Pit bull owners ::

Studies show that pit bull owners employ strategies to disguise the true nature of the breed by engaging in distortions, denial and overcompensation and by projecting blame after attacks.

Not normal dog owners

To understand the experience of owning a negatively perceived dog, Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy did a case study on pit bull owners that was published in 2000. Researchers found that with "outlaw" breeds, such as pit bulls, the human-dog relationship is sociologically more complex than previously known. Owners of pit bulls, they discovered, directly feel the stigma targeted at their breed and resort to various tactics to mitigate it. These strategies included:

"passing their dogs as breeds other than pit bulls, denying that their behavior is biologically determined, debunking adverse media coverage, using humor, emphasizing counter-stereotypical behavior, avoiding stereotypical equipment or accessories, taking preventive measures, or becoming breed ambassadors."1

The study is sympathetic to pit bull owners and makes unsourced claims, but does show the basis of pro-pit bull propaganda. Strategies identified by the researchers are the same strategies employed by pro-pit bull groups to stop a municipality from enacting a pit bull law. For instance, pit bull advocates will claim that a pit bull cannot be identified, that there is a media conspiracy against pit bulls and that pit bulls are "really nice dogs" that only want to "lick you to death."

Disguise breed name

As identified in the Tufts study, pit bull owners frequently pass their dogs off as other breeds to diminish a perceived stigma. They also lie about their dog's breed to confuse the public about the pit bull breed and to evade breed-specific laws. For instance, a pit bull owner might mislabel his dog as a bulldog, boxer-mix or lab-mix after a pit bull law goes into effect. Animal groups, however, are the guiltiest in creating confusion about the breed. This began in earnest in the mid 1930s.

  • In 1936, the American Kennel Club (AKC) formally recognized the pit bull breed, but only under the name Staffordshire terrier. This was done to distance the breed from its continued use in dogfighting. Thus, the dog breed that descended from bull baiting and dogfighting, the pit bull terrier, began being registered under two names.2
  • By 1936, the United Kennel Club (UKC) had already recognized the American pit bull terrier for nearly 40-years. Hence, the original AKC registered Staffordshire terriers all came from UKC stock including champion fighting bloodlines.3 Cross-registering pit bulls at both registries under different names continues today.4
  • Prior to the UKC's formal recognition of the breed in 1898,5 and in some regions until decades after, the pit bull breed was called a variety names including: pit dog, bull terrier, bull pit terrier, pit terrier, pit bull terrier, simply "bulldog," and according to the AKC's American Staffordshire page, American bull terrier and Yankee terrier.
  • In 1972, the AKC renamed the breed to American Staffordshire terrier to distinguish it from the Staffordshire bull terrier -- a dog breed also included in the pit bull class of dogs. Today, shelters often use the American Staffordshire name when adopting out pit bulls to the public to mask the breed's less palatable name, pit bull terrier.6
  • In 1996, the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals renamed pit bulls to St. Francis terriers. Again, the hope was to make the pit bull breed more adoptable to the public. After much screening, about 60 pit bulls were placed. The program was suspended after several of the re-dubbed pit bulls killed cats.7
  • In 2004, while serving as the director of New York City Animal Care and Control, Ed Boks attempted to rename pit bulls to New Yorkies, also in hopes of making the breed more adoptable to members of the public. Boks' renaming attempt was unsuccessful, as was his tenure in New York, which only lasted from 2003-2005.8
  • Meanwhile, dogfighters and pit bull "experts" historically and presently refer to pit bulls simply as "bulldogs." The American bulldog, derived from the same gene pool as the pit bull, is still unrecognized by the AKC and was only recognized by the UKC in 1999.9 The breed was also called the American pit bulldog up until the 1970s.10

The many names of the pit bull over the course of history is why breed-specific legislation defines the pit bull as a "class of dogs" that includes the following breeds and their mixes: American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier and American bulldog.11 Despite attempts by pit bull owners, animal welfare groups and dogfighters to obscure the name of the pit bull breed, well-written breed-specific laws always encapsulate the many names of the breed.

"Don't blame the dog" logic

Pit bull owners frequently blame the "environment" after a pit bull seriously injures a person. A participant in the Tufts study illustrates this clearly, "If you get some kid that has been beaten all his life, he's going to go out and be aggressive towards people."12 The intention is to assert that an aggressive pit bull must have been beaten or taught to attack by their owners instead of admitting to the genetic traits that define the breed (See: Why do people say that pit bulls "don't let go?")

Pit bull owners frequently direct blame onto victims after an attack too. While "blaming the victim" is a universal phenomenon, pit bull owners do so offensively. The instance involving Wendy Blevins, who DogsBite.org awarded 2008 Victims Advocate of the Year, is an excellent example. After Tina Agerson's pit bull casually walked up to Wendy and her daughter and latched onto the child's head, Wendy immediately straddled the attacking dog and pulled it off Charlotte.

