The pits

si_cover_dec29_2008In light of the recent news that Michael Vicks signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the news in July that federal authorities had broken up a nationwide dog-fighting ring and rescued more than 400 dogs, I found myself thinking again about Vicks’ pit bulls and what had become of them.  I knew that some of them had been rehabilitated and adopted by folks in the Bay Area.  Several of them even walked in last year’s Pride Parade!  But I didn’t know that they starred in this terrific story from the December ’08 Sports Illustrated.  (Hat tip to Laughs and Rants.)  It does good PR work for Pit Bulls, while not glossing over some controversies:

Zippy is proof that pit bulls have an image problem. In truth these dogs are among the most people-friendly on the planet. It has to be. In an organized dogfight three or four people are in the ring, and the dogs are often pulled apart to rest before resuming combat. (The fight usually ends when one of the dogs refuses to reengage.) When separating two angry, adrenaline-filled animals, the handlers have to be sure the dogs won’t turn on them, so over the years dogfighters have either killed or not bred dogs that showed signs of aggression toward humans. “Of all dogs,” says Dr. Frank McMillan, the director of well-being studies at Best Friends Animal Society, a 33,000-acre sanctuary in southern Utah, “pit bulls possess the single greatest ability to bond with people.”

Perhaps that’s why for decades pit bulls were considered great family dogs and in England were known as “nanny dogs” for their care of children. Petey in The Little Rascals was a pit bull, as was Stubby, a World War I hero for his actions with the 102nd Infantry in Europe, such as locating wounded U.S. soldiers and a German spy. Most dog experts will attest that a pit bull properly trained and socialized from a young age is a great pet.

Still, pit bulls historically have been bred for aggression against other dogs, and if they’re put in uncontrolled situations, some of them will fight, and if they’re not properly socialized or have been abused, they can become aggressive toward people. It doesn’t mean that all pit bulls are instinctively inclined to fight, but there is that potential.

Ultimately, 47 of Vicks’ 51 dogs were saved – either adopted out or retired to an animal sanctuary.

I’ve cheered them before*: BAD RAP is doing great things for pit bulls.  (*Here, on my short-lived other blog.  Scroll way down to “A Dog’s Life.”)  Here’s their blog on the Vick dogs.  here’s a beautiful (and occasionally haunting) Washington Post slide show, “Shelter for the Scarred” (click on “back to index” to get links to each chapter; chapter 2 is about BAD RAP).

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