Pit bulls: A harmless breed

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Christine Spain and her dog, Lilly, were walking across some train tracks back in May 2012 when Spain tripped and fell unconscious onto the tracks. The conductor tried to stop the train as he witnessed Lilly attempting to pull her owner out of the way. When the train passed over them, Lilly lay on top of her owner, taking the hit for her.

Even after emergency services got there, Lilly continued to keep watch over her owner, although Lilly was extremely injured and had to have her leg amputated. That heroic dog was a pit bull. This is just one of the many stories all over the Internet about pit bulls rescuing their owners, strangers and even other animals. However, these stories are hardly ever broadcasted on news stations.

Graphic by Jenna Krall

Graphic by Jenna Krall

The media paint a specific picture in the public’s mind about pit bulls. The media want everyone to think of the dogs as vicious, aggressive and dangerous, when in fact, they are just the opposite. Pit bulls are no more dangerous than any other breed of dog.

The American Temperament Test Society recently conducted a study with 122 dog breeds, to test whether the breed could pass a temperament test. Pit bulls gained a high passing rate of 83.9 percent, while  golden retrievers got 83.2 percent and beagles got 78.2 percent.

According to the ATTS, pit bulls always test highly as one of the top five most stable breeds of dogs in the United States.  From personal experience, pit bulls are very patient with children, even when poked and prodded by them.

ATTS said that these temperament tests involve watching how a dog handles unexpected situations, even with strangers. If the dog were to show signs of unprovoked panic or hostility, it would fail the test. The high passing rate of pit bulls proves they are not aggressive or dangerous toward people.

Any dog can become aggressive if treated badly, and I believe that owners need to take more responsibility for their dogs’ actions. All dogs are products of their environment, not their genetics. This means that if you raise your dog right and treat it kindly, it likely will never attack you.

I own a pit bull mix and he turned out just fine, even after an abusive past. He was dumped out of a car when he was just a puppy and even has a scar on his head to prove it. An organization called Bully Nation picked him up, took him in, and we bought him not long after that. The first day that we brought him home, he was actually scared of our cats. That doesn’t sound like a blood-thirsty killer to me.

An article written by Paul Tullis, published in TIME Magazine, called “The Softer Side of Pit Bulls. A reviled breed gets a makeover” discusses that pit bulls are one of the least-wanted and most-euthanized breed of dog in the United States.  I experienced this firsthand when I volunteered at an animal shelter. Just walking down aisle after aisle of dogs without homes can break your heart. If you take the time to read each one of their nameplates, you easily can tell  the majority of those dogs are pit bulls or pit mixes.

Tullis said that at one time an immense number of pit bulls actually were working and service dogs; one served in the battle of Gettysburg, and another was the first U.S. Army dog to be promoted to sergeant.

Pit bulls weren’t always the misunderstood breed that they are today. At one point, bloodhounds and even German shepherds were considered aggressive and unfit for a family. Bloodhounds were thought to be dangerous in the 1800s, because they were used to catch slaves. After World War II, German shepherds also were considered unsafe because they were linked to the Nazis.

Those who say that pit bulls attack without warning fail to understand the reasons that dogs attack. The media always report stories of pit bulls turning on their owners without so much as a second thought. One Kentucky headline from 2012 reads, “Two injured after pit bull attacks owner while driving down the road.” They portray these attacks as unprovoked and malicious. Pit bulls—or any dog for that matter—do not turn on their owners for absolutely no reason. There are always causes. When a dog is aggressive, it could be because of improper handling, poor socialization or training, an owner misreading a dog’s behavior or disease. According to the website The Real Pit Bull, a dog will show warning signs when angry; and when those signs are misinterpreted or ignored, the dog will use its teeth as a last resort. A pit bull with proper training, good socialization and owner responsibility, is highly unlikely to attack another dog or a person.

If people were to accept that pit bulls are no more dangerous than any other breed of dog, then they would understand that the media wrongly manipulate our view of many things by sensationalizing news stories. They also would understand that pit bulls are just like any other dog, capable of loving unconditionally or being aggressive if treated wrongly. Pit bulls are even capable of being heroes, as Lilly was when she sacrificed her own safety and lost a leg for her owner. Lilly is a great representative of the breed, and I hope after reading this, people will see pit bulls in a whole new light.

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