In honor of the quarterly Blog the Change drive to improve the lives of animals, I decided to focus  today on the evils of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), laws based on the notion that certain breeds should be banned or destroyed because they’re inherently — and incorrigibly — dangerous. These days, one of the most prominent victims of BSL is the pit bull, and I’ve recently encountered two very powerful counter arguments against the prevalent myths about the breed. One is a book, which I’ll review, and the other a video, which I’ll post.

I admit to having had my own pit bull prejudices until fairly recently. A few years back, a friend in Austin had two pit bulls that I was terrified to meet. Even my eventual visit with them didn’t change my perceptions about the breed. Oh sure, they looked sweet and were very friendly, but I was certain they could turn around and tear my face off at any minute without provocation.

So much for certainties.

The Book

The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption,
by Jim Gorant, is about the persistence and, ultimately, the baselessness, of the widespread negative perceptions of the pit bull.  As this book demonstrates, even members of the animal welfare community bought into the idea that the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring were vicious by nature and/or damaged beyond the abilities of even professionals to help them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Several people cringed when I told them that I was reading a book about the Vick dogs. So the first thing I need to emphasize is that the book is about the dogs and the people who helped give them a chance, not about Michael Vick or his cronies. They’re introduced in the first of three sections as context, to give background to how the dogs were raised so we can understand what their rescuers faced. Yes, there are a couple of stomach-churning moments, but they are the exceptions. When I found myself crying — fairly often —  it was because I was moved, not upset.

As the subtitle says, this is primarily a book about redemption, canine and human — which alone should tell you that Michael Vick isn’t prominently featured.

Because I regularly read the blog of the Best Friends Animal Society, where many of the dogs remain, and because I read the long Sports Illustrated article by Jim Gorant from which this book grew, I was familiar with the rough outlines of the story and with Gorant’s style.  For many, however, I suspect the notion of the dogs as a group of confused, often sweet, generally fearful creatures who are, ultimately, just like other dogs, may come as a revelation. Gorant personalizes the Vick dogs, just as the rescuers did when they eventually gave them names, and so we grow as fond of them and as worried about their fates as we would any other character in a book. It’s impossible not to root for their success.

Michael Vick’s court-ordered donation of close to $1 million went to pay for the care and rehabilitation of the dogs, several of whom went on to get their Good Canine Citizenship certificates, a couple of whom became therapy dogs, and some of whom became just plain old family dogs. I recall at the time these events played out that some people — including, naturally, representatives of PETA — objected to all the money going to these pit bulls when it could have been spent to save more dogs, and of less incorrigible breeds. But it was those dogs and no others that needed and deserved the chance for a new life that Vick’s money gave them. Without that money they wouldn’t have gotten the great care and attention they needed and we wouldn’t have learned what Gorant’s book makes abundantly clear: That pit bulls are just dogs, like any others. For better and worse.

The Video

This video by Ken Bell, #12 in a series of consistently excellent films on his Dog Files site, brings home the point made by Jim Gorant’s book: That pit bulls are just dogs.

20 thoughts on “Blog the Change: Debunking Pit Bull Myths”

  1. I was waiting for your review to help me decide whether or not to read the book. I didn’t want to dive into a book all about dog fighting. Doggie redemption? That’s another thing. Thanks.

  2. This is a wonderful book. Im glad it was able to change your perception of Pit Bulls. They are great pets and need love like any other breed.

    1. I hesitated to approve this comment because it links to a site selling Michael Vick jerseys and not ironic ones. Seriously??? However, there’s nothing offensive about the comment itself so I have no reason not to post it.

  3. The book is underway, and is on a boat on the Atlantic as we speak, and I can’t wait to read it after your review.

    Loved it when you said: Pit bulls are just dogs.

    I do think we have a special responsibility as humans towards pit bulls. They are one of the breeds that are most abused by humans (bull fighting, dog fighting, magnetes for irresponsible owners). It is a wonder we can still say: pit bulls are just dogs. But they are! despite all the horrible things we have done with them, they are still just dogs.

