Next, a confession: as of only a few years ago, when the conversation turned to Pit Bulls, I could not be swayed -- they were evil. My opinion was derived almost exclusively from the pap fed to me by the popular media -- here was a breed whose time had come and gone. Bred for one purpose, to fight and fight and, as Winston Churchill said, "Never, never, never, never give up," this once-popular breed was now an accessory for those who needed to wear their testosterone on their sleeves -- drug dealers, gang bangers and good old boys with more bluster than brains. Wipe them out, said I. No reasonable person could argue otherwise. You see, I am a knee-jerk, tax-and-spend member of the liberal intelligencia; I know what's best for people and I am damn proud of it.
Then came the conversion. No, I am still a tax-and-spend liberal (and still proud of it). Rather, I had the good fortune to meet Jillian Cline. I say 'meet' in the late 20th century meaning of the word. You see, we've never really met, but I know her better than I've known people with whom I've shared office space for years. We became friends (and, yes, I hereby state squarely that this is not an unbiased review) on the Internet on BulldogX-L, an electronic mailing list set up in early 1994 to discuss the care and quirky behavior of Bulldogs and their owners. Almost from the list's inception, we, the charter members, were in a quandary. While all we really wanted to talk about was what goofy things our pudgy little pigs did that day, what they, like crazed little Cuisinarts on amphetamines, had chewed up or how women turn to jelly in the presence of such canine pulchritude, there were people coming to the list who wanted to discuss other breeds. Being liberals and free-speech kind of guys, we somewhat grudgingly allowed discussion of all related bull-breeds: French Bulldogs, (hard to argue there), Bull Terriers (goofy looking dogs, eh?), Staffordshire Bull Terriers (the "nanny dog") and, yes, American Pit Bull Terriers (APBTs) and American Staffordshire Terriers (ASTs), those closely- related breeds generally lumped together under the generic classification of Pit Bull.
Yep, the Pit Bulls had arrived and soon enough, Jill Cline subscribed to the list. She introduced herself gently and noted modestly that she had done some work to fight breed-specific legislation, specifically bills targeted directly at Pit Bulls. We slowly learned that Jill and her partner Mike Martindale had published some books meant to display the true face of the APBT and to try to stem the tide of public opinion and the stilted depiction of the breed by a sometimes-rabid media. I learned a lot from Jill and the other APBT and AST fanciers on BulldogX-L. To my amazement, I found myself defending the breed in casual discussions. There was no single epiphany that I can point to in this transformation. They turned me ever so slowly, more by their own examples than any of the interminable arguments about "gameness" or stories of incredible athletic prowess that occasionally ensued. I learned to open my eyes, assess the situation like the empiricist that I am supposed to be and come to my own opinions. My God Jill, it must have worked!
The American Pit Bull Terrier Speaks...Good Dog is Cline and Martindale's third book aimed at helping to restore the breed's reputation. It is largely a picture book containing at least a thousand photographs of Pit Bulls and their friends, most in black and white, some in full color, submitted by Pit Bull fanciers and owners from all over the world. The photos are interspersed with essays on the special needs of Pit Bulls and the attendant responsibilities of Pit Bull ownership (these are, after all, powerful and serious dogs), but mostly this is a book of images. There are pictures of Pits with kids, Pits with other dogs, Pits with cats, pretty Pits, pugnacious Pits, Pits in drag, Pits in moose antlers, Pits by the Christmas trees. The reader is treated to Pits in cars, Pits at weight pulls, Pits at conformation shows, Pits doing tricks, Pits in agility trials, Pits in the wilderness, litters of Pit puppies...old Pits, young Pits, red Pits, blue Pits. You get the picture...
Sound boring? Amazingly, it's not. The book's hook (sorry, I'm starting to sound like Dr. Seuss) is really not the dogs. Yes, they are impressive and, though I like my pooches with slightly shorter schnozzes and greater girth, they are variously beautiful, statuesque and occasionally overwhelming, but the fascination in this book lies in the people, both those in front of the camera and those behind the viewfinder. These are real, normal people! No monsters here; no over-amped steroid junkies -- just real people with real kids and real cars and real back yards. Some live in cities and some in towns with real picket fences. Like all good compositions, there's dissonance in the book: a studio shot of Punch the Pit with his elegant New York, New York owners a few pages away from an image of leather-clad Daryl and Drift Smith with their Pit Bull "D" posing on the Super Glide. A picture of certified therapy Pit Bulls with their fresh-faced owner Kate in the same volume as an image of a 64-pound dog pulling a 5700 lb. weight. There's Aztlano and Jennifer Archuleta hiking with Ria the AST and Dawne Deeley lazying about with Sturgis, the Giant Holstein Pit Bull with the incredible tongue. No single stereotype encompasses these folks. The tie that binds? They have great faces, independent faces, real-people faces that say clearly "I love this dog dammit!" How can I argue with them? What experiential basis do I have to support a hysterical view towards this breed? None; I capitulate. Of course, I had more or less changed my opinion some time ago -- the calm and knowledgeable nature of Jill Cline and other Pit Bull fanciers on BulldogX-L had already brought me around, but the book worked; it did its job.
The American Pit Bull Terrier Speaks...Good Dog is a limited edition of 500 copies published by Preservation Publishing Company, 1701 Broadway, Suite #253, Vancouver, WA 98663, USA. When last I heard there were still a few copies left at $75 each. If you love dogs, even golden ones with fuzzy butts, this book should be in your library or on your coffee table. It will refresh your good nature, lift your spirits and make you re-evaluate your opinions. Y'know what? Admitting that you were wrong can be a very liberating experience. In the matter of Pits Bulls versus Society, I was dead wrong. Thanks Jill and Mike!
Craig Foltz is a professional astronomer who lives in Tucson with his human companions, Sharon, Rachel and Robin; the Bulldogs, RoxSteady and Brummy Square Toes; and the angry cats Duncan and Sabrina. In his spare time he is the co-administrator of a haven for Bulldog lovers on the World Wide Web, http://www.bulldog.org/.