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How Pit Bulls Got Singled Out as Dangerous Dogs

You've probably heard nightmarish stories about Pit bulls and their supposedly dangerous natures. You may even have friends who own dogs but still believe that Pit bulls are unsafe and to be avoided. As animal lovers, we know by now that Pit bulls are not "killer dogs," or monsters more dangerous than any other breed. But it's frustrating to see so much misinformation persist. How did Pit bulls go from being a trusted breed years ago to one that is hated, vilified and feared today?

According to an article on Alternet, it wasn't long ago that Pit bulls not only weren't feared, but with their friendly and patient temperaments, were actually considered to be a perfect "nanny breed" for children. But in the 1980s, the breed began to develop a terrible reputation. It's not clear where the cycle started, but at some point, Pit bulls became the dog breed of choice for the criminal element, or those looking for dogs to threaten, guard, intimidate and generally look scary. This led to many owners abusing their Pit bulls into becoming vicious, mean attack dogs. The breed's reputation worsened, thus encouraging more people in the market for "mean" dogs to adopt Pit bulls, and the catch-22 was in place.

Of course, there's no hard evidence to support the idea that Pit bulls are naturally more aggressive or dangerous than other breeds. Myths about their super-powerful bite force and dangerous "locking jaws" are likewise utterly fabricated. Pit bulls don't even have jaw strength as powerful as other breeds like Mastiffs, whose jaws clamp down with much greater force, but somehow haven't cursed them with an image as killer dogs. The real facts show that Pit bulls are actually docile compared to other dogs. A study of dog breeds was conducted to gauge temperament by measuring skittishness, aggression and ability to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening humans. The results showed what Pit bull lovers of the past knew: the "nanny breed" was among the friendliest and least aggressive. Aggressive Pit bulls are almost always the products of abuse, neglect or both. It is irresponsible breeders and owners who are to blame for the breed's negative image.

But the Alternet article points out that the media's ongoing willingness to sell out Pit bulls doesn't help matters. News outlets are quick to support the belief that Pit bulls are dangerous, because it allows for sensationalized stories, stories that won't go over if their audiences don't believe the misleading "facts" on which they are based. In a way, since the Pit bull's negative reputation is essentially an invention, it exists as a cultural meme, a persistent urban legend. Other breeds have trended similarly in the past. Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers to some degree still deal with this. In the 19th century, it was Bloodhounds who were considered inherently dangerous. If that seems absurd to us now, it's because the idea then was based on the same lies that haunt Pit bulls today. It's gotten so bad that when dog attacks happen, the media will often identify the breed as a Pit bull even when it's not the case. And when Pit bulls do attack, it is often much more widely reported than similar attacks caused by other breeds.

Pit bulls' bad reputation has been so deeply ingrained in our culture that a kind of racism has developed against them. Mistrust leads to suspicious attention, which leads to the breed being implicated in more negative activity than other breeds, which worsens and perpetuates the breed's reputation. Governments and lawmakers, by creating absurdbreed-specific bans, only serve to cement misinformed and bigoted beliefs. Even popular entertainers like Kelly Ripa are taken in by the media's portrayal of Pit bulls as bloodthirsty attack dogs, and in turn worsen the problem by perpetuating the stereotype.

But there's always hope, and increasingly, a growing backlash against Pit bull bigotry has more and more people learning that Pit bulls are perfectly safe and even very loving, loyal dogs. As Cesar Millan of "The Dog Whisperer" has grown famous for his canine expertise, his love of and support for Pit bulls has gone a long way to convincing a general audience that the breed's negative image is completely undeserved. Other popular shows like Shorty Rossi's "Pit Boss" add to the wave of positive Pit bull PR. And for every person who adopts a Pit bull and learns of its true nature, an entire network of family and friends in turn learns the truth. It's up to each of us to spread the real facts about Pit bulls.

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