Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Help! My Breed's Name Has Been Hijacked!

I used to know what other advocates meant when they used the name "Pit Bull". Usually it referred to the APBT. Sometimes it encompassed the American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier as well (the former for all intents and purposes is an APBT anyway; the latter not so much - close enough, though!) But nowadays, as I browse the various "Pit Bull" education sites on the web, it has become increasingly clear that my breed's name has been hijacked!

The name "Pit Bull" is ending up in the names of organizations that aren't APBT-focused. It is being used interchangeably with the term "bully breeds" (which is an unofficial, ever-changing category of breeds and mixes). One "educational" site told me "Pit Bull" is a derogatory term that essentially means "vicious dog". And another "Pit Bull" site actually included mastiff breeds in its statement of purpose.

Oftentimes, under the guise of "Pit Bull education", APBT temperament and history is being appropriated for the use of educating on a number of related (but separate) breeds and even breeds that have completely different histories and temperaments.

There is much confusion about what a real, sound, temperament-correct APBT is. If the guarding-prone American Bulldog, or the human-sensitive Dogo Argentino are "Pit Bulls", does that mean that guarding behavior and human sensitivity are acceptable behaviors in the APBT as well? When we talk about Pit Bulls being love bugs with humans, and uber-sound around friends and strangers alike, we cannot simultaneously be talking about a variety of breeds that might have very different temperaments. Calling that Dogo mix in your rescue program a "Pit Bull" when it has a very different temperament than an APBT, is harmful to the APBT breed as a whole.

    Responsible Rescue means proper breed-ID along with appropriate education:

    When New Hope Pit Bull Rescue brought Jasper (ABOVE) into their program, they went out of their way to make sure he got appropriately labeled. As he matured both physically and temperamentally, it became clear that he was not a purebred Pit Bull, and was most likely an American Bulldog or AB mix. Jasper is the perfect example of a dog that would have been mislabeled a "pit bull" by many people, but just happened to end up in a rescue group that knew what they were doing, and hence got a more accurate ID.

RPB works very hard at educating on proper breed names, identification, and appropriate labeling. Misapplication of the name "Pit Bull" (which RPB uses as shorthand for "APBT") is something we are constantly fighting against. The APBT is THE ONLY BREED that has the words PIT BULL in its official name, and it is really aggravating that so many other breeds and mixes are inappropriately being called "Pit Bulls", too. Because what happens when those mislabeled breeds end up in the newspaper labeled as "Pit Bulls"? The American PIT BULL Terrier breed as a whole ends up being the fall guy. Just look at any piece of BSL across the globe - the first (and oftentimes only) breed mentioned is the APBT.

Instead of leading the media and law makers, advocates have allowed the media and law makers to define "Pit Bull" for them. In the 90s, when Pit Bull Hysteria reached a fever-pitch, reporters were quick to use the label "Pit Bull" - even when the dog in question wasn't actually an APBT. Legislators followed suit with the whole "label based on looks" thing. For some reason, instead of insisting on proper breed identification, many advocates fell in line with the media and law makers and began using the term PIT BULL in just as broad a way. The pattern I've noticed is this: if a breed looks like an APBT, is a breed that might have been targeted somewhere in BSL, is a bull or mastiff breed, or has vaguely similar history to the APBT - call it a "Pit Bull".

The "Pit Bull" that attacks someone and ends up a headline might not actually be an APBT. But the breed that is actually officially known as the (American) PIT BULL (Terrier) will get the blame. The actual dog could be an American Bulldog, a Boxer mix, a dog that looks similar to an APBT but has no papers proving it is such, or any number of breeds/mixes. But thanks to the insistence of many that "Pit Bull" really IS just a label to be slapped on a bunch of breeds and dogs that merely look a certain way, there really is no way to argue with the media. "Pit Bull" is being used in whatever way the user deems appropriate.

It is wonderful that there are ever-increasing numbers of people willing to stand up for what is right, to fight against BSL and try to help save the lives of dogs. It is just a shame that the term "Pit Bull" is being misused to such a wide extent, as this is confusing, misleading, and even detrimental to the work we are all trying to do as educators and advocates.

We here at RPB are PROUD of our breed's nickname, PIT BULL. We use the name PIT BULL *only* when referencing the American Pit Bull Terrier. We do NOT support the use of "Pit Bull" as a catch-all term, and we demand that the media use proper breed names when identifying dogs involved in attacks - and when a dog's breed cannot definitively be identified, reporters shouldn't guess! "Pit Bull" should not be the default! We encourage rescues to properly identify the dogs they bring into their programs. An American Bulldog is NOT a Pit Bull - it is a different breed, with a different temperament. The same goes for Pit Bull mixes, Staffy Bulls, 'American Bullys', Bull Terriers, the mastiff breeds, and so on. And education on the unique histories and temperaments of each of those breeds must go along with proper labeling and identification.

