Sixty years ago a delightful gang of kids romped across movie screens
accompanied in their antics by their faithful dog Petey, a sturdy white pooch with a colored patch over one eye. Petey performed
a remarkable array of tricks to help the kids in and out of scrapes -- all in all, he was the consummate childrens' pet.
The original Petey was Lucenay's Peter, a purebred dog registered as
an American Pit Bull Terrier with the United Kennel Club and as one of the 50 original Staffordshire Terriers accepted into
the American Kennel Club. Whichever breed name is claimed for Petey, one thing is certain; today this dog could not be kept
within many city limits without facing arrest and euthanasia. American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers,
and Staffordshire Bull Terriers are outlaws by city ordinance as vicious dogs.
The American Pit Bull Terrier has a long history as a dog of the common
man, and it is from his basic stock that the AKC's AmStaffs and Staffs developed.
In 1835 the British Parliament outlawed bull baiting, a sadistic gambling
game in which bulldogs were used to attack and harass bulls brought to market with the dubious intention of tenderizing the
meat. The dog would assault the bull, avoid the stomping hooves and slashing horns, grab a tender nose or ear, and hang on
until the bull collapsed. Commoners and royalty alike sought diversion from the violence and diseases of their day by attending
these bloody spectacles until a public outcry forced Parliament to take a stand.
Once bull baiting was banned, dog breeders who appreciated the fierceness,
courage, and tenacity of the bull dogs turned their attentions to breeding dogs for dog fighting. They began with the bull
dog, mixed in some terrier blood, and produced the Bull and Terrier, a dog that met all of their expectations. The Bull and
Terrier was bred for aggression to other dogs, unrelenting bravery, a high pain threshold, a willingness to fight to the end,
and an affection for people.
Bull and Terrier dogs came to the US in the early 1800s as all-around
farm dogs and frontier guardians. Samuel Clemons featured a pup of this breed in his short book The Celebrated Jumping Frog
of Calaveras County.
The United Kennel Club recognized the Bull and Terrier Dog as the American
Pit Bull Terrier in 1898. Buster Brown shoes put its mascot in every shoe with the image of Tige, an American Pit Bull Terrier,
to enhance its image as a sturdy, dependable shoe. RCA used Nipper, a pit bull of unknown ancestry, to illustrate the clarity
of sound emanating from its phonograph -- after all, it could fool the loyal pit bull into thinking he heard "his master's
voice" in person. The breed was used to illustrate American neutrality without fear in 1914, the toughness of Levi jeans,
and as a"defender of Old Glory."
The AKC eschewed breeds called "pit bulls" until 1936, when it recognized
the American Pit Bull Terrier under the alias Staffordshire Terrier, named after the miners of Staffordshire, England, who
had a hand in developing the breed for the fighting pit. The name was changed in 1972 to the American Staffordshire Terrier
to distinguish the breed from the Staffordshire Bull Terrier of England, the ancestor of the American dogs, which was recognized
by AKC in 1974. The British version of the dog is 14-16 inches tall and weighs up to 45 pounds. The American cousin is 18-19
inches tall and weighs up to 80 pounds. UKC's American Pit Bull Terrier is preferred to range from 30-60 pounds with females
generally, but not necessarily, smaller than males.
Staffs, AmStaffs, and APBTs produced by responsible breeders are bred
for temperament. Many dogs of these breeds are therapy dogs; some do quite well in obedience, and one -- Bandog Dread HIC,
VB, SchH 1, CD -- even has a herding title. Another, Solomon J. Grundy, is a service dog for quadriplegic owner Arvid Kuhnle
of Saskatoon, Canada, and Bullitt, was shown on the 1985 Easter Seals poster with his owner, Gordy Ranberg of Genesee, Michigan.
So what happened?
The American Pit Bull Terrier and its AKC cousins had a well- deserved
reputation as a loyal and trustworthy family pet in the early years of this century, but of late has been severely castigated
as a vicious, man-killing beast, worthy of banishment from the cities, considered guilty with no chance of proving innocence
in any case.
"Pit bull" is a generic and derogatory term that encompasses any of several
breeds of dogs or crosses on those breeds. Pit Bull fanciers can be divided into several camps: conscientious breeders of
the AKC-registered duo who often deny kinship of their dogs with the APBT; ethical breeders of the APBT who face squarely
the slander heaped upon them by ignorant neighbors; and unethical breeders of all three breeds who still indulge in dog fighting
or promote aggressive temperaments for illegal purposes. Dog fighting rings still exist--it's only been a few years since
a ring with national ties was busted in New Richmond and Blanchester, Ohio--and inner city drug dealers often use the dogs
to guard their drug supplies and cash.
To further complicate matters, those who still breed for fighting are
not as careful to preserve the dog's strong instinct to bond with humans as the early breeders did. So, today "pit bull" is
a pejorative term that strikes fear in the hearts of many and leads to the spreading of urban legends about dogs with locking
jaws that exert 20 thousand pounds of pressure, unstable breed temperament, and overwhelming human aggression.
In fact, the well-bred American Pit Bull Terrier is a family guardian
and protector; an intelligent and obedient pet; a sweet, even-tempered dog that serves well as a help-mate to handicapped
owner and friend to small children; and a healthy, hardy dog that complains little and offers much to his family.
Unfortunately, it has been more important for legislators in many jurisdictions
to prove to constituents that they have "done something" about community problems. Spurred on by media accounts of "pit bull"
attacks described in lurid detail, these councils and commissioners have banned pit bulls in all their forms from their communities.
Never mind that the owners are the ones at fault for harboring a vicious dog; never mind that few of these dogs actually bite
people; never mind that the breed and its crosses are not always easy to identify. Just ban them.
So, many shelters do not offer pit bulls or any dog that might be part
pit bull to be adopted. Insurance companies cancel house insurance if a pit bull is in residence. Neighbors mistake everything
from Boxers to Pugs as "pit bulls". And those criminals who used pit bulls as protectors of their illegal activities switched
to Akitas or Rottweilers. The truth is dogs no matter what breed can make wonderful pets in the hands of a responsible owner.