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The Pit Bull's Public Image: Both Sides of the Story

Jana worked in animal welfare with abused and unwanted pets. She loves sharing her hands-on experience regarding domestic and wild critters.

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Why Is the Public Image of Pit Bulls so Bad?

One reason that their image is warped (and it's certainly warped) is the media. Sensationalism sells. Pit bull attacks do happen. For a variety of reasons, individual dogs might bite, maul or kill another dog or person. However, many large dogs of different breeds attack humans every year, and none earn the news coverage reserved for pit bulls. The dog's history could be a factor. Most big breeds were bred to guard or perform service, but the pit bull was refined for blood sport. That kind of background causes many to blame these breeds instead of considering the individual animal and circumstances involved in an incident.

The public image of pit bulls is so bad because there are few, if any, newspapers, news channels or tabloids that show pet pit bulls at home, getting along with the other pets and children. Why? A pit bull licking the cat until the dog coughs up hair balls doesn't sell. Unfortunately, reporters aren't a hundred percent wholesome when they “warn” the public about this “danger.” In the end, nothing makes it into the media if it doesn't increase sales or viewer ratings. This is pure business, but it worsens the problem.

Owners Versus the Public

Owners of pit bulls and those who dislike them might not agree, but both have valid views. This matter is often earmarked by people's unwillingness to yield to the other's gripes. Ironically, they believe in the same thing—that they're protecting something valuable. Owners protect beloved pets, while the concerned public wants safer streets.

Fierce-Looking Dogs

Owners of the breed are in love with pit bulls' intense look, but others often find it intimidating.

Owners of the breed are in love with pit bulls' intense look, but others often find it intimidating.

What the Public Experiences

The biggest problem is that people form an opinion based on secondhand experience. They're influenced by reports about dog attacks, the breed's history and friends or family members relating a bad experience. When pit bulls are encountered directly, it's often not in a situation that allows the individual to get to know the dog properly. They might see one barking in a yard, being walked on a leash or at the vet. Let's be honest. At first glance, pit bulls do not inspire cute feelings. They are fierce-looking, muscled dogs with a penetrating stare. They inspire awe, curiosity and, unfortunately, fear.

One cannot discount the fact that some people directly experience terrible things around pit bulls (and other breeds). They might've been bitten, viciously stormed or had their dog killed by a free-running pit that came into the person's garden.

The Pit Bull Owner

Lets, for the moment, ignore the owner who abuses pit bulls as a fighting tool, exclusive guard dog or often-provoked status symbol. They're a part of the problem. This section focuses on the men, women and families who own pit bulls as pets. Unlike those who have never owned the breed, they have hands-on experience with these animals. For this reason and because the dogs are beloved companions, most owners are instantly angry when their pets or themselves encounter unasked-for criticism.

Pit bull owners cannot truly escape abuse or discrimination. Strangers say mean things or cross the street to get away from somebody walking their pit. Visiting the vet may cause other owners to watch your dog like a hawk (in case it explodes into a psychotic creature). Some countries ban the breed. Needless to say, this treatment is grating and enough to raise anybody's defenses. At the end of the day, pit bull owners' main complaint is this: The media and uninformed individuals instigate witch hunts, and they're sick of it.

They Love Work and Play

Pit bulls cannot be idle all day long. They do best when they participate in the family's day and activities.

Pit bulls cannot be idle all day long. They do best when they participate in the family's day and activities.

Pit Bulls Are Not for Everyone

This breed requires a specific owner. Nothing fancy, just somebody who can channel the dog's energy and intelligence in a healthy manner. The dogs respond superbly to positive training techniques and have a high desire to please their handlers. Pit bulls are complex, strong and feisty, but their aggression is a trainable fraction of their design. They are not shells ruled by an unmatched desire to brawl and kill.

Consistent exercise, respect, affection and training is a must. This is not the kind of dog that can be left by itself the whole day, week and month. They don't do well when chained. Pit bulls need mental and physical stimulation, which, for the wrong owner, can be too much. In addition, they need an escape-proof environment.

Don't Expect a Solution

There are ways to make the situation better, but human nature stands in the way. Sensationalism will always sell, and gore-loving readers will always buy. A section of the public will keep their hearts closed to this great breed without making the effort to learn the facts for themselves. Likewise, the world would never be rid of irresponsible owners encouraging their pit bulls to be aggressive.

Will pit bulls' public image ever be a hundred percent clear? No. For that to happen, three things must harmonize—responsible reporting, responsible dog ownership and an open-minded, fully informed public. Unfortunately, the three elements are rarely in sync. For beleaguered pet owners, there might be some peace in knowing their pets are unaware of the controversy that surrounds them. That is, perhaps, the only good thing about this situation.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit