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Aggressive. Unpredictable. Violent. These are the words the media uses to portray one of America’s most controversial breeds: the pit bull.

(sketch by Alyssa Muro)



The fact is, the slang term “pit bull” does not accurately pinpoint one specific breed, but rather, it describes a variety of dog breeds that have been lumped into one category. These breeds, as recognized by professionals, are the American Staffordshire Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the Bull Terrier (Pit bulls for Dummies, c 2001, p. 12). Other dogs that are sometimes placed into the “pit bull” category include boxers, mastiffs, and even labs! As paranoia surrounding the “pit bull” increases, more and more breeds are being misrepresented and incorrectly identified within this genre. The result of such misrepresentation is found in the skewing of bite statistics and the bias in media reports, and it is having a profound and devastating impact on Breed Specific Legislature.

The dog that we now recognize as the pit bull was originally bred in Britain in the early 1800's to 'bait' bulls. Bait matches were held for the entertainment of the struggling classes, serving as a source of relief from the tedious and brutal way of life suffered by many commoners during that time. In 1835 bull baiting was deemed inhumane and became illegal, and dog fighting became a popular replacement. The best fighters were celebrated and revered as heroes for their courage and fortitude during battle. At the same time a very strong bite inhibition towards humans was encouraged through selective breeding so that handlers could lean into the fighting pits and pull their battling dogs apart without worrying about receiving a redirected bite. Partially because of this breeding effort, which culled out "man biters", pit bulls became well known for their loving devotion and trustworthy nature with humans (www.badrap.org).

While pit bulls were fought for sport, at home they were docile with family members. In England they were dubbed “the nanny dog” because of their tolerant, loving, and playful disposition toward children. The historic pit bull was never bred for human aggression, and a human aggressive pit bull is deeply frowned upon as it does not meet temperament standards.

Dog fighting remains a serious sport; however, as of 2008 dog fighting is considered a felony in 49 states and a misdemeanor in Wyoming, although a bill advancing through its state legislature would make it a felony there as well (Across the USA: Wyoming, USA Today, February 27, 2008, p. 9A, col. 6). Today dog fighting offenders range from street gangs to wealthy sports figures such as Michael Vick. Dog fighting is a cruel, sick sport in which humans prey upon and take advantage of a dog’s gameness, loyalty, and pain threshold. Although historically, fighting dogs had homes to go to at the end of the day, today’s dog fighting is a brutal practice in which losing dogs are beaten to death, while winning dogs are kept in deplorable conditions, bred repeatedly, abused, and neglected (http://www.animallaw.info/articles/qvusdogfighting.htm).

A small, but crucial part of our society deems the pit bull as the “bad” or “tough” breed to have. The breed’s loyalty and stoicism is admirable, and its variety of colors, shapes, and sizes makes the breed appealing to numerous people. Unfortunately, this has led to an increase in breeding, which, in turn, has led to an overcrowding of the shelter system. There are currently an estimated 1 million pit bulls in the United States Shelter System (www.hsus.org). Continuous irresponsible, bad breeding of pit bulls (breeding based on color, size, and looks alone) leads to unstable, undesirable temperaments and further results in crowded shelters left with no choice but to euthanize.   Most open admission shelters admit these dogs but many do not leave alive because there are too few humane organizations that will help this breed. 

Strong. Silly. Affectionate. Pit bull enthusiasts often use these words to describe the family members they have found in their pit bull. As a dog who will never fail to keep you on your toes, like all terriers, the pit bull excels in enthusiastic households that can provide mental and physical stimulation, as well as a good balance of strong leadership and a sense of humor.

In our experience, many people have grown to love the breed after meeting a pit bull at one of our adoption events or when providing a foster home. Many of the best permanent homes for our bullies have been a direct result of our fostering program.  Most said that they would not feel comfortable fostering a pit bull until they met others in Underdog’s system.  How ironic that they would choose to devote a huge part of their lives to the very breed they initially feared.  We love it when that happens!  With the increasing need to relieve shelters of over-crowding, some rescues have a dedicated program for fostering. Fostering is a great way to get hands-on experience with dogs. Not only do foster volunteers have a hand in saving a pit bull’s life, which already hangs by a thin thread due to shelter policies, breed bans, and lack of space, but they also take part in the selection of the dog’s permanent home.

While a number of rescue organizations and their foster volunteers open their hearts and homes to many breeds of dogs, the pit bull largely remains scorned. The fact is, the pit bull doesn’t get adopted as quickly as the lab or the Chihuahua. While every breed comes with its own set of issues, match making between the pit bull and its potential home can require a bit more attentiveness to ensure a match made in heaven.

Many pit bull owners will tell you that once their bully wriggled their way into their hearts, their world changed for the better. By fostering or adopting, you can make a difference in a pit bull’s life. However, at the end of the day, you’ll likely say it was the pit bull who made the difference in yours. 