We can't educate on "Pit Bulls" when we are actually talking about a wide variety of different breeds. "Pit Bull" should be used to refer to ONE specific breed. It is not a catch-all, not a category.


Suzi said...

Your article told the truth, thank you for the clarification. Now to get the media, rescues etc. to understand what a true pit bull is. You get a cookie!

Our Pack said...

I agree! I think this is extremely damaging to the breed especially when other breeds ENTIRELY are called Pit Bulls.
Well said, good post.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree... as the times has gone on, Pit bull is becoming more and more a term to be a variety of breeds, and I'm seeing this being posted that way all the time. As I am a owner of an AmStaff, her temperament is almost identical to my mom's APBT. But a lot of the breeds that are starting to be catagorized as Pit Bull has very different temperaments. I run a Pit Bull Rescue/educational page, and have steered away from this, as it's not right. I don't know much what to do about it, but educate correctly. Good Luck and feel free to stay in contact. pitbulls@loveapit.org

New Hope Pit Bull Rescue said...

As Jasper's forever "mom" and a member of New Hope Pit Bull Rescue, I can tell you without a doubt that we did a "bang up" job on properly identifying his breed or mix. He most definately shares more of the American Bulldog traits than APBT.

It's interesting... a lot of people see his "red nose" and label him a pit bull; immediately asking me "what kind of pit bull is he". I personally am grateful for the opportunity to educate and it's almost humorous to see the surprise on their faces when I tell them he's an American Bulldog mix.

Not meaning to "toot our own horn" in saying this, but I wish more rescues would strive harder to correctly identify the dogs entering their programs before placing them for adoption. Learn about different breeds and take the time to get to know each dog, see its personality and pay attention to different "attitudes or reactions" to various things/situations. It's not enough, especially in the present day, to look at a dog and say "Oh yeah! He/she is a (insert breed)." Looks can be deceiving, as we all very well should know.

Oh! And incidentally... not long ago we were at the shelter securing rescue for the 3 charmed girls when in walked a man with a big (brindle) male dog on a leash. Automatically shelter employees labeled the dog as a Pit mix. The guy, who had owned the dog his entire life said, "Actually, he's a Mastiff / Beagle mix. Yep, saw him being born, from the Beagle momma and met the dad too!" But boy did he ever LOOK like a pit mix.

Diane; The Dog Diva said...

Agreed. I try to do my best...check me out at TheDogDiva.blogspot.com and let me know if I've got it! (I have 6 blogs on pit bull education...)

Suzi Riot said...

Very well said! Proper breed identification is important for all of the reasons that you listed. Just lumping a bunch of similar breeds together under the Pit Bull label because they are all part of an organization's agenda is misguided and lazy. You can properly identify each individual breed or mix and STILL advocate for all of them. Not doing so does far more harm than good.

Anonymous said...

This is an excerpt from a paper I just had to write for school regarding pit bulls:

"Some people just shudder at the sound of hearing someone saying “pit bull”. Pit bulls are not actually a single breed. The term “pit bulls” refers to and includes a group of dogs called the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier and the Staffordshire bull terrier. There are also about 20+ other breeds that are commonly mistaken for pit bulls based on physical characteristics. The high level of terror plus lack of education and knowledge of the breed has resulted in Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL). BSLs don’t appear to benefit anyone except those who are strongly opposed to the breed. BSLs are set with the intentions of protecting dog bites and attacks from so-called aggressive breeds. An article by Peter Marcus explores the facts and statistics that point to Labrador retrievers as being more likely to bite, with a surprising 13.3% chance of attacking a human being versus the shockingly lower 8.4% chance of pit bulls. One factor though is popularity of the breed. While pit bull bites are often in the spotlight, many times it is failed to be reported that number of dogs in the pit bull population, including pit bull mixes, often surpasses those also listed as an aggressive breed. What many Americans don’t seem to understand, nor seem to want to understand, is that pit bulls are not aggressive by nature. Environment plays a factor with animals, just as it does with people. If raised in a positive, loving, nurturing, pleasant environment, it is no surprise that animal would reflect outward the type of care they’ve received. However, even though they are raised in a negative, harmful, dangerous, unhappy environment, it is the dog’s fault for behaving that way. Why would someone blame the animal, who does not understand logic or reason, for not “being responsible” for their actions and making different choices? It just shows that humans are being hypocritical of their own actions."