Why Do Pit Bulls Have Such a Bad Reputation?

The long-suffering dog breed deserves a fair chance.

Rocky the pitbull mix smiles for the camera

Treehugger / Lindsey Reynolds

Pit bull people are an intense lot. We've got a bit of a chip on our shoulder because unfortunately, we always have to be ready for some sort of scapegoating—whether it's at the dog park, walking a dog past a playground, or even reading the national news. If something goes wrong, the pit bull will most likely be blamed.

I've always loved dogs, but in the past, I tended toward the squishy-faced, potato bodies of pug mixes. It wasn't until I was asked to be an emergency foster for Rocky, a senior pit bull mix who had recently been surrendered in New Orleans, that I had a firsthand experience with the breed. Note: "pit bull" isn't actually a breed, it's just become a catch-all term for muscular, block-headed dogs. Actual pit breeds include the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, and American bully.

Rocky had been surrendered by his previous owner because of restrictions related to BSL (breed-specific legislation). It's surprisingly common in apartment complexes—landlords tend to ban any kind of supposedly dangerous breed for insurance reasons, which is one reason why so many of them, like Rocky, end up at animal shelters. At almost nine years old, Rocky was going downhill fast in the shelter. Having been yanked out of the only home he'd known, he stopped eating and ignored anyone who came up to his kennel. He was also heartworm positive.

Rocky the pitbull smiles in the sunshine in grass

Treehugger / Lindsey Reynolds

I agreed to take him sight unseen that day, though I didn't even have a dog bowl to my name. Rocky cried all the way home in my car, then promptly jumped up on my bed and went to sleep. I was so enraptured by his big head and sweet nature that I adopted another pit bull type, named Honey, less than three months later. I was hooked.

Walking around with a pit bull is different than walking with a pug. You get a certain type of "look," people will cross the street to avoid you, and even your own family members might be scared when that big block head goes in for a kiss.

After seeing so many screaming media headlines about pit bulls attacking children (odd, when chihuahuas have the highest bite rate of any breed), I decided to ask the founder of the Stand Up for Pits Foundation, Rebecca Corry, how we got to this place. America is full of dog lovers, but we're not always educated on the history of domesticated dogs and how specific breeds got their reputation.

The founder of Pitbull Foundation Rebecca Corry with her pitbull Angel
Rebecca Corry, with her beloved Angel.

Courtesy of The Stand Up for Pits Foundation

Treehugger: Can you explain how "pit bull" is not an actual breed, but why so many people think that it is?

Rebecca Corry: "Pit Bull" is a term used to describe a type of dog based solely on appearance. While there is the APBT [American Pit Bull Terrier], the majority of all dogs labeled "pit bulls" are in fact mutts. Simply put, they are DOGS. Plain and simple. People think all dogs with short hair and square heads are "pit bulls" because they are uneducated and many sadly refuse to learn. The media plays a massive part in the spreading misinformation and mislabelling of dogs and it continues to cost them their lives. It's embarrassing and shameful at this point. 

There are so many misconceptions and myths about pit bulls. Why do you think that is? Do you think it's changing with time?

I think humans love to live in fear-based ignorance. I wish that wasn't the case but BSL, landlords not allowing pit bull "type" dogs into their buildings, homeowners not being insured, etc., is all proof. I would like to think it's changing but as long as the media continues to perpetuate untruths and ridiculous myths it will likely never change. Education is vital to change but people have to be open to learning.

Why does the media always put "pit bull breeds" in their headlines about dog attacks, but rarely any other breed is called out?

Because they are [expletive]. It's reckless and dangerous and all about clickbait and it needs to stop. 

What advice would you give someone who is considering adopting a rescue pit bull?

The same advice I would give someone adopting any dog. Adopt the dog FOR LIFE. Dogs are not disposable no matter how hard things get. Get your dog spayed or neutered. If you're going to train the dog, use ONLY positive reinforcement trainers and always be responsible. And always know your dog will be blamed and accused before any other dog. So stay away from dog parks, secure your yard, and when you see the idiot on their phone walking towards you with their little fluffy dog off-leash, run the other way. 

Rocky the pitbull on a pink couch
Rocky on his throne, a thrifted pink couch.

Treehugger / Lindsey Reynolds

How can dog lovers be a better ally to pit bulls?

Be educated and educate others. Work tirelessly at advocating for them so they can get a chance at life. So many are dying in shelters and being mistreated and abandoned. If you love dogs, fight for these dogs any way you can. They need us and when you get the privilege of knowing and loving one, you will realize you need them, too. 

Correct people when they misspeak about the dogs. Don't let it slide. Change the narrative.

I'm currently reading Bronwen Dickey's "Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon" which is so fascinating! Do you have any favorite pit bull facts or stories to share?

I have one million pit bull facts and stories to share. Far too many to list here so I'll simply say, these dogs are born inherently good. They are gifts and lights in this world and should be protected and respected. One rescued pit bull-type dog named Angel changed the trajectory of my life, and by doing so, countless more have been and will be saved. She did all that without ever saying a word. Doesn't get more powerful than that. 

Honey and Rocky dog, respectively, go for a gallop on Galveston beach
Honey and Rocky, respectively, go for a gallop on Galveston beach.

Treehugger / Lindsey Reynolds

I said goodbye to my Rocky this week. He was covered in lumps and bumps by the end, still tried to eat fast food wrappers on every walk, and disliked all other dogs until his dying day. I wouldn't have changed him for the world.