Of Pit bulls and Moral Panics: Addressing a Contemporary


Of  Pit  bulls  and  Moral  Panics:  Addressing  a  Contemporary   Controversy   By:  Samantha  Rindler  and  Dr.  Brian  M.  Lowe    

Project  Overview:  This  project  addresses  how  numerous  cities,  municipalities,  

and  even  Provinces  in  North  America  have  come  to  place  legal  bans  on  dogs  defined   as  “Pit  Bulls.”    This  question  is  noteworthy  because  the  Pit  Bull  has  been  viewed  in   the  early  twentieth  century  as  a  steadfast  and  loyal  dog,  ideal  for  adults  and   children,  and  less  than  100  years  later  is  so  vilified  that  the  breed  has  become  legally   stigmatized-­‐  the  first  time  such  breed-­‐  specific  bans  have  been  created.    This  is   significant  because,  as  Gladwell  (2006)  notes,  while  Pit  Bulls  are  associated  with   attacks  on  humans,  they  are  but  one  of  many  breeds  documented  to  have  attacked   and  injured  persons.    If  this  is  the  case,  why  are  Pit  Bull  bans  pursued,  instead  of   other  possible  public  policy  responses  (such  as  laws  which  penalize  mistreatment  of   dogs  which  are  also  correlated  with  dog  attacks)?    



3. Essentialism:  Why  is  it  that  society  believes  that  it  is  in  the  nature  of  pit  

bulls  to  fight,  and  be  aggressive?  Part  of  the  reason  that  society  views  this   dog  as  naturally  aggressive  is  because  of  the  owners  that  raise  them  to  be   violent.    Pit  bulls  have  ultimately  become  a  growing  member  of  urban  decay.     This  idea  illustrates  a  poor  social  structure,  therefore  the  creation  of  drugs   and  drug  dealers.    This  extremely  loyal  breed  has  become  the  icon  for   negative  stigma  because  of  the  people  who  own  them;  in  many  cases  drug   dealers  own  pit  bulls  specifically  in  order  to  use  them  for  protection  and   intimidation.    “In  the  1980’s  the  American  Pit  Bull  because  the  pet  of  choice   for  tough  guys  and  thugs.    How  macho  you  were  could  be  determined  by  how   mean  and  vicious  your  pit  bull  was.    People  owning  such  dogs  choose  them   for  the  very  reason  the  rest  of  us  fear  them”  (The  Reporter).      

    6. Alternative  Narrative  Overview:  The  process  of  this  study  will  also  

consist  of  developing  a  more  positive  image  of  the  Pit  Bull  breed.    In  light  of   our  research  efforts,  any  historical  evidence  founded  will  be  used  to  reverse   the  detrimental  damage  that  many  have  created  when  mistreating  this   specific  breed.    The  creation  of  social  stigma  has  caused  almost  irreparable   damage,  and  therefore  our  analysis  to  the  best  of  its  ability  will  counteract   such  accusations  made  upon  Pit  Bulls.    It  was  not  long  ago  that  these  dogs   were  considered  to  be  beloved  family  pets,  with  this  project  we  hope  to   encourage  this  belief.        

  4. Methodology:  This  project  seeks  to  explore  this  phenomena  through    











1. Constructivism:  Pit  Bulls  are  viewed  as  the  scapegoat  for  many  of  the   violent  crimes  that  occur  against  people  and  other  animals.    Evidence   throughout  history  shows  us  how  these  dogs  were  once  considered  a  true   family  pet,  but  are  now  seen  as  malicious  and  ruthless  dogs.    The  physicality   of  the  modern  pit  bull  include;  a  strong  muscular  body,  large  skull,  and   powerful  jaw  muscles.    “Pit  bulls  can  bite  with  a  force  of  almost  2,000  pounds   per  square  inch-­‐  that’s  twice  the  force  of  a  German  shepherd  or  a  Doberman   Pincher”  (Washington  Post).    Their  strong  jaws  cause  them  to  “hold  and   shake  instead  of  biting  and  releasing,  which  is  why  they  are  sometimes  called   sharks  on  four  legs”  (Washington  Post).    Pit  bulls  are  also  associated  with   moral  panics  or  social  problems.    “The  term  social  problem  is  to  indicate  that   something  is  wrong.    In  popular  understanding,  a  social  problem  is  not   something  like  happy  families,  physically  fit  people,  or  schools  that  teach   children  to  read.    This  is  common  sense:  The  name  is  social  problem  so  it   obviously  refers  to  conditions  evaluated  as  wrong  because  they  create  harm”   (Pg.  6).    People  associate  this  breed  with  social  problems  or  social  stigmas   because  of  how  they  are  portrayed  by  the  media  as  violent  creatures.    Many   cities  and  provinces  believe  that  by  creating  breed  specific  laws,  that  it  will   limit  dog  attacks  and  eventually  wipe  out  a  breed  that  they  consider   threatening  and  dangerous.     2. Breed  Specific  Laws:  The  idea  of  the  Pit  Bull  ban  by  many  has  been   called  “animal  racism.”    In  2003  the  anti-­‐  breedist  in  Westbury,  N.Y.,   challenged  a  local  pit  bull  ban  because  the  law  judged  the  dog  by  “its  breed   rather  than  its  actions.    The  court  found  the  bam  unconstitutional  because  it   denied  pit  bull  owners  equal  protection  and  due  process.    Most  courts  have   found  breed-­‐  specific  laws  constitutional,  holding  that  owning  a  dog  is  not  a   fundamental  right”  (The  Washington  Post).    Also,  since  pit  bulls  are  not  a  true   breed,  it  has  made  it  even  more  difficult  to  assign  what  the  dog  actually  is   because  a  “pit  bull”  is  composed  of  so  many  other  breeds.    Breed  specific  laws   are  put  into  place  because  of  attacks  that  have  been  made  against  other   people  and  animals.    In  the  media  the  only  dog  attack  stories  that  are  shown   are  when  a  pit  bull  attacks  a  human  being.    “By  2000,  pit  bull  fear  and  hype   had  reached  such  proportions  that  the  breed  was  banned  in  more  than  two   hundred  cities  and  counties  around  the  United  States.    Lost  in  all  the   legislation  was  the  fact  that  for  decades  the  pit  bull  had  been  considered  one   of  the  most  loyal  loving,  and  people-­‐  friendly  dogs  on  the  planet”  (Jim  Gorant   Pg.  137).      

