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What is it About Pit Bulls?

Misunderstood dogs face uphill battle to change public perception

By: Rose Frosek

Last Updated:

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Photographed by Bethany Obrecht

Pit Bull. Two simple words, but so very charged, the reaction
to which varies wildly. There are their fearful detractors, those
who would have them demonized, having fallen prey to the dogs’
misrepresentation in the media. And then there are their champions,
who are struggling to change the tide of public opinion.
“Pit Bull” is, in fact, a loose term for many distinct “bully”
breed dogs, such as the American Staffordshire Terrier, the
American Pit Bull Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. There
is a general misunderstanding of the nature of
dogs that fall into the Pit Bull camp, one that
can be blamed largely on the sad fact that any
aggressive attack is often inaccurately blamed
on the scapegoated Pit Bull with little concern
as to the offender’s actual breed. According to
testing by The National Canine Temperament
Testing Association, the Golden Retriever, Poodle, Border Collie,
English Setter, and numerous other breeds are considered more
likely to become aggressive than the breeds commonly referred to
as Pit Bulls. While the average score of the 231 breeds tested was
a mere 82.4 percent, Pit Bulls scored a 86.5 percent (the higher
the score the better).

In truth, bully breeds are goofy, loyal, lovey dogs, by and large
fantastic with children. In the UK, they were known as “nanny”
dogs, and many Victorian illustrations of family life portray
a sweet Pit Bull-type dog overseeing his chubby, beribboned

Yes, this personable package comes wrapped in a powerhouse
of a body, one that historically was bred for the cruel blood sport
of dog fighting, but these dogs are anything but mean by nature.
Sure, some, if left unchecked, have more of a tendency toward
dog-aggression than, say, the average affable Labrador Retriever
does, but if ever there was a testament to the
underlying sweet nature of these dogs, it is seen
in the rehabilitation stories of the Pit Bulls seized
from Bad Newz Kennels, the Virginia dogfighting
ring that was run by NFL quarterback Michael

Subject to some of the worst humanity has
to offer, these were dogs that were caged or chained alone in the
woods, tortured, and forced to fight, the torn-apart losers of the
battles callously dumped in mass graves, the females tethered to
rape tables. And yet, thanks to public outcry and an unprecedented
ruling by the judge overseeing the Vick case, nearly $1 million
was put aside for the rescue and rehabilitation of these dogs. With
the help of a great many caring individuals and organizations
who were unwilling to see them put down after having suffered only abuse at the hands of humans, these
former dog-ring fighters have now been
adopted into homes with other dogs, and
are volunteering in elder-care facilities
and schools to help children learn to read.

Hector, one of the Bad Newz victims,
bears deep scars on his chest. He
was adopted by Roo Yori, best known
as the guardian of Wallace the Pit Bill,
a national flying-disc champ (see the
Summer 2010 issue of Modern Dog for
photos of Wallace and his high-flying
Frisbee grabs). Hector is now ensconced
in the Yori household, where he happily
shares a home with Yori, his wife,
Clara, and Wallace, as well as a Rat
Terrier named Scooby, Angus, a black
Lab mix, and Mindy Lou, a toy Australian
Shepherd. What better testament to the
forgiving nature of these animals? As Jim
Gorant, author of The Lost Dogs: Michael
Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and
Redemption (Gotham, 2010) has noted,
“Generalizations and preconceptions are
as unhelpful and counterproductive for
Pit Bulls as they are for people.”

There is much work to do, though, to
change public opinion. Many, many dogs
falling into the Pit Bull camp, lumped
together under this one inaccurate label,
are crowding shelters, their numbers
vast, the available homes few. Moved by
the plight of these dogs, Brooklyn-based
photographer Bethany Obrecht turned her
lens to some of these animals, who hopefully
faced her camera.

Sadly, most of the dogs Obrecht photographed didn’t make it, victims of an overburdened shelter system and an uninformed public. We’re hoping we can change that with a positive public relations campaign taking aim at their misrepresentation and drawing attention to the plight of legion Pit Bull-type dogs in desperate need of a home. Adopt a sweet, goofy, grinning Pit Bull today. We’re willing to bet you won’t regret it.


Last Updated:

By: Rose Frosek
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