The Bulldog Breeds

I was thinking I ought to say something about bulldogs in general and something about my sloppy mingling of descriptors for Mrs. Wigglebottom–AmStaff vs. pitbull. And, I know that I’m wading into an argument that’s probably already ugly, but what good is the Internet if not for spouting off about stuff like you’re an expert?

Here’s the short version. When people see me at the park and ask what kind of dog Mrs. Wigglebottom is, I say that she’s an American Staffordshire Terrier. If, instead, they ask me if she’s a pitbull, I say yes. I think people are afraid of pitbulls, for good reasons, and it’s patronizing and dishonest to pretend like my dog is not one of the dogs of which they are afraid. I can take the opportunity to at least show them that Mrs. Wigglebottom is a good dog, but, if they’re not up for that, that’s their business. I respect that.

But this gets us into the messy business of just what exactly a pitbull is. From watching the various animal police shows on Animal Planet, I get the idea that most folks have a “I know one when I see one” attitude about them. The truth is more complicated than that.

Without getting into too much history, there are a lot of dog breeds that trace their origins back to the fighting pits, from the Boston Terrier, through the various bull dog breeds and the boxer, into the mastiffs. But not all of these dogs have bad reputations and not all of these breeds are still fought (I hope).

Much of the confusion about what is a pitbull and what isn’t comes down to this: the word “pitbull” is used to describe a specific breed of dog, a type of dog, and a dog that has a certain, inhumane, job.

The specific breed of dog is the American Pit Bull Terrier, which is not recognized by the AKC (though it was at one point), but is recognized by other kennel clubs. The American Pit Bull Terrier is very closely related to the American Staffordshire Terrier, but there are differences. I’m no expert, but to my eye, the American Pit Bull Terrier often has a lankier appearance and the look of the dog varies a lot more than the look of the AmStaff in terms of acceptable weights and sizes.

The type of dog is any bull dog that lacks the affable charm of the English Bulldog, including the ones recognized by the AKC–the AmStaff, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, and sometimes the Bull Mastiff–and ones that aren’t, like the American Bulldog and the American Pit Bull Terrier. All of these dogs come under the umbrella term “pitbull,” though they vary greatly in size and appearance. That’s why both the dog in the Target commercials and the Our Gang shorts are called pitbulls, even though they don’t look a thing alike.

Then there’s the dog that has the terrible job.

[Let me just take a moment to say that, if you fight dogs, you suck. It doesn’t prove your worth as a man. Well, yes it does, just not in the way you intend. It proves that you are a monster and a coward and, if there is any justice, the dogs whose deaths you are responsible for will get some sort of revenge in the afterlife. Maybe they’ll stand around and watch you morons repeatedly fight each other to the death. Taking the best qualities of something–undying loyalty to you, tenaciousness, strength, and bravery–and perverting them so that it can kill and die for your amusement is unconscionable.]

I’ve seen a few of these dogs and, to me, they look very different than Mrs. Wigglebottom (though this site suggests I’m imagining the differences). In fact, I’ve had a number of people familiar with fighting dogs who insist that Mrs. Wigglebottom must be part boxer because she’s much too big to be a pitbull. In general, my experience is that fighting dogs are smaller than she is. Their faces more resemble the Staffordshire Terrier than her. They often don’t have ears at all. Also, if you look at them face on, their necks seem situated lower on their chests than Mrs. Wigglebottom, and their chests aren’t as deep. This gives them the appearance of having longer legs in proportion to their bodies.

But fighting dogs aren’t a breed of dog the way the AKC thinks of it. If someone wanted a fighting dog that was a little bigger, he’d find an AmStaff and breed it into his dogs for size. If he found a really vicious Lab (if there is such a dog), he’s use that as breeding stock. The dog fighter isn’t as interested in “breed standards” as he is in dogs that can win. He’s actually a lot like those folks on Animal Planet, in that, he knows a fighting dog when he sees it.

All this contributes to situations like the one in Detroit, where animal control euthanizes all pitbull-type dogs, because so many of them are fighting dogs or from fighting dog lines. A pitbull-type dog that is not bred for fighting is no more vicious than any other terrier (which, honestly, as a group, have a reputation for being yippy, snippy, hyper dogs); they’re just terriers that are a whole lot bigger than your average Westie. But, unless you’re dealing with a reputable breeder who’s got a stake in preserving the breed standard of recognized breeds, you can’t know if you’re getting a dog that was bred to fight.

I have really mixed feelings about euthanizing dogs just because they might be dangerous. My first thought is that it seems grossly unfair to punish a dog because of the morons who owned it. But my second thought is along the lines of the one I had when I decided to take in Mrs. Wigglebottom. Who’s going to adopt a grown pitbull, even a nice one? In all likelihood, someone who needs a bait dog. So, if the choice is between a full stomach, some kind words, and a painless death and the kind of death that awaits it otherwise, I’ve got to go with the first.

What are the alternatives when there are so few people who rescue pitbulls as it is, and even fewer of those who take in fighting dogs? I couldn’t do it. No matter how much I liked the dog, I’d never be able to trust it. I couldn’t have it around kids. I wouldn’t want it around the cats. I’d be afraid of it misinterpreting the actions of other people.

Mrs. Wigglebottom has a hard time interpreting other dogs (and some of them have problems with her–ie. the British Bulldog who caught Mrs. Wigglebottom with her man), which makes me nervous enough as it is. It’s only ever led to one fight, which ended when the Butcher stupidly threw himself between the two dogs, but it scared the shit out of me. The other dog was so pissed off and growling and barking and really giving it her all, and Mrs. Wigglebottom wasn’t even upset.

I don’t know if you can understand how freaky this is, but here she was in a fight that ended up with her at the vet getting her ear and scalp glued back together, and she was having a grand old time. She wasn’t even mad yet. I could live a long and happy life never seeing that again.

Still, I love Mrs. Wigglebottom and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. It’s not been a perfect match. All talk of Miniature Bull Terriers aside, I’m more a hound girl. But she’s friendly and sweet and looks like a tiny hippopotamus, which is so cute it about kills me, and I feel safe at any park in town.

Plus, I’ve met a ton of people through her, from the 16 year olds in my neighborhood who know her by name, but not me to the women at the park who squeal with delight as they pinch her cheeks “I didn’t know they made Boston Terriers in that size!”

So, to get back to the original point of the post, in general, I just think of Mrs. Wigglebottom as my big doofus dog. It’s only when I’m feeling depressed about money that I think about how she’s perceived and how we’re perceived and about how lowdown and trashy being broke makes me.