As blood flew everywhere, Agerson stood by and watched. She later said that Wendy "blocked" her from getting her dog. In a subsequent blog post about the incident, a pit bull advocate left a comment asking why Wendy did not have insurance to cover her child's medical bills, which surpassed $110,000 in 30 days. First, Wendy was insured; second, the commenter blamed the victim for being unable to pay these bills after "someone else's dog" nearly killed her child.

In a separate incident, a victim with a history of seizures was blamed for the attack that led to her death. Kelli Chapman was sleeping in her bed when her two pet pit bulls killed her. It was quickly assumed that because she suffered from seizures, she must have had one and the pit bulls "naturally" reacted to it by killing her. Yet, we will never know if she suffered a seizure, and if she did, the order of events: Did a seizure cause the attack or did the attack cause a seizure?13

In nearly all instances of serious and fatal pit bull attacks, pit bull owners, and in some cases authorities, blame the attack on the environment or the actions of the victim. There is a refusal on their part to admit that a pit bull will attack unprovoked. Some of the most grievous examples include a child holding a stuffed animal and a child bumping into a pit bull. "Don't Blame the Dog" believers say such actions sufficiently explain why the pit bull severely injured or killed the child.

Breed ambassadors

According to the Tufts study, the most public way in which pit bull owners managed breed stigma was to become a fierce advocate for the breed. These owners seek to "educate" the public -- often through their own well-behaved pets -- by discounting stereotypes and promoting the finer qualities of the breed. For instance, to help deflect the fear that pit bulls incite about children, one respondent kept a photo handy that showed three children rubbing her pit bull's tummy.14

Examples of breed ambassador imagery is easily found on the Internet, like the YouTube video, "Pit Bull Viciously Attacks Child," which depicts happy babies lying near pit bulls. Some breed ambassadors, however, take activism of the "Pit Bull Cause" to reckless levels. Despite warnings from pit bull experts to "avoid dog parks at all costs,"15 such persons purposely visit dog parks to show other dog owners that pit bulls are safe, reliable dogs that are merely "misunderstood."

Breed ambassadors are also the most common pit bull advocates to appear at public hearings determining whether or not a city should adopt a pit bull law. A common tactic is to present their dog as a "therapy" dog (which is not a "service" dog) that cuddles with senior citizens in rest homes. In a famous example of a trained "therapy" pit bull reverting back to genetic pit bull animal-aggression, Anna Klafter's pit bull, Nettie, unleashed an attack upon a mounted police horse.

Sergeant David Herrera was bucked off in the 2003 incident and suffered neck and back injuries. Klafter suffered a fractured skull after the horse kicked her in the face. At the time, Klafter had been trying to gain control of her "extensively trained" animal assisted therapy dog. Klafter had adopted the dog from the San Francisco SPCA, where she volunteered as a dog trainer.16 The horse, AAA Andy, was bitten in the legs and belly and never worked another day of service duty.17

The lion tamer complex

A behavioral trait not addressed in the Tufts study has been dubbed the "Lion Tamer Complex." Many pit bull owners believe they are superior dog owners and through this superiority can control their "game bred" pit bull by teaching discipline and love. While not all pit bulls are inherently vicious, their genetic history cannot be "loved" out of them either. As demonstrated by numerous press reports of pit bulls attacking their owners, this complex has serious and deadly ramifications.

A 2010 example of the Lion Tamer Complex involves four pit bulls that were declared "vicious" in a Placer County, California court -- effectively ordering the destruction of the dogs -- after seriously injuring teenager JoJo Kerschner. The pit bull owner, Daniel Coverston, appealed the ruling and requested that pit bull expert Tia Torres examine the dogs to determine which, if any, could be rehabilitated. During the examination by Torres, one of the pit bulls attacked and bit her.

"Torres said she then tried to loop Maui with her leash but 'he jumped up and bit my right hand.'

Torres said the dog then became frantic and it looked like he was going to bite another person. He continued to snap at Torres as they put him back in the kennel.

The other two dogs, Sherman and Ronin, 'had become extremely aggressive acting, hitting the kennel gates and barking hysterically,' Torres said."18

The second and final judge ordered three of the pit bulls destroyed, but that based on Torres' assessment, one was salvageable enough to be placed at her rescue on a trial basis.19 What's important to point out is that the so-called salvageable pit bull was legally declared "vicious" after attacking Kerschner. As opposed to the claim that human-aggressive pit bulls were "culled," Lion Tamers such at Torres target human-aggressive pit bulls to prove they can be "tamed."20

What is further disturbing is that pit bull rescue groups now covet dogs like Coverston's as they have found them to be effective promotional tools. For instance, James Harrison's pit bull, Patrone, who was "cured" of aggression in 20 days and Snaps from Seattle, who was transferred to a lifetime "sanctuary."21 Attempts to save vicious pit bulls in Louisiana and New Jersey22 resulted in animal control workers being attacked while its owner fought destruction orders.

