June 6, 2007


Far be it from me to contradict Rhonda Evans, "a professor of criminal justice at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, who has written extensively on dog fighting," but I'm gonna, and on no more basis than having spent the better part of two decades lurking extensively on the [virtual] edge of the "square."

In a New York Times Select article on the relationship between pro athletes and pit bulls, Professor Evans states, "[Pit bulls] fight to the death. None of them would turn away from the fight unless the owner calls it. Turning away is considered the response of a cur, a coward. The definition of stopping is a cur. They fight until the owner calls the fight or they die.”

Fighting pit bulls actually "cur out" all the time, to the anger/despair/embarrassment of their owners.

It isn't easy to breed an animal whose drives completely override his instincts for self-preservation: Iditarod dogs are bred to love running, for example, but most aren't eager to leave checkpoints after pulling a sled seven or eight hundred miles in under a week. And many a keen stockdog, bred to withstand thirst, sore pads, tempermental cows and long, hot days, will head for the water trough rather than work to the point of heat stroke.

Fighting pit bulls are bred to be dog-aggressive, just as authentic border collies are bred to be the keenest stockdogs imaginable. But the pit bull's capacity for gameness, or the will to keep fighting to the last breath, can be lost, just as a well-bred stockdog pup's working drive can be damaged by poor handling.

Dogfighters debate gameness much as stockdog people argue about "mechanical" workers. Which dog is "mechanical"? Which dog is game? Experienced dogmen say the only proven game dog is a dead-game dog: one that dies fighting in the pit. The reason? Any gamebred dog rolled too hard at too young an age or matched too often, or matched with too little down-time between fights, will learn to associate a match --- no matter the outcome --- with a dreadful world of hurt. Dogfighters say the gamest dog on earth will quit eventually, if fought often enough.

The trick, for those who are serious about this pastime [warning: graphic photos], is to bring a promising dog along carefully, allowing him to win as a youngster (against other pit bulls rather than "cur" breeds, since a dog won't hone any skills fighting a cur); give him sufficient recovery time after his first serious test; and plan his subsequent matches with care. A rigorous conditioning program is a given. Steroids are common.

And in spite of it all, many pit bulls will still "cur out." Pit bull rescue BAD RAP states, "Many APBTs that show up with scars in local shelters are assumed to 'have been fought' and are given an automatic death sentence. In many cases, this may be an unfair judgment call." BAD RAP points out that a dog with fight scars may have been doing everything in its power to get away.

I have a weakness for gamebred/gamebred-type pit bulls: they're a perfect size [under forty or even thirty lb is common] and they tend to have wonderful, human-friendly temperaments --- typical pit bull temperaments.

Which brings me to my good girl in the photo up above. There is a reason pit bull defenders are so ardent: in a lifetime spent with terrific dogs, I thought I knew what a great, friendly, bomb-proof temperament was. But honestly? Until I met that mud puddle-loving creature in the photo, I didn't have a clue.

She adores people, and is completely and utterly useless as a watchdog. She has never barked at a stranger. People with dachshunds and beagles have offered to trade me their own dogs for her. (In fun perhaps, but still.) She carries some scars, but isn't a bit dog-aggressive. She's glorious with puppies and a supremely diplomatic playmate to everything else. If she's nipped in play [by a witchy border collie, say --- not that I know any such creatures], she'll cry and retreat.

Gamebred? Who knows?

Perfect? Absolutely.

It breaks my heart that bad breeding, cross-breeding and breeding for human-aggression over the past few decades have damaged the temperament (in some cases) and the reputation of what was once a famously people-friendly family dog. But shelters and rescues around the country are still filled with many wonderful pit bulls: my good girl is from the local pound.

Want a great family dog? Go to a good rescue like BAD RAP and adopt a pit bull. I've spent many years with the breed, and the experience has convinced me that if you are a responsible individual, and if you enjoy investing time in a dog that is more than two degrees north of stuffed, you can't do better than a pit bull. The good ones (and there are countless good ones) have huge, happy, rock-stable personalities. They're not complicated in the way that, oh, let's say, a border collie is complex ;~) Not for nothing was Petey the Little Rascals' best pal.


Thanks to Gina at Pet Connection for posting part of the NY Times article [along with a photo of a very non-gamebred looking pit bull], and for keeping us updated all day on the AB 1634 vote. Serious about helping shelter animals? Adopt a pit bull. You may as well get used to my saying this, because you're going to hear it a lot. Adopt a pit bull. Adopt a pit bull.

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