Journalist, Bronwen Dickey shares insights about her book,
Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon
Before we dive in, let me remind everyone that this website is a Pit Bull safe zone. No BSL (Breed Specific Legislation) here and while you are more than welcome to disagree with my review, please make sure that you have actually read the book first.
Seriously! Buy it. Read it. Let’s discuss. It’s fine to have a differing experience or opinion but don’t go all hater here if you haven’t read Bronwen Dickey’s well researched, balanced and incredibly important work.
***Disclosure: this is NOT a paid review. All opinions are my own and I am giving away a copy of the book at my own expense because I truly believe in the book and the author. If you would like to purchase a copy of the book (highly recommended) feel free to use one of the affiliate links in the post.***
When I reached out to Bronwen Dickey to interview her as part of my review of her current book, Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon, she graciously made time to chat with me on the phone. I was thrilled as I consider this book to be one of the most important journalistic endeavors in the area of Pit Bull awareness I’ve ever read and I am excited to share my review and excerpts from our conversation. (Also, if you read all the way through the post, there’s a giveaway at the end 🙂 )
Ms. Dickey shares her seven years of research in this compelling and accessible book that, frankly, should be in every animal shelter, in the waiting room of every veterinarian’s office, and on the bookshelf of every animal welfare advocate. It’s that good! (Seriously! Buy a copy for all the Pit Bull owners and animal welfare advocates you know)
Turner (left) getting some love from one of his humans.
The incredible depth of Ms. Dickey’s research and the masterful way she ties together historical accounts, verified scientific data (something that is, sadly, missing from the anti-Pit Bull/pro-BSL arguments), and her own direct interviews and experiences while completing her research, culminate in a book that is informative, heart-breaking and hopeful. As she points out, “Looking at the issues facing Pit Bulls taught me about the issues facing all dogs.”
To say that this book has had a profound impact on my volunteer work with ColoRADogs, my approach to this blog, as well as with how I now engage in the animal welfare conversation, would be an understatement. Ms. Dickey shares profound insights regarding the socio-economic realities informing much of the debate surrounding Pit Bulls and makes the scientific information approachable and easily understood. The book is a perfect blend of journalistic reporting and story-telling.
Ella with her family, Aaron & Amanda
Pearl, a senior Pit Bull rescued from a backyard breeder
Lilo doing her best bumblebee impression
Sarcastic Dog (SD): Based on the reaction from the anti-Pit Bull faction, is it fair to say that you are being labeled a “Pit Bull advocate” and is that an accurate representation of who you are and why you wrote this book?
Bronwen Dickey (BD): As a journalist, I was intrigued by and wanted to explore the issue. I did not intend to be an advocate. I didn’t want to paint a sunny picture or simply counter the negative stereotypes. Believing the overly positive about Pit Bulls can do as much damage as buying into the myths and stereotypes. My intention was to be rigorous, fair and thorough. I wanted to see what the science said and the science is, in fact, favorable for these dogs. I am an advocate for critical thinking, science and humane communities.
SD: Why do you think the anti-Pit Bull sentiment continues to have such a stronghold despite the science-based facts and the history that journalists, such as yourself are uncovering and sharing? Why is there such a resistance to the truth?
BD: The anti-Pit Bull group is small but vocal. They appear to be bigger than they are because technology flattens the information giving equal weight where it shouldn’t. The culture of the Internet makes things more intractable. In reality, there are people who have been legitimately hurt but there is no space to talk about the impact without both sides jumping in. Also, the Pit Bull haters are looking for an issue. “Outrage theater” reigns on the Internet and there is a self-reinforcing loop of outrage being validated and reinforced without the science to back it up. Psychological research has verified that the more you debate, the more they dig in so without real societal changes, there is a back fire effect when you try to rationally engage.
SD: It seems that we, as a nation are really too scared to acknowledge and discuss the inherent racism and classism you outline in the book. How does this impact the conversation about Pit Bulls?
BD: This is a complicated issue. Whether we are ready to acknowledge it or not, the media bias in the Pit Bull debate is just lazy reporting sensationalized for ratings and many just buy in to the news bite. We hear about “thugs” and “criminals” and the focus is on lower-income areas that tend to reflect a certain stereotype of what a dog owner is. It’s unfair and inaccurate. We have to recognize that poverty and a lack of information does not automatically mean someone doesn’t care about their dogs. But, life is complicated and most of us do not have to choose between keeping the lights on, feeding our families or taking care of our pets. Which comes first? It raises the question: “If the racial commentary is cloaked in language referencing the dogs, does the solution have to come through the dogs?” Perhaps it will lead to acknowledging race and poverty in a new way.
SD: As a mom, I have seen a shift to “entitlement parenting” – the notion that “everyone/everything should shift around me and my child, thereby eliminating or dramatically undermining personal responsibility”. I see this same phenomenon in the pet parenting world. When we anthropomorphize our pets in that same vein, I think we take away from their ability to just be dogs and we forget our responsibility as dog owners. Do you think the things we expect of our dogs in today’s world are realistic? Beneficial? Detrimental?
BD: As I said, we do not do dogs any good by expecting them to be anything other than dogs. The reality is that most dogs were once working dogs. We’ve gone from a working dog world to living in a pet dog world and that means that we have imposed new, and not totally appropriate, expectations on our dogs. For example, expecting a dog not to react like a dog to something they find frightening or concerning, is unfair to the dog and creates an environment where dogs will fail. How much have we tried to stop dogs from barking? Marking? Humping? Chewing? Scuffling? These are all natural dog behaviors that we have deemed “unacceptable” in today’s pet dog culture.
Oscar, a survivor of the Michael Vick dog fighting bust, was adopted and is happily living out his senior years with a family of humans and other dogs.
SD: What was most surprising as you conducted your research and traveled around the country to interview folks for the book?
BD: I think it was how few folks really had a truly negative response to Pit Bulls. Some people were neutral. Others were cautious. But, most were absolutely open to new information and understood that much of the negative stuff they’d heard was just hype. Pit Bulls are in the top five most popular dogs in 38 states so they are everywhere and the vast majority of folks understand that they are just dogs. Also, I found that, overwhelmingly, if given the resources, very few people wouldn’t want to do better for their dogs.
SD: What can we do to help change the conversation about Pit Bulls? How do we talk to the folks who really seem to hate these dogs?
BD: Try to listen rather than trying to debate them out of the way they feel. Let me add that fear doesn’t respond to data. Be compassionate and listen to their concerns. The people who are most impacted by BSL and who are struggling the most are the ones typically left out of the conversation.
- Share your dogs. Dogs are an incredible bridge, especially between people who would normally have nothing to talk about.
- Open up the conversation to include all pets and all people and you see folks come out of the woodwork to help.
- Let go of the “breed framework” It’s so liberating!
- Get involved. Find a rescue or shelter that is Pit Bull friendly and work with ALL dogs.
- Reach out to underserved communities with education and outreach initiatives and engage folks in the changes.
If it’s not clear, I love this book!
So much so that I am giving away a copy to one really lucky reader!