The Truth About Pit Bulls

WARF is an all-breed animal rescue group. We focus on those animals who find themselves out of time and out of chances at high-kill shelters. In years past, we have experienced occasional rushes of certain breeds due to passing fads and temporary popularity; Dalmatians, Cocker Spaniels, and even Chihuahuas have been overbred and sold to families who are incapable of caring for the needs of their dog, at which point these animals are dumped in overwhelming numbers on our animal control facilities. Over the last several years, however, one breed of dog has emerged as the scapegoat of choice.
The victim of hysterical and inaccurate media reports and the target of a growing nationwide push for breed-specific legislation, the Pit Bull has become the threat du jour in the canine world (in years past, we have targeted the Doberman, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, and other breeds but never before with the ferocity that faces the pit bull today). In shelters across the country, pit bulls are dying in numbers that far exceed any other breed. In Reno alone, over half of the dogs euthanized at the county shelter are pit bulls or pit bull mixes. This gross over-representation is due not to behavioral or health issues nor prejudice on the part of the shelter staff, but rather to two hard, cold facts: first, out of the dozens of local rescue groups only a handful accept pit bulls and most are perpetually full. Combine that with the general public’s negative attitude toward these dogs and thousands of them are left with nowhere to go. Breed rescue groups exist for everything from Australian Shepherds to Vizslas, but pit bulls rescues are few and far between, so these dogs are dying by the millions.
To understand the facts about this emotional and volatile issue, we must first understand what a pit bull actually is. The term “pit bull” refers not to a specific breed but rather the characteristics of a certain type of dog. The official breeds that fall under the general term "pit bull" include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, in addition to mixed breeds meeting the general physical description. It's also helpful to understand some of the history surrounding these dogs and their breeding. Pit bulls were, as their name suggests, initially bred to fight and bait bulls in Europe hundreds of years ago. When bull-baiting was outlawed, pit bulls were the breed of choice in dog-fighting. Handlers of these dogs often had to reach into a ring to remove a dog during a fight, and any animal who displayed aggression toward humans was immediately destroyed. The portrayal of the vicious pit bull as a weapon and threat to humans has emerged due to the unfortunate fact that their physical strength, high pain tolerance, and persistent natures make them an ideal choice for criminal types who exploit and misuse the power and intelligence of these animals for sport, protection, or as status symbols. Any dog trainer or animal behaviorist will agree that aggression toward other dogs is a completely separate behavior from aggression toward humans, and human aggression has in fact been bred out of the pit bull since the introduction of the breed nearly a thousand years ago. Any dog can be trained, bullied or abused into aggressive behavior; the pit bull simply falls into the wrong hands all too often and becomes the victim of human greed and violence.
The English version of the pit bull, the Staffordshire Terrier, is known as “the nanny dog” and is entrusted by many families in that country to be playmate and protector to their children; indeed, the “Staffy,” as the breed is known, is one of the few noted by the European Kennel Club to be reliably tolerant of and gentle towards children. In addition, the breed is described as “temperamentally unsuitable for guard or attack dog training.” Comfort-loving, human-oriented, intelligent, patient and affectionate are adjectives used to describe the standard for all three purebred versions of the pit bull type.
Statistically, the pit bull is no more likely to bite a person than is a golden retriever, and is in fact far less likely to bite than Poodles, Chihuahuas, spaniels, and many other “family” dogs. Out of 448 fatal dog attacks in the United States from 1965 to 2002, none was committed by an altered pit bull or pit bull type (however, unaltered pit bulls have been involved in fatal attacks, always in groups and always coming from fighting or breeding backgrounds). Dozens of other breeds are represented in those attacks in equal or greater numbers than the pit bull, including everything from Labs to Pomeranians.

These facts do nothing to change the negative publicity and inaccurate portrayal of pit bulls in the media, which has resulted in the crisis we are facing today. Some insurance companies deny coverage to pit bull owners, landlords can evict renters with pit bulls, and in Denver, thousands of pit bulls are being abandoned or destroyed due to a county-wide ban on the breed. Locally, you can walk through the kennels at the county facility and see dozens of friendly, loving pit bulls who are dying at a rate of up to ten a day; that’s over 3,000 in the Reno/Carson area alone.

What can you do to help these animals? First, educate yourself and others about breed prejudice and the overpopulation problem. Keep an open mind - a dog is a dog, and with any animal, just like with any person, there are individual personalities and traits that make each animal unique. Responsible pet ownership includes not only spaying and neutering your pet but also being aware of his or her behavioral traits, which means never putting your animal in a situation where he or she is at risk either of being hurt or hurting another animal. Some dogs enjoy social time at dog parks; others don’t. Some dogs prefer to be the only pet; others crave canine companionship. As an adoption agency, we try to place our animals with homes that are as close a match as possible with the new owner’s abilities, desires and lifestyle.

What can you expect when you adopt a pit bull? A medium-sized, short-haired, fairly active companion who loves people and often has a special fondness for children. Pits are generally friendly and outgoing, and love to act the clown. Some of our pit bulls are dog-friendly, while others must be single dogs. Some have a high prey drive which makes them unsuitable for homes with cats or other small animals; others simply love everything and everyone and some have even been known to nurse or raise litters of orphaned kittens. With over 6,000 adoptions under our belt, hundreds of which have been pit bulls or pit mixes, WARF has learned one thing that applies to each and every pet we deal with: each one is unique, and to pigeonhole a dog based on breed or appearance is to shortchange both human and animal. No matter what your experience or lifestyle, making the decision to adopt a pit bull is one you will never regret.