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Larger-Than-Life Lap Dogs: Pit Bull Myths Debunked

Pit bulls as nannies and national "spokes-beings?" Who knew? (I did.)

Pets Contributor
Photography by: Erik Ekroth

Pit bulls.


What just happened as you read that? Did your hair stand on end with fear, or did you fill up with a warm sense of love and comfort? Sadly, many among us have been negatively conditioned by the myriad sensationalist pit-bull-related stories put forth in the media. Whether you love the breed or not, it is important to know that the vast majority of these stories are misinformed partial accounts that have come to represent a minority of incidents. The fact-based reports and statistics on this breed offer an entirely different picture.


For starters, you may be surprised to learn that in the 1940s and '50s, pit bulls were affectionately referred to as "America's nanny dog." Their stability, natural affinity for humans, and good nature with kids had many American families employing pit bulls to watch over precious new family members. And if any of you have had the good fortune to know a pittie personally, you'll agree that their ongoing wish to make their love and affection known with kisses likely kept these kids "well groomed" to boot! But the impressive history of this now-maligned breed does not stop here.


Pit bulls not only have been trusted to care for human infants, but large companies -- and even countries -- have branded them as "spokes-beings" for their products and causes! Their professional portfolio includes serving as the face for Radio Corporation of America (RCA), and they were America's choice to convey loyalty and integrity on WWI and WWII campaign posters to enroll troops.


President Woodrow Wilson's best friend was not only a pit bull; he was also a war hero. Canine Sgt. Stubby served our country in WWI and was reportedly wounded in action twice. Stubby actually captured a German spy and succeeded in saving his entire platoon by warning them to retreat from a poisonous gas attack. If that doesn't define "man's best friend," what does?


Woodrow Wilson was not the only national leader loved by a member of this breed. As a young boy, Jimmy Carter had a loyal pit bull companion. And General George S. Patton's faithful bull pooch, Willie, was noted to have mourned his master's loss for a long time after the general's passing.


Helen Keller also shared her life and travails with a beloved pit bull companion. And who can forget the famed Petey from "The Little Rascals"? More modern celebrity figures, such as Jon Stewart, Brad Pitt, Jessica Alba, Mary Tyler Moore, and Justin Timberlake have been seen out and about, walking proud with their rescued pit bull companions.


My own work helping rescue animals after Hurricane Katrina had me working side by side with actress Linda Blair (of "Exorcist" fame), who also came to the Gulf Coast to help rescue animals. Linda was right there in the trenches and is so committed to these canines that she runs her own not-for-profit rescue group to help the breed. So if history is any indication, I'd say we have a lot to learn about this misunderstood breed. Pit bulls even misunderstand themselves: They seem to be confused as to their size. Most believe they are cuddly little lap dogs and see no reason why they, too, can't accompany their human everywhere in a chic little purse.


I know you to be a crowd always up for debunking myths about our fellow animals, so I vote that we spread the real story on this dogged dog. Hopefully we can educate others missing out on the "bottomless pit" of love these guys have to offer the world.