In her debut, essayist and journalist Dickey, a contributor to the Oxford American, addresses how the prevailing negative image of pit bulls is not only misguided, but also a mark of broader social prejudices.
The author notes how iconic images of pit bulls “as snarling beasts” are frequently evoked to market a wide variety of products, from sunglasses to energy drinks. During the 2008 election, Sarah Palin joked that the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull was lipstick. The well-publicized 2007 indictment of NFL quarterback Michael Vick for his involvement in illegal dogfights between pit bulls was not only shocking, but it reinforced the negative image of the dogs. After adopting a pit bull herself, Dickey was shocked to witness the negative responses her pet evoked. Tracing the breed's history in the United States, she learned this was not always the case. The author traces the pit bull's decline from social prominence, partly due to the mythology associated with purebreds. After World War II, she writes, when middle-class Americans began to populate suburbs, status symbols took on a new importance, and “dog fanciers turned breeds into brands…large pedigreed dogs became essential components of the all-American 1950s family.” Social stratification was mirrored by the stratification assigned to pedigreed dogs as opposed to mutts, and breeders amplified these ideas. Fads and fashion became significant when selecting a pet, while temperament was devalued; owning a dog without a pedigree carried a social stigma. At the same time, pit bulls, due to their association with dogfights, became suspect in the popular imagination, singled out by media hysteria over isolated incidences of dog bites by the breed. Such coverage in the media contributed to a law in Denver that requires pit pull owners to take out a $300,000 dog-insurance policy.
An appealing look at how our relationships with man's best friend provides a mirror of cultural mores.