Pit Bulls: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

by Mary Haight on November 21, 2010

The week started with a guest “Cause of the Week” post I wrote for Be The Change for Animals. A Connecticut rescue is working to get pit bulls trained and adopted, requesting  help getting the word out to drive adoptions.  Some shocking statistics underscored the urgency: 1 in 600 pit bulls get adopted. The rest are killed, whether as a matter of animal control policy or BSL. Not even Bad Rap knows who to attribute this stat to, just that it’s oft cited.  But skeptical or not, you know the fate of most pit bulls at animal control facilities and open admission shelters.  News media hysterics and myth unite, making pit bulls an undesirable choice. 

Then a happy story appeared by Examiner Penny Eims of how a neighbor’s two pit bulls saved Buster, a Chihuahua mix, from being an appetizer for a coyote. Out for a potty break, the little dog was snatched from his own yard; the pit bulls gave chase. The coyote gave up his prey and the two pits stood by Buster until help arrived.  There are many stories like this, with pit bulls at the center of heroic deeds, yet they are not reported repeatedly nationwide, as are negative news and stories blaming “pit bulls”  for attacks or fighting only to later say they were wrong about the type of dog involved – when no one is paying attention.

Pit bulls seen in the context of fear comes up even while getting my hair cut – seems I talk dogs everywhere I go – but I know no matter what I say, it won’t make much of a dent in the knee-jerk reactions and fear I see in many. So it was with great consternation that I saw an ugly incident on a TV segment that was supposed to help get dogs adopted.

Allison Payne of WGN was conducting the adopt-a-pet segment, which is usually light-hearted and fun.  Apparently Payne is afraid of pit bulls, so things went south after the guests started talking about the positive history of the breed from WWI hero “Stubby” to the dog on Spanky and Our Gang. Payne seemed to take issue by saying that while the pit bull was once considered an ideal family pet, in the last 20-30 years they have been known as killers.  The reporter stated that her vet told her pit bulls have locking jaws.  After the guest organization attempted to refute that as misinformation, Allison responded that she would be taking her vet’s avice, then added that she would not even pet that dog. Damage done and more than enough said. 

I know in the course of an unscripted television conversation people say things and regret it later.  She may have been nervous just sitting next to the dog.  While I was very upset with the negative and false comments made – ok, I got angry and said so on their website, suggesting that if she is afraid of the dogs, someone else should have done the segment – after reviewing the video, I was somewhat mollified that her tone remained even and calm throughout the interview. At least there was no heat put into the words. Thanks to Steve Dale’s comment on the story I could review the video that got me so riled. I hope Payne questions her sources and personal prejudices, maybe sharing that experience with her audience at some point on another adopt-a-pet segment.

It was a week of pit bull news that ended with a thud, underscoring how and why this dog is always running uphill in the battle for public opinion  – one step forward, two steps back, the dance remains the same.

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