New Book ‘Pitbull’ Is Not Just For Dog Lovers But Anyone Interested In Media, Politics, Power and Race Relations


New Book ‘Pitbull’ Is Not Just For Dog Lovers But Anyone Interested In Media, Politics, Power and Race Relations

If I could put ONE book on your Must Read list this year, particularly THIS year as so many of us have become news junkies striving to understand the interplay of politics, money, media relations and how power and disenfranchisement work in our country, Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon by Bronwen Dickey would be it. I don’t care if you like dogs or not, or will ever meet a pit bull. Even if you think you have no opinions on the topic one way or the other, I promise you, this book is about so much more than dogs it will stun you.

While the history of bully breeds is painstakingly researched and presented with exceptional clarity, this book, at its heart, chronicles how our dogs, and their roles in our lives, play an extremely powerful role in the political landscape. Covering topics as varied as media trends, statistics, race relations, how insurance actuarial practices work and how funding for various congressional initiatives are sometimes sought to the inherent challenges in trying to right wrongs without inadvertently perpetuating fears and stereotypes, this book could easily serve as a text book in college courses in sociology and political science.

Here is an non-pit bull example you might find interesting:

Did you know that the spitz, the tiny little foxlike dog that looks like a Pomeranian, was actually the first dog to be subjected to a breed ban back in the 1870’s?  Happened in New York, and then spread like wildfire to other areas of the country. Turns out medical journals were saying this breed was uniquely dangerous as a pet, cited as being a unique carrier of the rabies virus among our domesticated dogs. And, oh, yeah, they happened to be a favored pets among suffragists, which was probably just a wild coincidence. Soooo, long story short, a lot of women lost a lot of dogs, in spectacular and gruesome public fashion. Dickey quotes the Atlanta Medical and Surgical Journal:

“Spitz dogs are the fashion and if women will have dogs instead of babies, they must expect to suffer the real or imaginary penalties that attach to this unnatural fancy.”

Dog as dog or dog as icon? THAT is the question.

American pit bull terriers (one of the many breeds and breed mixes lumped together under the very ill-defined term ‘pit bull’ today) have been icons all along, as revered in past generations as they have been later reviled as their pendulum has swung. Fueled by an interplay of factors Dickey does a masterful job of laying out, the bully breeds have historically carried the burden of icon, representing qualities and characteristics humans have heaped on them, often with utter disregard for the lack of factual behavioral data to support such gross characterizations of breed.

The relationship of the pit bull to the African American community is a subject discussed at length, in ways that it would benefit anyone living in our country to understand. If you think that using dogs as a political or economic means to perpetuate institutionalized racism is far-fetched, or doesn’t really make sense, because they are ‘just dogs,’ please consider that intense popularity and love of canines (as evidenced by the ridiculously lucrative pet supply industry) is not merely the purview of middle and upper class white people. I know many people who flippantly say they would do terrible things to anyone who tried to hurt or take away their dog. But what if you had that intensity of love and were a member of an economically depressed community and all the challenges that go with it?

The good news is that MUCH ground is being made to debunk the stereotypes and allow blocky-headed dogs to be dogs, judged as individuals, but that does not mean that the human socio-political dynamic is going the way of the dodo any time soon.

Next breed to watch?

The chihuahua.

It may be, as the book states, that its diminutive size might spare it from some of what the pitties have experienced (although the spitz is hardly a formidable dog), but with the anti-immigrant rhetoric bandied about these days, is it any surprise that this dog is now showing up on breed restriction lists for apartment rentals? It is. I’ve known this for some time but I never understood why. Now I do.

Read the book.

You can listen to an interview with Dickey on NPR.

(Please note: This is a blog post about a 330 page book representing seven years of painstaking research. Anyone wishing to cite statistics in the comments about any breeds will be directed to read the book in its entirety as it lays out exceptionally well the need to consider rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific research.)

Forward By Jennifer Rice Of Sugarsoil

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for Barks sake Please spread the word :)