I could have picked any one of hundreds of other “loyal-pet” & “Loving-Master” names. Lassie & Timmy for instance or Jack London’s Buck & Judge Miller would have worked but much irony would have been lost by not involving a Pit Bull. Tige was usually depicted in the press as a Pit Bull Terrier and anyone around during the first half of the 20th Century could not have missed his “smiling” face in the Buster Brown shoe commercials. We also heard him on the radio with his seemingly friendly, “arf, arf”, followed by, “that’s my dog Tige. He lives in a shoe. I’m Buster Brown. Look for me in there too.”
The modern-day Buster lives, not in a shoe but in a house on my property, with his family, and Tige “is there too”; Tige having joined the family a couple of years ago. The irony is that the days when Pit Bulls like Tige were viewed as “man’s best friend” have long since passed, and with good reason. One only needs to look at the record to understand why.
Dogs of course descended from Gray Wolves and their domestication began around the time of the last ice age, or some 15,000 years ago. Keeping in mind that a single generation of dogs is a fraction of that of humans – typically 2 to 3 years – 5,000 generations has provided for a lot of natural selection. But what has made an even more pronounced effect on today’s vast diversity of dog breeds, began less than 10,000 years ago, when humans began to selectively interbreed their dogs to suit their purpose – short legs for crawling in tight spaces, strong bodies for heavy work, or an instinct for herding livestock, etc. Today we have hundreds of breeds, ranging from Great Danes to teacup size, with every variety imaginable in between.
Pit Bull Terriers, for example, were carefully selected in the UK in the early 1800s. They were bred from Old English Bulldogs for strength and Terriers for agility, and their stock was carefully selected for their aggressive nature.
Their original popularity was earned through a cruel blood sport known as “bull baiting”, which amounts to using dogs to tease bulls until those dogs who are fast enough and strong enough to survive the thrusting of the bulls, would eventually wear down the bulls and kill them – to the delight of their handlers, of course. This 19th Century antique ceramic piece, not so subtlety, depicts how gruesome yet entertaining it must have been.
Not surprisingly, today that sort of sport is outlawed in most parts of the civilized world but the practice continues underground, even in this Country. Shockingly, to thinking people, examples of such cruelty can still be seen in public, such as this example at the Salinas, CA rodeo in 2019.
Other breeds like German Shepherds and Rottweilers are also selectively bred to enhance their physical attributes and aggressive instincts, but none can compare with the reputation that Pit Bulls have earned, particularly in the past 20 years. They understandably have become the breed of choice for drug dealers, gang members and other unsavory characters. The problem in recent years is that people, whether attempting to express their “macho” or just reflecting a lack of understanding, have taken these dogs into their homes as pets, thinking they are harmless.
Owners are commonly heard to proclaim these dogs to be inherently gentle and harmless – but for their training as puppies to be aggressive. Sadly countless anecdotal stories circulate around this belief, but all the evidence proves contrary. Animal lovers from around the world wish it were true, and continue to insist that it is, but over 200 years of interbreeding cannot be overcome. This is not the dog’s fault but denying the truth does not benefit the dog or the unsuspecting owner.
Clearly, breeders promote this misleading image with false claims that early training and conditioning overcomes the threat. Some years ago, it was even reported that a century ago they had been used as Nannys, but the “Nanny Dog” myth has been debunked, despite a series of 19th Century vintage photos of children with Pit Bulls, attempting to sway unsuspecting dog owners. Owners who believe that their friendly little “doggie” is inherently gentle because he has yet to show signs of aggression are dangerously mistaken. They ignore the fact that this 100 pounds of solid muscle, with sharp teeth and strong jaws, still have a subconscious (ancient brain) of a Gray Wolf and a measurable IQ a few steps above a lizard. His personality can change over time and no one can predict how he will react when ill, injured, surprised by a stranger, or just feeling threatened by a young child throwing toys.
The actual statistics of fatal dog attacks show that Pit Bulls account for more than double the number of incidents accountable to all other breeds combined, and the problem is worsening at an alarming rate. These numbers show actual fatalities – usually of small children – and do not include non-fatal attacks.
Insurance companies have figured this out and liability rates have gone through the roof. Governments are slow to respond but most are aware of the problem and a few cities like Montreal have banned them, as have several other Countries.
It is not rational to ignore the numbers, but to make it a little easier, we can look at it another way. Consider the number of non-fatal attacks. There are an estimated 400 million dogs in the USA – more than the number of people – and only 3.6 million of those are Pit Bulls. The 34th annual update of the Animals 24-7 report shows Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mix breeds as being responsible for 4,933 or 68% of the 7,295 “Attacks Doing Bodily Harm”, occurring between 1982 and 2016. Consequently, if I or a close friend or neighbor had owned a Pit Bull; for every month of those 8 years the chance I would have experienced a serious attack was approximately 1 chance in 1.5 million. The chance of me winning the PowerBall lottery is just over 1 in 292 million. In other words, as a Pit Bull owner, I or my family would have been 200 times more likely to experience a serious attack as winning the lottery. Or consider 3.6 million Pit Bulls being responsible for almost 5,000 incidents, while 100 times as many other breeds accounted for 1/3 as many. It is impossible to escape the numbers.
Had Buster asked me if he should bring Tige onto my property to live with his family, I would have said, “absolutely not” because, (a) I don’t like aggressive dogs, (b) my customers don’t like aggressive dogs, (c) my workers don’t like aggressive dogs, and (d) Buster is the only one I know who likes aggressive dogs.
Buster has recently taken on the responsibility of starting a family, which now includes a toddler. Additionally, his nearby extended family includes a second toddler. The “Attacks Doing Bodily Harm” statistics referenced above were very often fatal when the victim was a small child, obviously because they are less able to defend themselves against the attack. These facts should serve as an URGENT ALERT to any dog owner to stop and pay attention. In my never-to-be-humble opinion, as a junk-yard dog there is no better choice than a Pit Bull; but allowing one around small children, is a flagrant example of extraordinarily poor judgment.
I hope Buster decides to stay as a tenant but if he stays, it will be without Tige. If he leaves and finds a place that will tolerate a Pit Bull on the premises, I can only hope he comes to his senses before something terrible happens. Either way, Tige will eventually become another innocent victim of the multitude of irresponsible breeders who exacerbate the problem and the millions of owners who provide the incentive. The dogs of course are the ultimate victims – they had nothing to say about the selective and thoughtless interbreeding of their ancestors.