    I hope one day they not only will have a better life “as a breed”, but also that we will give them the respect they have earned.

  4. I tried to calm hysteria on FB yesterday when a pal posted about a known drug house in her neighborhood that has a new pit bull (no fence, never leashed). Despite my notes that people should think of this dog as another victim of the drug culture and that it’s not the dog but the situation and the people that are dangerous … someone later posted that she’d bring over a 45 so that someone could shoot the dog.


    1. Oh that’s horrible Roxanne. I have a friend with a pit bull who got attacked by another pit bull (my friend, not her dog) belonging to her idiot neighbors. While she was in the ER waiting to be seen she posted on FB that it was the fault of the people, not of the breed, which she never once doubted.

  5. Absolutely they are “just dogs” like any other dog. It is not in their genes to fight and be aggressive – they are taught and abused into acting like that. I too once stereotyped the pit bulls based on what I had heard – until I met two of them myself that I had helped to rescue. They were loving, gentle, playful creatures. And those dogs rescued from the horror of Vick deserved every single dime of that money! Thank you for this post.

  6. This past weekend at 2nd Saturday in Tucson, a couple was walking a pit bull and people were giving the dog a wide berth. My friend Sandee asked the couple if she could pet the dog and he turned out to be a love bug. He was licking her face and kissing her and wagging his tail madly. Soon a small crowd gathered in amazement because pits get such a bad rap. The only thing I remember about that event were the art cars and the lovable pit bull. Sweet.

  7. thank you for this post. i saw some of those rescued vick pittys on dogtown. i’m so glad they were given a second chance.

    there used to be a pit bull in my neighbourhood who could never find anyone [other than me] to play with in the park. eventually, the owners [teenagers] went away and never came back. he was only a pup then and yet he scared so many people just because he was a pitty. i used to worry about how he might have grown up without friends, but a few months ago, i saw him walking down the street and he looked fine and happy.

    in fact, where i live, i see more angry jack russells and maltese terriers than pit bulls. isn’t that odd?

    1. I’m glad to hear the little pitty turned up ok. Yeah, when they do temperament tests, pit bulls tend to score about average or a little above on mellowness. It’s chihuahuas who are highest on the rage scale-but no one takes their anger seriously because they’re so small!

  8. I saw the author interviewed on one of the national morning shows and knew I had to add it to my reading list. BTW – he appeared together with Hector and his dad. Pretty cool!

  9. Just an additional comment… I felt the same way you did Edie, until I started volunteering at Minnesota Valley Humane Society. Guess what? I saw more aggressive and behavioral issues from other breeds than pitbulls. I think they’re awesome and very sweet dogs now.

  10. Yes, they are just dogs. Not inherently dangerous or to be singled out as such. Isn’t it remarkable how expert the media has been in making people fear these dogs? Talk about unbalanced reporting…

    Conventional thinking needs to be questioned as with the change in the automatic destruction of fighting dogs to one of rehabilitation. And that’s a real problem with institutions like HSUS who lagged far behind groups like Bad Rap and Best Friends in changing their tune about pit bulls. But it did finally happen, and look at these amazing results. It’s uplifting:) Thanks!

  11. The story of the pit bull is so sad. Parts of Florida have legislation against pit bulls and other dogs and I know other places do too. Get rid of bad owners, not the pit bull!

    It seems that Vick has gotten a second chance, hopefully he’ll continue to do good things for dogs aside from court mandated donations.

  12. Edie, after reading your blog, I so want to read The Lost Dogs immediately, feeling emotion even as I read your review. I am quite certain I will cry as well. This from a person who cannot watch any sort of animal cruelty on T.V. As part of my training with Pat Miller, we watched a video of extreme harshness (as we must know what other people are doing) and I found it extremely difficult to watch.

    Thanks for all you do, to promote the health and welfare of animals. What a coincidence that we both chose to blog on the same subject for Be The Change on the same day. Hugs to Frankie and see you on twitter.!

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