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There Goes the Neighborhood: The Coming of the Pit Bulls

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Pit Bull

Pit Bull

Where I Live

I am blessed to live in a safe, clean, quiet middle-class neighborhood of well-kept homes. Quite a few of my neighbors are teachers, police officers, and firefighters. It is a peaceful enclave within a big city famous for violence.

Less than a block away from our home sits a substantial and superb public park. It features a fieldhouse with a basketball court, fitness center, and rooms for voting, bingo, Zumba, and other cultural community activities, including those for children and senior citizens. The park encompasses five athletic fields used for baseball, softball, soccer, and flag football. It incorporates tennis courts, a pickleball court, and a children’s playground. In the summer, hundreds of youngsters attend camp outside in the park.

The sidewalk that surrounds the park is frequented by ambulators, joggers, and dog walkers. People socialize, and their dogs do too. I have abided here well-nigh twelve trips around the sun. Up until a couple of years ago, I never saw a Pit Bull in my neighborhood or at the park. The dogs one would encounter would be those typically known as family pets, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, Yorkies and other small terriers. And my Westie and two Collies.

I’ll not forget the first time I saw a Pit Bull being walked around the park. Now I see several of them every day. The invasion of the Pit Bulls has been accompanied by German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and lately, more exotic breeds of aggressive dogs. I have come across Dogo Argentinos, Bull Mastiffs, Cane Corsos, Akitas, and Shar Peis. Many of these are banned in other countries. Pit Bulls are illegal in 39 countries.

Pit Bull

Pit Bull

The Pit Bull

I have many friends back home in the southwestern corner of Michigan who own Pit Bulls. They express great pride in the fact that “He’s never bit anyone.” Of course, that is true because if it had bitten anyone, it would have been euthanized. This reminds me of a friend who lives in the mountains of Washington. He told me one of his worries is that a rattlesnake would kill one of his dogs. I responded by saying I was surprised dogs don't learn to stay away from rattlesnakes, to which he said, "They only meet a rattler once."

I have seen a number of my friends post on Facebook how loving and gentle Pit Bulls are, no different from any other dog, they claim. However, one young man, a former Facebook friend, said if I wrote anything bad about Pit Bulls, he would "slap the dentures out of my mouth." I don't wear dentures, but he made his point.

An article in City Journal, entitled ‘Scared of Pit Bulls: You’d Better Be,’ reports, "Intimidating dogs can impair a neighborhood's quality of life. Dogs bite 5 million Americans every year. Few attacks are fatal, maybe 25 a year, but serious injuries—everything from a shredded arm to severed hands and fractured skulls—continue to rise and now stand at more than a million persons annually—twice as many as 30 years ago. Dog bites are one of the top causes of non-fatal injuries in the nation.

“Children are the most frequent victims, accounting for 60% of dog bites and 80% of dog-bite deaths. Dog attacks are the No. 1 reason children wind up in emergency rooms. Half of all American kids have been bitten. $150 million gets spent yearly treating dog bites, and insurance companies pay out $350 million in dog-bite liability claims.

“Pit Bulls cause most of the nation's dog-bite fatalities and serious injuries. The number of attacks is rising, and Pit Bulls and other dangerous dogs cause understandable unease in public spaces. Pit Bulls can inflict terrible damage because their massive skulls and powerful jaws give them almost super-canine biting power. Intimidating dogs have many residents, especially seniors, living in a state of fear and terror.

“A lot of folks say, ‘All dogs are created equal; different breeds don't have different hereditary characteristics. There is no dog born in this world with a predisposition to aggression.’ But that is not true and dead wrong if we're talking about Pit Bulls. Different breeds have genetic predispositions to certain kinds of behavior. The Pit Bull is an innately aggressive breed and is often owned by someone who wants an aggressive dog.

“Pit Bulls have been bred specifically to be aggressive. They're descended from a tenacious breed used in the brutal sport of bull-baiting, in which rowdy spectators watched dogs tear apart an enraged bull. After that, they became renowned for fighting prowess in organized dogfighting. The Pit-Bull is widely known as ‘the most capable fighting dog known to man.’ The Pit-Bull is first and last a fighting dog. Its breeding history separates it from other tough dogs like Doberman Pinschers and Rottweilers. They are bred to guard their masters and property. Pit Bulls are genetically wired to kill other dogs.

“The Pit Bull's unique breeding history has produced some bizarre behavioral traits. Quicker to anger than most dogs, frighteningly tenacious; their attacks frequently last for 15 minutes or longer, and nothing—hoses, violent blows, or kicks—can stop them. That's because of the third behavioral anomaly: the breed's remarkable insensitivity to pain. Finally, most dogs warn you before they attack, growling or barking to tell you how angry they are. Not the Pit Bull. It attacks without warning and may follow a playful bow with a lethal assault.

