Review: Bronwen Dickey, 'Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon'
Some years ago, I found myself sitting with three friends outside a bar near a mountain in Phoenix, Arizona. As we surveyed the foot traffic to the desert hills, we saw a surprising number of people with pit bulls. Perhaps motivated by the amount of beer consumed, one of my friends announced that he was going to purchase a pit bull. Another turned to him: “That’s terrible. Those dogs will kill you.” The third chimed in: “What? Those dogs just want to cuddle—they’re over-sized lap dogs.” Neither deterred him in his task, and he recently reported to me that both of our compatriots were wrong that day. Pit bulls are neither killers nor cuddlers.
Polarized opinions about pit bulls have created “the pit bull wars,” a public battle over the temperament, breeding history, and place in society of pit bulls. In Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon, Bronwen Dickey says that the castigation of pit bulls began in the 1970s and reached fever pitch in the 1980s. Pit bulls gained a reputation as aggressive fighting dogs and guard dogs during the “crack epidemic” of the 1980s. This reputation was largely baseless, but it was very public. Throughout the 1990s, many local governments enforced breed-specific bans on pit bulls because of the story that the dogs had been bred for one purpose only: to fight “in the pit.”