Debate Right, 7/17

A Small Victory for America’s Nanny Dog

by Mark Luedtke

Blogger Yonah Ward Grossman [I’ve Got Something to Say- ywgrossman.com] makes the case that pit bulls used to have a sterling reputation in America, calling them America’s nanny dog. Americans rich and poor used pit bulls to protect their children. His website displays hundreds of old pictures to back up this claim, but anecdotal portraits of children and dogs, while touching, hardly constitute evidence.

On the other hand, use of the pit bull in corporate and government iconography does constitute evidence. Wells Fargo used a pit bull as a mascot to show it was trustworthy to customers but fierce to robbers. Producers chose a pit bull, Pal the Wonder Dog, to play Tiger in Buster Brown then Petey in The Little Rascals. RCA used a pit bull as its trademark. Many other corporations used the pit bull to promote products as well.

The US government even used the pit bull as a symbol of American character. Symbolizing tolerance backed by power, Grossman reports, “From before the Civil War through World War II, pit bulls appeared on war posters and cartoons and helped raise money for war bonds.” The pit bull fit well with Teddy Roosevelt’s admonition to speak softly and carry a big stick, so it should be no surprise that Roosevelt owned a pit bull.

The common theme running through these stories is of the great tolerance attributed to pit bulls. That’s because pit bulls were bred for tolerance to people. While fierce after being provoked, they are difficult for people to provoke. The American Temperament Test Society tests the temperaments of all breeds of dogs. The three breeds commonly called pit bulls, the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier rate 86.8%, 84.2% and 90.3%, respectively. That’s higher than the Collie and Border Collie.

But despite being bred as a tolerant dog, bad owners and propagandists have managed to trash the reputation of pit bulls.

Any dog can be mistreated, tortured and turned into a dangerous dog. The Michael Vicks of the country have transformed what would have been fine dogs into dangerous animals. Pit bull fighting is rampant. But it’s a mistake to blame the dog. Owners are to blame.

There are so many pit bulls in the U.S. that they can be obtained for free. Free pit bulls can be a tremendous asset for poorer people living in bad neighborhoods who need a trustworthy protector. Unfortunately, because poorer people have fewer resources to help them manage large dogs, those dogs don’t always get the best treatment. Troublemakers in bad neighborhoods can make those dogs mean, and when dogs in poor neighborhoods are forced to defend their owners, they get a bad rap.

Propagandists capitalize on this. Propagandists are masters at scaring people so they can gain personal advantage. When I was a little kid, propagandists demonized German Shepherds as they became popular. Then it was Dobermans. Then Rottweilers. All these dogs became so popular they were overbred and diminished as a result.

Today they demonize pit bulls. Elites are scared of poor people and minorities, so they hate that those people have access to resources to protect themselves. Elites always disarm the poor.

I’m happy that the Ohio government removed pit bulls from automatically being considered dangerous dogs. Dogs should be treated as individuals. Just as with people, treating individual dogs as if they had a group identity is misguided and dangerous. But this law is only a small step for these animals. They continue to be discriminated against and attacked by propagandists.

But the good news is that something else will come along and replace pit bulls as the target of choice for propagandists, then the breed will regain its reputation as a stalwart companion. The bad news is that the propagandists will use the new demon to control and loot us as always. I hope next time we won’t listen to the fear-mongers, but I won’t hold my breath.

Mark Luedtke is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Cincinnati and currently works for a Dayton attorney. He can be reached at MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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