“Perhaps we should require the owners of such dogs to keep them muzzled in public, as many countries do with potentially aggressive breeds. A muzzle law is not unduly harsh to the dogs. As for its impact on owners, it might diminish the thrill a tough gets as he parades his Pit Bull down a crowded sidewalk and nervous pedestrians give him a wide berth."

Pit Bull

Pit Bull

It's Not the Dog, It's the Owner

A story in Time magazine caught my eye: “As pit-bull attacks become more and more common, they're getting increasing attention on social media, but not always in support of the wounded children. A Facebook petition to save Mickey, a dangerous pit bull in Phoenix, got over 70,000 likes. Mickey was facing euthanasia for mauling 4-year-old Kevin Vincente so badly that he cracked his jaw, eye socket, and cheekbone. Kevin is facing months of reconstructive surgery, but more people were concerned with saving the dog than helping the boy.”

"Why do herding dogs herd? Why do pointing dogs point? They don't learn that behavior; that's selective behavior," says Colleen Lynn, president and founder of DogsBite.org, a national dog-bite-victims group dedicated to reducing dog attacks. “Pit bulls were specifically bred to go into that pit with incredible aggression and fight.”

Supporters say pit bulls are getting a bad rap. Sara Enos, founder and president of the American Pit Bull Foundation, declares that it's wrong to blame dog attacks on pit bulls because it's the owners who are to blame. "It really boils down to being responsible owners," she said. "Any dog from any breed can be aggressive; it matters how it's treated."

There is a growing backlash against the idea that pit bulls are more violent than other dogs. “There is not any breed of dog that is inherently more dangerous,” said Marcy Setter of the Pit Bull Rescue Center. “That’s simply not true.”

However, even PETA, the largest animal-rights organization in the world, supports breed-specific sterilization for pit bulls. “Pit bulls are a breed-specific problem, so it seems reasonable to target them,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA’s senior vice president of cruelty investigations. “The public is misled to believe that pit bulls are like any other dog. And they just aren’t. These dogs were bred to bait bulls. They were bred to fight each other to the death.”

Even the ASPCA acknowledges on its website that pit bulls are genetically different than other dogs. “Pit bulls have been bred to behave differently during a fight,” it says. “They may not give warning before becoming aggressive, and they’re less likely to back down when clashing with an opponent.”

It is amazing how many owners of Pit Bulls react to fear of their dogs with laughter. “They are just big babies that want to lick you to death.” They find humor in other people’s fear.

Pit Bull owners commonly blame the victim if their dog bites. Fatal maulings are excused because someone coughed, had a seizure, was bouncing in a baby seat, a baby was crying, picked up the dog's ball, or the Pit Bull mistook a woman's ponytail for a rope. What you never see is a headline that reads: "Collie kills baby."

A day after the family's pit bull fatally attacked his six-month pregnant wife, Greg Napora said he doesn't blame the dog. He even plans to bury his spouse, Darla, with their pet's cremated remains in her casket. "They are the most loving animals I have ever had in my life. Whatever happened was not the breed’s fault," said Napora.

There is some truth to the “blame the owners, not the dogs” mantra, it seems. A study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence shows that criminals are far more likely to own a vicious dog breed, especially Pit Bulls. Owners of Pit Bulls averaged ten times the number of criminal convictions as owners of non-vicious breeds. The study, entitled Ownership a Vicious Dogs a Marker for Deviant Behavior, states, "Owners of vicious dogs are more than nine times more likely to have been convicted for a crime involving children, three times more likely to have been convicted of domestic violence, and nearly eight times more likely to be charged with drug crimes than owners of low-risk licensed dogs. Dangerous people are attracted to dangerous dogs. These same people also have a higher likelihood of being irresponsible owners. Pit bulls are the dog of choice for criminals and are often used in drug and gang-related activities. Police officers are frequently forced to shoot dangerous pit bulls when serving search warrants as well.”

Another study, published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, confirmed these statistics and went further, conducting psychological evaluations of dangerous dog breed owners. Psychology Today reports: “A significant difference in criminal behavior was found based on dog ownership type. Owners of high-risk dog breeds were significantly more likely to admit to violent criminal behavior. They reported that they engaged in more types of criminal behavior. In general, high-risk dog breed owners were significantly more likely to engage in sensation-seeking and risky behaviors. As a group, they were also more careless, selfish, and had stronger manipulative tendencies. They also seemed to engage in more self-defeating behaviors than low-risk dog owners. One final distressing finding suggests that the high risk for aggression dog breed owners did not appear to be as well bonded to their dogs as the other dog owners. This conclusion comes from the fact that their attitudes were much more accepting of the maltreatment or abuse of animals than was found for owners of low risk for aggression dog breeds."

Of course, not wanting your daughter to be mauled and disfigured by a Pit Bull has now been called "racist" by the Animal Farm Foundation. An author who agrees writes in her book that there are so many Pit Bulls in animal shelters because of "human ideas about race, class, gender, ability, and species,” and so many are euthanized as "the outcome of every day and sustained collisions of capitalism, anthroparchy, white supremacy, and patriarchy."

