The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression
An Animal Rights Article from

From The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
September 2013

Book Review - The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression - Author Karen Delise, Anubis Publishing, 2007

The author details the history of society’s response to canine aggression. First it was the Bloodhound, sensationalized in the dramatizations of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Then it was the Doberman, symbol of the Nazi menace. Today, it is the Pit bull who is vilified. The author shows how dogs have been revered and feared throughout history and how we humans have been the ones to create both the love and the fear by how we treat different breeds of dogs.

“However, the media’s first reports of two Pit-bull fatalities in the late 1970s were filled with erroneous Pit bull anatomical references and sensationalized claims of Pit bull abilities. These glaring errors, along with the continuous exposure of Pit bulls used by dog fighters and drug dealers, would produce an immediate and predictable increase in the popularity of this breed with substandard and criminal owners. By the early 1980s the Pit bull was on the fast track to becoming the new super-predator.

“As the media delighted in reporting the Pit bull to be unpredictable and deadly, the population of Pit bulls accelerated each consecutive years. United Kennel Club (UKC) registrations show a 30% increase in registrations of American Pit Bull Terriers in a single year, (1983 to 1984).” p 96

“Perhaps worse than failing to address the real reasons for dog attacks, is the fact that these politicians seem blissfully unaware of the insidious results of making such outrageous claims about Pit bulls and Pit bull behavior. History has repeatedly shown that publicly portraying a breed of dog as exceedingly ferocious or dangerous will only serve to increase the breed’s popularity with dangerous owners. Public statements that Pit bulls are “land sharks” or “ticking time bombs” will not increase the breed’s popularity with responsible owners, but only serve to increase the breed’s popularity with owners who are purposely seeking out a “dangerous” dog. The claims of these politicians have only perpetuated the problem by demonizing breeds of dogs and then making them even more desirable and more sought after by people who will mismanage and abuse these animals in such a way as to put the community at risk.” p 104

“No owner is going to admit a Pit bull attacked a child because it was kept on a heavy logging chain for five years, bred two times a year, was worm-infested and parasite-ridden, was teased by children and lived a miserable, lonely existence in the far corner of the backyard. The owner is going to tell police that the dog never showed any signs of aggressiveness. And if owners’ comments are unreliable, media accounts of these events are even more so as they are all to content to describe these dogs as “family pets” and print the abusive owners’ cries of ignorance and denial.” p 118

“To demonstrate how single-minded the media is in reporting breeds, and how inaccurate statistics can be on dog attacks: In the past four years alone (2002-2005), eleven dogs involved in fatal attacks with no Pit bull characteristics were counted as Pit bulls, while their “true” breeds were not reported, and three dogs that were clearly not Rottweilers were identified as Rottweilers. Even more distressing is that in the media’s haste to report Pit bull or Rottweiler attacks, three human deaths were attributed to dogs (two cases were reported to be Pit bull attacks and one case was reported to a be a Rottweiler attack) when, in reality, the cause of death of these individuals was later determined to be from causes other than dog bites.” p 123

Return to Animal Rights Articles