by Krystal Torres
Throughout the years pit bulls haven’t had the best reputation. Many people are afraid of them and in several places, such as Denver and Miami, it is illegal to own or adopt a pit bull unless it’s a guide dog. And yes, pit bulls were bred to be a strong dog, but it’s their conditioning that matters most and not their lineage. According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, “controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous.” The American Temperance Testing Society (ATTS) puts thousands of dogs – purebreds and spayed and neutered mixed-breeds – through their paces each year. The dogs are tested for skittishness, aggression and their ability to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening humans. Among all of the breeds ATTS tested – over 30,000 dogs through May 2011 — 83 percent passed the test. Pit bulls showed an above average temperament, with 86 percent making the grade. Pit bulls are the second most tolerant breed tested by ATTS, after only golden retrievers.
Helen Keller’s dog was a pit, and a pit accompanied the 11th Infantry of Pennsylvania at the Battle of Gettysburg. The first U.S. Army dog promoted to sergeant was… you guessed it; a pit. During the 19th century, many people chose the pit bull as the family companion and were often referred to as “Nanny Dogs” because of their love of children and extremely friendly nature, even with strangers.
In the past people have shown that any breed could be the target of negative attention according to what’s going on in society at the time. In the late 1800s many people were concerned about bloodhounds, which were often used to capture escaped slaves. The period after WWI saw a rise in reports of attacks by German shepherds, a breed associated with the Nazis. Misidentification and increased news coverage on dog attacks hasn’t helped the pit’s reputation either.
Thanks to organizations like Angel City Pit Bulls, a Los Angeles organization that works to increase pit adoption founded by Katie Larkin, pit bulls are becoming accepted once again. “We pull dogs with a specific disposition from shelters,” says Larkin. “People-responsive, easy going dogs that can be placed in any environment, we train and place in new homes.” The idea is that these strategically chosen dogs will have a pit-bull multiplier effect: the more well behaved and friendly pit bulls see, the more improved their reputation becomes.