News Outlets Have Irresponsibly Reported on Pit Bulls Yet Again · The Wildest

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News Outlets Recklessly Give Pit Bulls a Bad Rap—Yet Again

Following the death of a California man last week, headlines only did further harm to Pit Bulls’ reputation.

by Sean Zucker
February 19, 2024
Happy couple and their pit bull dog together.
Eva Blanco / iStock

Today in “WTF are we doing here,” there’s yet another example of Pit Bulls being misrepresented by media as innately aggressive dogs to catastrophic effect. In 2024, this type of malicious ignorance is unfortunately not surprising, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. 

Last week, a 35-year-old man was killed in an animal attack. According to reports, the Compton, California resident had 13 dogs confined to kennels in his backyard as part of what reports are saying may have been a backyard breeding and dog-fight training operation.

Reportedly, sometime between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday, while feeding the dogs, the man was caught in an altercation between them before succumbing to subsequent injuries. Per CBS, the dogs are now in possession of county animal control officials, who “will determine if any will need to be euthanized.”

To be clear, a man’s tragic death should not be minimized. But what multiple media outlets are choosing to highlight and ignore in their coverage of this event is absolutely deserving of major scrutiny. It reflects a long-gestating trend of Pit Bulls being falsely represented.

This is the headline from local news station KTLA: “Pit Bulls in Compton maul breeder to death.” Then Los Angeles Magazine tried to one-up KTLA’s clickbait nonsense with “Compton Man Mauled to Death by Pack of Pit Bulls He Was Breeding.” Are you sensing a trend yet? TMZ even offered this hot-off-the-presses steaming pile of BS: “Pit Bulls Attack: Pack Mauls Man to Death... Bloody Body Left in Kennel.” Framing matters, especially for dogs who have historically suffered from widespread misunderstanding. It’s why seeing major outlets like these continue to churn out misleading and harmful rhetoric is so frustrating.

Irresponsible media coverage of Pit Bulls is dangerous. 

If this all sounds overly dramatic or sensitive, I get it. These websites are running with the reported information that a man was ultimately killed by his dogs, and they’re simply reporting it to the public. Except there are some colossal details and caveats that are being ignored in hopes of increased digital traction. Here’s a question for these outlets: Do you know what purebred Pit Bulls, Hogwarts, and the blue people from Avatar all have in common? None of them exist in our reality.

Pit Bulls are not a dog breed. Instead, they’re a breed type made up of several varying dog breeds with a widespread genetic background. American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Bulldogs, and American Bullies all fall under the Pit Bull umbrella, meaning any given Pittie’s personality, demeanor, or appearance can differ significantly.

But what tends to happen when law enforcement or journalists respond to dog bite incidents is they misclassify animals barring any resemblance to these breeds are Pit Bulls due to lingering prejudices, subconscious biases, or blatant laziness. In fact, a 2017 study found that 60 percent of the time dogs in shelters are misidentified as Pit Bulls. And this was only by shelter workers who generally have the animal’s best interest at heart. Imagine what that number would be for the cops making snap judgments on the scene or wanting to speed up their paperwork.

So, when People slaps “California Man Found Dead in Backyard Kennel After Being Attacked by His Own Pit Bulls” on their website, it furthers a bigoted narrative. If an average person unaware of the 30-plus year tradition of misrepresenting Pit Bull-type dogs sees a headline like this, they may start to associate the breed type with violence and aggression. And the cycle continues. 

Remember: No dog is inherently violent.

The ASPCA has even released a statement on Pit Bulls in an attempt to clear up these misconceptions in which the organization confirms violence is a taught trait. “While a dog’s genetics may predispose it to behave in certain ways, genetics do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, behavior develops through a complex interaction between environment and genetics,” it reads.

Put simply: No dog is inherently hardwired for aggression or violence. Their personalities are largely the result of their surroundings and how they are treated. Something you surely won’t see represented in these recent headlines is the conditions that these dogs were living in.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: If these dogs were part of a backyard breeding practice as reported evidence suggests, they were never given a chance at a loving home or even basic human decency. Not to mention, only five of them are adults; the other eight are considered puppies.

Coverage like this leads to unjust legal actions.

There are also less immediate consequences from incidents like these and how the media presents them. Because of the prejudice these events create, lawmakers put forth breed-specific legislation, which prohibits Pitties from certain apartment buildings and public spaces. This limits families’ abilities to rent, buy homes, or purchase insurance.

Overseas in the U.K., the XL Bully Breed, a Pit Bull-type dog, was recently outlawed as a direct result of shoddy reporting like this. This week, a similar ruling in Scotland goes into effect as all XL Bullies will now need to be muzzled at all times when in public, including while in their own car. 

None of this is to say an incident like what recently happened in Compton shouldn’t be reported on. But the type of dogs involved should not be the focus of the story, as it’s entirely irrelevant. Other missing details, such as the dogs’ environment and treatment, should have been more in the spotlight. Allow me to put this in Netflix true-crime terms: If after police found the one person who escaped Jeffery Dahmer’s captivity, the headlines read, “Man Flees Apartment of Photography Enthusiast,” I think they’d be missing some crucial information. 


Inconsistent Identification of Pit Bull-Type dogs By Shelter Staff

Sean Zucker

Sean Zucker

Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and whose behavioral issues rival his own.

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