conducting  a  content  analysis  of  newspaper  accounts  of  Pit  Bulls  and  legal   proceeding  regarding  Pit  Bulls  in  order  to  identify  how  Pit  Bulls  are  typified   (Best,  2008)  and  with  what  significant  social  problems  are  associated.    This   project  will  also  examine  other  popular  cultural  artifacts,  including  music   videos,  and  produce  systematic  patterns  of  both  Pit  Bull  typification  and   association  with  various  activities.    Many  newspaper  accounts  depict  specific   stories  of  pit  bulls  attacking  young  children  and  elderly  people.    According  to   the  Toronto  Star,  many  in  Canada  believe  that,  “The  pit  bull  terrier  is  a   potential  killer.    It’s  vise-­‐  like  jaws  can  inflict  terrible  damage  on  other   animals  and  humans,  especially  children,  unable  to  defend  themselves”   (Warren  Gerard,  Toronto  Star).    Bandow  of  the  Toronto  Star  also  explains,   “The  reason  you  see  more  reports  on  pit  bull  bites,  is  that  when  a  pit  bull   bites,  it’s  not  just  a  bite,  it’s  a  mauling.    The  dog  has  a  highly  developed  prey   drive,  he  sees  biting  as  fun,  as  a  game.  It’s  his  genetic  program.”    It  is  here  that   this  misconception  causes  fear  among  people  because  the  media  causes   society  to  believe  that  pit  bulls  are  killing  machines,  and  their  genetic  make   up  in  a  sense  makes  them  evil.      



                             Works  Cited    

Best,  Joel.  Social  Problems.  New  York:  Norton.    

"Botswana;  The  History  of  the  American  Pit  Bull."  The  Reporter  [Africa]  28  Nov.   2006:  1-­‐4.  Print.   Cohen,  Stanley.  2002.  Folk  Devils  and  Moral  Panics.  Third  Edition.  Routledge.    



5. History:  One  of  the  most  well-­‐known  and  respected  Pit  Bulls  was  Stubby,  a   Pit  bull  who  served  as  an  aid  and  soldier  to  the  102d  infantry  division  during   WWI.    Founded  by  Private  John  Robert  Conroy  on  the  Yale  Campus,  in  1917,   Stubby  became  a  beloved  member  of  the  training  camp  that  Private  Conroy   and  others  were  attending.    When  the  soldiers  were  being  transferred   Private  Conroy  had  smuggled  the  dog  to  a  variety  of  places  until  finally   Stubby  had  made  a  great  journey  to  Germany.    Stubby  became  the  mascot  for   the  102d  special  division  who  were  put  on  the  front  lines  during  February   1918.    The  soldiers,  including  Stubby  were  forced  to  live  in  harsh  conditions   in  trenches  during  the  war.    At  one  point  during  their  stay  in  the  trenches  the   Germans  launched  a  gas  attack  upon  Stubby’s  infantry,  the  gas  would  cause   the  skin  to  be  burned,  blindness,  and  loss  of  limbs.    This  caused  Stubby’s  first   injuries;  from  this  point  on  he  became  extremely  sensitive  to  the  slightest   smell  of  vapor.    This  helped  the  infantry  survive  many  other  attacks.    By  the   end  of  the  war  Stubby  had  been  a  part  of  17  battles,  and  had  saved  many  of   his  fellow  soldiers.    He  was  promoted  to  the  rank  of  Sergeant,  and  was  given   many  medals  for  his  honorable  efforts  during  the  war   (http://awesomeplanet.blogspot.com/2008/02/sgt-­‐stubby1917-­‐1926a-­‐ pitbull.html).      

Gerard,  Warren.  "Britain  Restricts  "Devil  Dogs"  after  Vicious  Pit  Bull  Attacks."  The   Toronto  Star  13  May  1999:  1-­‐4.  Print.   Gladwell,  Malcolm.  2006.  “Troublemakers:  what  pit  bulls  can  teach  us  about   profiling.”  The  New  Yorker,  6  February  2006.     Gorant,  Jim.  The  Lost  Dogs:  Michael  Vick's  Dogs  and  Their  Tale  of  Rescue  and   Redemption.  New  York:  Gotham,  2010.  Print.  

Maloney,  Tim.  "Keep  the  Pit  Bull  Ban-­‐-­‐  and  Put  Some  Bite  in  It."  The  Washington   Post  2  Oct.  2005:  1-­‐4.  LexisNexis  Academic.  2  Oct.  2005.  Web.  19  Sept.  2010.   .   "Sgt.  Stubby(1917-­‐1926):A  PITBULL."  Awesome  Wonders.  Web.  14  Oct.  2010.   .  

Taylor,  Charles.  2004.  Modern  Social  Imaginaries.  Chapel  Hill:  University  of  North   Carolina  Press.  



Of Pit bulls and Moral Panics: Addressing a Contemporary

Of  Pit  bulls  and  Moral  Panics:  Addressing  a  Contemporary   Controversy   By:  Samantha  Rindler  and  Dr.  Brian  M.  Lowe     Project  Overv...

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