The Typical Pit Bull

It’s tough to generalize any breed because each individual dog has his own personality; We’ve seen pit bulls that will cuddle with a cat, pit bulls with high prey drives, lazy pit bulls and pit bulls that aren’t fazed by a 30 minute run.  It’s not the breed, it’s the dog.  And, most importantly, it’s the dog’s handler.  Eager to please, yet stubborn at times like many breeds, the pit bull will generally accept any type of handling and leadership from his people.   Those that grow up to be untrustworthy around people are usually led to be that way or genetically pre-disposed to be that way because of the way his ancestors were treated and bred.    Just like with people, the aggressive pit bull is usually a victim of his environment and up-bringing.

Ideal Homes for Pit Bulls

Since we can’t generalize the breed, we also can’t generalize the family.  People interested in adopting a pit bull should get as much information about the dog before adopting, like with any dog.  That’s why it’s great to adopt from organizations like Underdog because we can tell you how each dog is in a home environment and how he interacts with his surroundings and each living being he meets. And, even better, fostering will help you find the right match for your family.

Here are the things we can generalize about every pit bull family.  Pit bull owners should:

  • be responsible by never putting your dog in a situation where he is set up to fail.  The situation will differ from dog to dog.  The reason the word ‘pit bull’ scares people is because of their misunderstood actions and irresponsibility of some handlers.  It’s common sense.  If your dog has a prey drive or problems with other dogs, never ever let him off leash.  If your dog is jumpy, strong and mouthy, never ever leave the dog unsupervised with children.
  • go above and beyond the average training so that your pit bull can impress and change the minds of every person he meets.  Train him to be a true ambassador of his breed.  Underdog ResQ urges pit bull owners to train and get tested for a Canine Good Citizen certification.  Or, take it to the next level and train to be an animal assisted therapy team!  For NY, check out www.bideawee.org for training, registration and volunteer opportunities.  For all other states, go to www.activitytherapy.com/us.htm#mass.
  • exercise, exercise, exercise your dogs!  Terriers need a good amount of exercise.  If you don’t provide exercise for your dog you may end up with an over-stimulated disobedient dog.

Underdog ResQ agrees with and follows the standards of care and adoption set by Pit Bull Rescue Central (www.pbrc.net) and the Animal Farm Foundation (www.animalfarmfoundation.org)

Other helpful links:


What you can do for the Breed

  • Spread the word about our need for pit bull friendly foster homes in New England, the NY tri-state area and South Carolina.  Click here to download our Pit Bull Foster Recruitment Flyer.
  • Become a volunteer or foster parent for Underdog ResQ!  We are always looking for bully breed friendly volunteers willing to contribute creative marketing, design, movie/video making and writing skills.
  • Volunteer at your local shelter and help staff exercise pit bulls to keep them mentally healthy during their stay.
  • Speak positively of the pit bull and help educate people you know and meet!

Here's an anecdote from Underdog's co-founder, Lina:  "I have done what seems like thousands of dog temperament evaluations. Out of all of the breeds, I trust handling the pit bull breeds the most because they are very easy to read compared to other breeds.!"

Breed Specific Legislation Laws and How it’s affecting the pit bull breeds

States and towns have been enforcing Breed Specific Legislative rules that are greatly affecting the pit bull breed. Some towns enforce strict rules such as making pit bulls wear muzzles on public property, and making licenses and violations more expensive (Boston); while others ban the breed entirely. BSL are not contributing to solving the bad owner problem.

Check out this article to see how BSL is solving problems»

Check out http://stopbsl.com/ for more information and help fight BSL.


Underdog ResQ, taking pride in saving the pit bull breeds!


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Sparrow: one of four 8 week old puppies in an unwanted litter. He was adopted by his foster mom in 2006.

(By Tammy Rao of www.rubicat.com, Beantown Tails 2008 Reader's Choice Aware: Pet Photography.)

Eve: a stray dog found wandering the streets on New Year's Eve 2007. Eve was adopted by her foster family.

(By Tammy Rao of www.rubicat.com, Beantown Tails 2008 Reader's Choice Aware: Pet Photography.)

Pumpkin: a 2 year old pit bull afraid of her own shadow. So afraid that no other organization wanted to take her, especially because she was a pit bull. Pumpkin is a certified AKC Canine Good Citizen dog.

(By Tammy Rao of www.rubicat.com, Beantown Tails 2008 Reader's Choice Aware: Pet Photography.)

Nala: one of six 3 weeks old puppies found in the woods of Boston. Nala was adopted by Lani. Lani later became a foster flunky when she adopted her foster dog Sparrow. Nala also lives with a Lhasa Apso.

(By Tammy Rao of www.rubicat.com, Beantown Tails 2008 Reader's Choice Aware: Pet Photography.)
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