Comments

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 07, 2021:

Oscar Jones ~ Thank you for coming back by to tell me about your dog Tundra. She sounds like a great friend and protector.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 06, 2021:

T ~ According to Newsweek everybody should run out and adopt a Pit Bull from the dog pound. They are loaded with them. For some reason. ;)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 06, 2021:

Oscar Jones ~ I thank you for reading my article and for your kind compliments on it. I appreciate your thoughtful insights as well.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 05, 2021:

Barbara Purvis Hunter ~ It is such a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you for reading my article and sharing your thoughts with me (and us).

I wrote about 68 new articles last year and earlier this year when I returned to HubPages after a long absence - six years - during which I wrote four books. And now I am on another run of articles before I hunker down this winter and finish my next book.

I am sorry illness in the family has prevented you from writing. I am sure you miss it. I very much appreciate your blessings, Bobbi. May God bless you and yours.

James

Oscar Jones from Monroeville, Alabama on October 05, 2021:

Now, my ordinarily tame and friendly golden lab mix, named tundra.. she was totally docile with even the little babies... but you let a brown bear or two come alongside the house, alongside the river, wandering off the bear trail and I'm telling ya... she was about to get her some fur! thats what I'm about .. an intelligent, smart, protective, good eating and good to talk to and pet and take up the trail with d. o. g. !

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 05, 2021:

T ~ As always, I sure appreciate you reading my articles. Thank you for your kind compliments on this one. I am well pleased to hear from a former owner of Pit Bulls to understand your first hand experiences. I was very happy to read your advice of how to get a Pit Bull to let go once it latches onto you.

I now carry bear spray every time I walk around the park. Twice I have had to use it, both times on a charging Pit Bull that was off leash, once with no owner in sight, and the other with an old lady who could not control it. It jerked the leash right out of her hand. The bear spray works, for the record.

You also make a fine point about insurance and liability problems.

Oscar Jones from Monroeville, Alabama on October 03, 2021:

I agree with the comment that suggests that the successful raising of a non-violent dog hinges -on the owner being there and being in control of their dog at all times. -- good article.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on October 03, 2021:

Patricia Scott! Great to hear from you. I sure appreciate those angels. Thank you for tasking the time to read my work and you are most welcome.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 02, 2021:

My take on this topic is really it is the owner who will produce a vicious dog, no matter the breed.. Thank you for sharing this detailed look at the pit bull. Angels headed your way this evening. ps

T on October 02, 2021:

Although pit bulls are generally genetically equipped to be exceptionally dangerous if aggressive what do you think about this article, James, that actually cites peer reviewed studies.

https://www.newsweek.com/pit-bull-myths-facts-hist...

Barbara Purvis Hunter from Florida on October 02, 2021:

Hi, I live in a rural area where ever so often neighbors dogs come into my yard. I give them water in the summer time (I never feed them) and then I wave my arms and tell them to go home--and they do--when they have looked around.

My nephew has the sweetest pit bull named Ruby, She has been a love to our family, but she now has cancer and I am afraid she will not be with us long.

I am afraid of other pit bulls I do not know and yes, many dogs can be ferocious--and yes, it is their owners and trainers who are at fault.

My little Pom Sweetie Angel would attack anyone who got near me and he was not trained to do that, but he would also love them after he scared them.

I am happy to see you are writing again--or I missed when you did--my brother-in-law is very ill--so I have not had the time for writing like I should.

Take Care and Blessings to you and your love ones,

Bobbi Purvis

T on October 02, 2021:

Once again your research on a subject is astounding, and inarguably accurate. I like how you give both sides of an issue.

Personally, having adopted a couple pitbulls many years ago (whose ancestry I traced back to one of the most famous fighting dogs in history of the “sport”) I can attest to the accuracy of everything you have presented in your article. I think the biggest deterrent to owning the breed is the financial liability. Any pitbull owner is a target for lawsuits, despite the dog’s temperament.

To understand the breed you need to understand how these dogs were bred for fighting. For example, when these dogs fought their owner had to be able to get in the pit and separate or collect their dog. I read that any dog that showed aggression to humans even in the midst of a fight would be put down and never bred. This is why they generally are great human companions even though they can be hard wired to be dog aggressive.

It is true that once latched on the only reason a pitbull will loosen it’s bite is to get a better grip. They don’t bite and let go. The best way to stop an attack is to grab the dog’s collar or put a stick through it and twist it like a tourniquet. In seconds the dog will be starved of oxygen and collapse and it will not be likely to bite you doing this because they won’t release their grip.

My pitbulls were great pets years ago, raised in a family with four children and died of old age but today I would never own one, it’s just not worth the liability, real or imagined. Many Insurance companies will not insure a home with any of the so-called protective breeds.

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