In my job, I see a lot of pit bulls, whether at an Austin shelter, a rescue in Los Angeles, or here in our New York City offices, where we occasionally foster dogs from the ASPCA Adoption Center.
I look forward to each visit, not just because I'm typically greeted with a clownish grin, big open paws, and a wildly flapping tail, but because each pit bull I meet is also an individual, distinct character.
This is why prejudice against the pit bull breed -- which is really a combination of many breeds -- makes no practical sense.
This isn't just a rhetorical debate -- the lives of millions of animals are at stake. So it's important to identify what we actually know about this maligned and often misidentified breed, as well as what we don't know.
We know, for example, that every dog -- even dogs within the same breed -- is different. That's what makes each unique, special and beloved by its human family.
We also know that dogs' personalities aren't based on just a single influence any more than our own personalities are. A dog's behavior is a function of breeding, yes, but also just as strongly affected by socialization, training, environment, and how it's treated by its owners. Historically, some pit bulls were bred to fight other dogs. Early bulldogs -- forbearers of the modern pit bull -- were pitted against bulls, bears and other large animals. When these fights were banned in the 1800s, people turned instead to fighting their dogs against each other. But even these dogs, bred to be aggressive to other dogs, were not bred to be aggressive toward people, since fighting dogs must tolerate frequent handling by the humans who train and fight them. Meanwhile, other pit bulls were bred expressly for work and companionship.