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Pit Bulls Get a Bad Rap

When they're used in dog fights, it's newsworthy. When they visit hospital patients, it's not.

by
Julia Szabo

Bio

August 4, 2008 - 6:40 am
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A new TV commercial for Verizon Wireless has dog-lovers in an uproar. In the spot, an urban hipster climbs over a fence into a junkyard to get to an LG cellular phone, awakening two sleeping Pit Bulls guarding the yard. As the guy gets close enough to touch the phone, he just misses the dogs reaching the end of their heavy chains, stopping short of catching him with their bared fangs. The slogan goes: “Dare you to touch one.”

This commercial exploits the stereotype of the Pit Bull as a snarling, vicious monster in chains. But no dog should ever be chained, and the rescue of the 50 Pits abused by convicted dog-fighter Michael Vick proves the “vicious” stereotype dead wrong. One of the former Vick dogs, Leo, a.k.a. “Dr. Leo,” now visits hospitals in California, spreading love and cheer to patients as a therapy dog. Talk about a Pit poster boy.

Best Friends Animal Society, the Utah sanctuary that is rehabbing the former Vick dogs, circulated an online petition. Angry Verizon subscribers began switching their BlackBerry accounts to other providers in protest. Yet despite the Humane Society of the United States asking Verizon to pull the ad, the company refused. “These are fictional ads, designed to be over the top, to break through the clutter and get our message across,” said Verizon Wireless spokesperson Brenda Raney. Then, late last week, Verizon caved in to consumer and animal activist pressure, pulling the offensive TV ad in all markets.

“Everybody knows that profiling is wrong when applied to people, but people seem very free to apply it to pets,” says Joseph Pentangelo of the ASPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement Division, which routinely rescues Pit Bulls. As it happens, HLE’s mascot is a red nose Pit named Cherub who has lived happily at the Animal Precinct for the past six years. “There has never been an incident of him being the slightest bit aggressive,” Pentangelo reports. “He’s happy to greet strangers.”

Meanwhile, another instance of canine breed profiling may be seen in The Dark Knight. The newest retelling of the Batman legend is thrilling moviegoers — all except those who love Rottweilers. Fans of this breed, which — like the pit bull — is widely maligned and misunderstood, are upset to see their favorite dog portrayed in America’s hottest flick as an evil menace on four legs. Maybe “no animals were harmed” during filming, but the thousands of sweet Rottweilers already languishing in animal shelters certainly won’t benefit from the way The Dark Knight portrays the breed.

Pit Bulls have a hard time getting adopted at animal shelters because of bad press in the MSM, which exploits “Pit Bull attack” stories because they are violent and sexy. Pit Bulls visiting hospitals? Sorry, that’s not sexy enough for most MSM editors and producers, who’d rather characterize these animals as unpredictable, bloodthirsty beasts with a taste for human blood, more demon than dog. As a result, animal shelters across this country are overcrowded with gentle, affectionate Pit Bulls that no one wants to adopt because of the horror stories they’ve heard on the news. Despite the best efforts of rescuers, these dogs wind up killed by the thousands for lack of cage space.

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