The history of the American Staffordshire Terrier (AST), otherwise known as the American Pit Bull Terrier, is a story of struggle in America. Created in England for the purpose of bull baiting and dogfighting, the pit bull is the product of two breeds, English Bulldogs and common terriers. Dogfighting was considered a lower-class sport in England at that time, but pit bulls were considered prize champions and people’s prized possessions. Although bred for fighting, the characteristic of biting humans was actually bred out of the breed and even earned the pit bulls a trustworthy reputation. So when people began to immigrate over to America, they brought their beloved pets with them, and it was in America that the ASTs thrived. They became the ultimate family dog; protectors of children, land, and homes. Pit bulls became an American mascot, appearing in advertisements and even in World War II era nationalistic posters. In fact, the most decorated war dog of World War I was Sergeant Stubby, an American pit bull! The American Stafford Terrier was the embodiment of American ideals: strong, brave, and hardworking.
However, modern day Americans have a very different perspective on the once highly regarded, all-American dog. Today, pit bulls are surrounded by a bubble of fear and stigma in society. Breed-discriminatory laws and even full-force bans on the dogs have only reinforced the belief that they are dangerous and to be feared–but where do these stereotypes and stigma come from? How did the pit bull go from all-American mascot to a danger in modern society? The answer is not too different from common themes in American history: something that once made the country great was taken, abused, and turned into something it’s not.
It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the pit bull fell into the negative gaze of American society. Dog fighting rings increased and the pit bull became associated poverty and inner city thugs. The trustworthy and loyal nature of the American Pit Bull Terrier was exploited and used to manipulate them into participating in dog fighting. The general public believes that they are untrustworthy, have jaws that latch on and never let go, and are dangerous to children. However, the American Pit Bull Terrier score higher than Golden Retrievers in American Temperament Tests. Also, the breed stands in the same ill-informed public opinion that German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, and Dalmatians once did. A lot of the public stigma towards pit bulls comes from the media. The media reports pit bull-type dog attacks thousands of times more than any other breed, adding gasoline to the hate fire and satisfying click bait journalism.
Victims of abuse, an ill-informed general public, and media witch-hunting, the image of the pit bull became one of Cerberus, the three-headed demon hound that guards hell. Stereotyping the breed has only led to greater suffering. Often homeless, the pit bulls that are brought into a shelter have run the biggest risk of euthanasia of any dog breed. Over 75% of shelters will kill a pit bull immediately upon arriving at the shelter. The percentage of pit bulls euthanized grow even higher when shelters become overcrowded, as pit bulls are the first breed chosen for euthanasia when space becomes tight–even if they are healthy and perfectly adoptable.
As an animal lover, shelter volunteer, and American Pit Bull Terrier enthusiast, it is heartbreaking to see the stigma and fear America has placed around a dog breed that was considered America’s mascot until the 1980’s. Pit bull and pit bull mixes make up a majority of Merced County’s strays and shelter dogs, and the stigma surrounding them can be felt when the breed is brought up in conversation on campus. Discrimination and fear causes more harm than good, and with recent political agendas and legislations, we should know better than to condone hate.
Picture Credit: Huffington Post