then, when I go to see some of my dog friends, I will be ever so proud to say I belong to Aunt Jane's Letter Club, and of course, they would see my club pin, which I'm sure they would like.

I think now it is about time to describe myself. I am a pit bull, and my name is Bullie. I have what my mistress calls lovely fur. It is brown, black and white. My ears stick straight up in the air. I don't suppose that anyone likes naughty dogs, but if I do have to say so myself, I am a very naughty one sometimes. I bark and bark until someone has to call me to stop. Don't you know that for dogs, barking is a pleasure as singing is to people?

Let me tell you one of my adventures.

Now I am quite a large dog, but when I was a puppy, I was so small that you could stick me in your coat pocket. I was taken out in a very large thing called an automobile, and where do you think we rode to? Right straight to Audubon Park. Of course, dogs are not allowed in the park, but I was allowed to play on the outer edge in the grass. I played ball and played with sticks. Don't you think that's an adventure for a little dog, Aunt Jane?

Well, I must run away and bark a little while now. I will close hoping to become a dog member of your club. Please tell all the dog cousins who have pets to write to 'BULLIE,' care of Elizabeth Irons, 4521 Perrier, New Orleans.