In recent years, Pit Bulls have gained more than just a foothold in public awareness. Unscrupulous breeding and negative media attention have resulted in many apartment complexes, neighborhoods and even counties imposing bans on Pits and Pit mixes, citing them as "inherently dangerous" to the public.
Pit Bulls often attract the worst kind of dog owners—people who are only interested in these dogs for fighting or protection. While Pit Bulls were once considered especially non-aggressive to people, their reputation has changed, thanks to unscrupulous breeders and irresponsible owners. And because the Pit Bull population has increased so rapidly, shelters now struggle to deal with an overflow of image-plagued, hard-to-place dogs.
History of the Breed
Pit Bulls are descendants of the original English bull-baiting dog—a dog that was bred to bite and hold bulls, bears and other large animals around the face and head. "Bulldogs" were bred to hang on without releasing their grip, until the animal was exhausted from fighting and from loss of blood. When baiting large animals was banned in the 1800s, people then started to fight their dogs against each other instead.
As the "sport" of dog fighting developed, enthusiasts bred a lighter, more athletic canine. These dogs made their way to North America, the ancestors of today's Pit Bulls. Pit Bulls that were not used for fighting were considered ideal family pets—affectionate, loyal and gentle with children. Serious problems started when these dogs gained the attention of people looking for a macho dog—and to meet their demands, unscrupulous and uncaring breeders are producing puppies that were not only aggressive to other dogs, but also to people.
In the Fighting Ring
Although a felony offense in all 50 states, organized dog fights still take place in many parts of the country. In some urban areas especially, dogfighters have formed a strong subculture. Dogs that fight are bred and conditioned to never give up when they are fighting, even if it means that they will be badly hurt or killed. Other animals are victims of dog fights, too—it's not uncommon for trainers to encourage their dogs' aggression by using other dogs and smaller animals such as cats, rabbits and rodents as bait.
While some might typify dog fighting as a symptom of urban decay, not every dogfighter is economically disadvantaged. Participants and promoters come from every community and all backgrounds, with audiences including lawyers, judges and teachers and other upstanding community leaders.
Unfortunately, a new element has been introduced to the world of dog fighting over the past two decades. Fights have become informal street corner and playground activities. Stripped of the rules and formality of the traditional pit fight, these spontaneous events are triggered by insults and turf invasions—or even the simple taunt, "My dog can kill your dog." Many people who participate in these fights lack even a semblance of respect for the animals, often starving and beating them to encourage aggressive behavior.
What You Can Do
- Visit the ASPCA Advocacy Center to keep up to date on dog fighting legislation in your state.
- Adopt a Pit Bull and let your perfect pooch be an ambassador for the breed!
- If your local shelter is facing a Pit Bull dilemma, volunteer to help keep adoptable Pit Bulls and Pit mixes mentally and physically fit by exercising them or taking them to obedience classes. You can also lead a chew-toy drive at work to collect hard rubber playthings to keep them busy, or help create a fund-raiser to support a free sterilization program for Pit Bulls in your local community.
- Do your kids have questions about dog fighting? Visit our children's website, ASPCA Kids, for information about dog fighting that's written especially for kids.
- Visit Pit Bull Rescue Central for information on adopting and caring for American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Pit Bull mixes.