Criminals choose pit bulls

In 2006, the Journal of Interpersonal Violence published a study that focused on Ohio dog owners.23 The results showed that criminals are more likely to own vicious dogs. For the purposes of the study, researchers used agreed definitions of "vicious dogs" found within local ordinances. All ordinances included pit bulls because during this period Ohio state law automatically declared all pit bulls "vicious." The report is best summarized by one of its authors, Jaclyn Barnes:

"Owners of vicious dogs who have been cited for failing to register a dog (or) failing to keep a dog confined on the premises ... 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."24

There is no denying that 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 bulls25 when serving search warrants as well. The combination of criminals and pit bulls exponentially increases the danger these dogs pose to communities.

  1. Managing the Stigma of Outlaw Breeds: A Case Study of Pit Bull Owners, by Hillary Twining, Arnold Arluke, Gary Patronek, Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy, Society & Animals Journal of Human-Animal Studies, Vol. 8 Number 1, 2000.
  2. The registration process began in 1935 and completed in 1936. Thus, both dates appear in reference to this. For example, the Tufts study vs. the AKC's American Staffordshire terrier history page.
  3. The Great Book of Bulldogs, Bull Terrier and Molosser: Part I Bulldogs and Bull Terrier, by Marlene Zwettler, Google eBook, February 7, 2013.
  4. The American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier, by Eve Adamson, DogChannel.com (Accessed: April 20, 2013) - Example 1 and Example 2 (Accessed: April 29, 2013)
  5. American Pit Bull Terrier Handbook, by Joe Stahlkuppe, Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 2000.
  6. In the Tufts study, two of the 28 respondents returned their pit bulls to the shelter. Of the two, one left the shelter without realizing she had adopted a pit bull because she did not know that an American Staffordshire terrier was a pit bull -- the shelter intentionally disguised the breed name.
  7. Bring breeders of high-risk dogs to heel, by Merritt Clifton, Animal People, January-February 2004.
  8. Bring breeders of high-risk dogs to heel, by Merritt Clifton, Animal People, January-February 2004.
  9. American Bulldog, United Kennel Club, ukcdogs.org (Accessed: January 31, 2010)
  10. American Bulldog, molosserdogs.com (Accessed: January 31, 2010). As recently as 2005, the two primary "preservationists" of the American bulldog, John Johnson and Alan Scott, sounded off about the history of the breed's name. (Accessed: April 30, 2013)
  11. Progressive pit bull legislation includes the American bulldog in the definition of a "pit bull" dog.
  12. Managing the Stigma of Outlaw Breeds: A Case Study of Pit Bull Owners, by Hillary Twining, Arnold Arluke, Gary Patronek, Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy, Society & Animals Journal of Human-Animal Studies, Vol. 8 Number 1, 2000.
  13. Though many breeds of dogs are "seizure-alert dogs" and assist a person during and after a seizure, pit bull advocates claim that having a seizure "naturally" leads to a fatal dog attack. Other fatal dog attacks by pit bulls blamed on seizures include: 25-year old Brandon Coleman and 42-year old Lorinze Reddings. In each of these three instances (including Kellie Chapman), the person was killed by his or her own pet pit bull.
  14. Managing the Stigma of Outlaw Breeds: A Case Study of Pit Bull Owners, by Hillary Twining, Arnold Arluke, Gary Patronek, Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy, Society & Animals Journal of Human-Animal Studies, Vol. 8 Number 1, 2000.
  15. 10 Easy to Remember Tips for Responsible Pit Bull Owners, pitbulllovers.com (Accessed: January 29, 2010)
  16. Pit bull in attack at park trained to be companion, by Simone Sebastion and Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle, April 11, 2007.
  17. Out to pasture they go -- 3 police horses retire, by Steve Rubenstein, San Francisco Chronicle, April 11, 2007.
  18. Court delays pitbull case, by Jenifer Gee, Auburn Journal, January 24, 2010.
  19. Pitbull to go to TV star's rescue center, by Jenifer Gee, Auburn Journal, January 31, 2010.
  20. Noted in the Auburn Journal article, Pitbull to go to TV star’s rescue center, Torres' 10-acre Canyon Country, California compound includes a small exotic animal area where she said she houses a grizzly bear, two black bears and up until recently, a Bengal tiger (aka Lion Tamer).
  21. "Snaps" released to animal sanctuary in Forks, by Metropolitan King County Council, September 11, 2009.
  22. Pit bull in Bayonne mauling of senior citizen attacks shelter worker: official, by Charles Hack, The Jersey Journal, December 21, 2009.
  23. Ownership of High Risk ("Vicious") Dogs as a Marker for Deviant Behaviors: Implications for Risk Assessment, by Jaclyn E. Barnes, Barbara W. Boat, Frank W. Putnam, Harold F. Dates and Andrew R. Mahlman, Journal for Interpersonal Violence, 2006; 21; 1616.
  24. Pit bull owners more likely to be criminals, by Reuters, The Age, November 17, 2006.
  25. Report: U.S. Police and Citizen Shootings of Pit Bulls 2008, by DogsBite.org, June 3, 2009.