A Brief History of Bully Dogs
The term “bulldog” is referenced very early in English literature. The dog was breed originally to guard, control, and bait bulls. Butcher’s believed that if the bull was chased, thrown, and baited that it would make the meat more tender. However, the more popular use of the breed was used for bull fighting. The fights would be attended by all social ranks and was considered a national sport for England from the 13th to 18th century. Dog fighting was just as popular as bull baiting and all walks of society also attended those events. In 1835, due to public outrage, England banned bull baiting and dog fighting in the American Cruelty Act.
Breeders started cross breeding with the English bulldog and terrier breeds such as the English Staffordshire terrier to make the dog more agile and faster. Today the AKC has four distinguished groups of pit bulls: American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bully, and American Pit Bull Terrier.
Coming to America
In the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s, there was a great migration to the United States from Western European countries including England. The dogs became companions for their owners. Once in America, the breed was used for multiple purposes. While on the farm and homesteads, pit bulls were used for hunting and hog catching.
While America grew from being small farm areas into big cities, the pit bull went from a regular dog to a national symbol. They showed up in several advertisements, posters, and magazines and considered the All American dog. One of the first publications of the pit bull was in the 1904 comic strip Buster Brown. Buster Brown was a practical joker who was always flanked by his loyal companion Tige, who was an American Pit Bull Terrier.
When WWI started, the pit bull was used as the American symbol for patriotism, bravery and neutrality. The military not only used these dogs for military propaganda but also on the battlefield as well. One of the most decorated war dogs is Sergeant Stubby from WWI. Stubby was part of the 102nd Infantry Regiment 26th Yankee Division and stationed for 18 months in the trenches of France. He participated in 17 battles where he warned his soldiers of mustard gas attacks, found the wounded and once caught an enemy solider, holding him until American soldiers found them. He is the only service dog to be promoted to Sergeant and after the war became Georgetown University’s mascot.
Another notable use of a pit bull is in the famous sitcom series starting in the 1920’s, Our Gang. Our Gang became best known in the 1950’s as the Little Rascals. Petey was an American Pit Bull Terrier.
An Ugly Turn
Somewhere along the way, pit bulls went from being the loved family pet to America’s most wanted. Even when legislation changed making dog fighting illegal in all 50 states in 1978, it still continued. The media soon followed suit and turned this loveable companion into “The Pit Bull: Friend and Killer (Times, 1987.) Shortly after this article was released, Sports Illustrated came out with an article entitled “Beware of this Dog.” The media driven image of the Pit Bull as a dangerous dog was solidified in the public’s mind. Many cities began to put restrictions on pit bull type dogs (Breed Specific Legislation.)
Changing of the Tide
Today, society is seeing the side of the breed that was so adored in early American times. In 2007, the breed made headliners when the famed Atlanta Falcon’s quarterback Michael Vick’s home was raided for dog fighting. People were shocked and angered by the conditions that the dogs were subjected to. For the first time in decades, there was a sense of sympathy for the breed when images came out of how these animals were treated. 49 dogs were seized from his property and only one had to be euthanized for extreme aggression. Many of these dogs were rescued and rehabilitated. Most notable, was Cherry who had become an internet celebrity for his love of playing with kittens.
In October of 2009, Animal Planet debuted a series called Pit Bulls and Parolees. The reality show followed around Villalobos Rescue Center that was originally located out of California. The founder of the organization, Tia Torres, rescued abandoned, abused, and neglected dogs. Her employees are typically individuals who are recently out of prison and on parole. The show has gotten national attention and has given new light to the breed.
There are several notable celebrities and dog lovers that have helped the breed gain a better reputation. Cesar Millan’s pit bull, Daddy, was famous for his calm temperament and his ability to interact with bad mannered dogs. Other celebrities include Kaley Cuoco, Jessica Alba, Michael J. Fox, and Kevin Bacon. Each raise awareness about the breed and help the fight against breed legislation.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.” The history of this breed has been egregious. While the “bully” was used as a tool to commit heinous acts, it was also considered the all American family dog. The future of the pit bull will depend completely on the education of the breed. By studying the breed’s past and learning from our misconceptions, we as a society will be able to understand this dog is like any other dog; deserving of our acceptance and love.