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330 pages, Hardcover
First published May 10, 2016
"As long as there are different classes of people, there will be different classes of dogs."Pit bulls have to be the most demonized dog breed of all time.
“What you have to understand,” Jane said, “is that we are now at the point which the very discussion of the problem advances the problem. The term ‘pit bull’ now has so much coin that everyone gets something out of it. Musicians, rappers, politicians, reporters, whoever. Everybody gains something from that term. Except the dogs. They just end up dead.”
The most inconvenient thing about obsessions is that they never announce themselves. One day you make a simple decision to adopt a shelter dog, and the next you find yourself building fences and visiting elderly pet owners in the hospital rooms. Five years later, your whole life has been consumed by the need to understand how the American pit bull became an American bogeyman. What is it about pit bulls that ignites such strong feelings? And what does that mean for us, as a society? The mascot came to be viewed as a monster not because the dogs changed, but because we did. Or, rather, because we failed to.
If I felt any tightness in my chest that day, it arose when I looked at all the children. They were as yet completely unaware of the battles raging over pit bulls in boardrooms, courtrooms, and city halls. They took such luminous pride in their pets, and cling to them as though hanging on for dear life. Would they eventually be told by people who did not know them that there was something ugly and flawed about the dogs they grew up with—the dogs they loved, the dogs that made them feel safe? Would they be scrutinized as possible criminals and treated with suspicion?
“First we damned the dogs called pit bulls with all this scary, incorrect information,” she said. “Then we attached that label to mixed-breed dogs that aren’t even pit bulls. At this point, a pit bull is not even a dog; it’s a social construct! The term has a life of its own. But once you put that label on a dog, then the context of everything it does changes. And if something does wrong, God forbid, it’s the shot heard round the world.”
Pit bulls are not dangerous or safe. Pit bulls aren’t saints or sinners. They are no more or less deserving than others dogs of love and compassion, no more of less deserving of good homes. They didn’t cause society’s ills, nor can their redemption...solve them. There is nothing that needs to be redeemed, anyway; they were never to blame on the first place...there never was a “pit bull problem”. What happened to these animals was a byproduct of human fears, and what humans feared most was one another.
After all we have put them through, maybe it is time to let pit bulls show us who they are, to let them have a part in writing their own stories. Pit bulls are not dogs with an asterisk. Pit bulls are just...dogs.
The lack of a scientific foundation for the claims made about pit bulls in the press, in medical journals, and in courts of law is deeply disturbing. Jeffrey Sacks likened dog bit research to the well-worn joke about the drunk trying to find his keys in a darkened parking lot. Another man comes out, sees the first one crawling around on his knees, and asks what he is doing. The first man says, “I’ve lost my keys. I can’t find them!” The second says, “Well, where were you when you dropped them?” The first points to the far side of the lot and says, “Over there.” “Over there?” the second man says. “Then what are you doing all the way over here?” The first man points up to the streetlamp and replies, “I’m looking where the light is.” (89-90)