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Pit Bulls: A Letter Carrier's Perspective
Here in San Diego there was a recent incident involving a Pit bull that was noteworthy enough to make the newspapers. While this event hasn’t exactly set off a firestorm of controversy, because most people are level headed enough to correctly judge right and wrong, there has been an outcry from the lunatic fringe element of the animal advocate community. Now calm down animal lovers; in spite of my profession I happen to be fond of canines and animals in general, but just as in human society when one of its members goes haywire and has to be put back in line, at times in the animal kingdom a bad seed germinates that has to be lopped off before it can choke out its neighbors. Among domesticated animals I consider this to be more of a human problem than it is an animal problem, which is unfortunate for the animals who frequently suffer the consequences for bad human behavior.
At any rate, I thought I would discuss the incident and then analyze it in the light of my experiences as a letter carrier. I don’t believe that any particular group besides veterinarians and kennel keepers, perhaps, comes into contact with a more diverse range of dogs more than letter carriers do. Therefore, perhaps my analysis may be useful toward disentangling the controversy that exists surrounding the Pit Bull breed. I have made contact with my share of Pit Bulls through the years, and you may be surprised to learn that not all of my experiences have been negative.
San Diego Pit Bull Shooting Stirs up Controversy
Just a few days ago here in San Diego a Pit Bull broke loose from a chain and attacked a Husky that was inside of its own yard. The Owner of the Husky tried to deter the Pit Bull from the attack and was bitten on the leg in the process, although not seriously. The Pit Bull then tore into the Husky once more, after which the Husky’s owner went for a shotgun. I am unsure if the Husky’s owner was already carrying the shotgun or went inside to get it. The Husky’s owner attempted to beat the Pit Bull with the butt of the gun in order to get it to release his dog, but was unsuccessful. Left with no other recourse, the Husky owner then shot and killed the Pit Bull. Police arrived upon the scene and found that the Husky’s owner had committed no wrongdoing. Instead, they issued a citation to the owner of the Pit Bull for failing to properly restrain the animal.
If I was acting as judge and jury in this case I would rule in favor of the Husky’s owner. He was in his own yard, which had been invaded by the Pit bull, and he was protecting the life of his pet. It is the Husky that seems to have been forgotten about here. The more extreme animal advocates decry the injustice inflicted upon the Pit Bull but don’t seem to mind that the Husky was viciously attacked by the beast they so vociferously defend. As reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, several outraged pit bull advocates denounced the Husky's owner on Facebook and in a newspaper poll. Although the great majority of respondents in these venues supported the Husky’s owner, the expected but seemingly inexplicable outcry still occurred among those whose Pit bull bias seems to go way beyond rationality. I won’t make any attempt to explain this here; it is a subject for psychologists, psychoanalysts, and perhaps voodoo practitioners. There’s no real explanation for it, but it is always there.
Nature vs. Nurture
This discussion of Pit bull advocates leads us into a conversation about their owners, and this draws us invariably down into that bottomless, murky, muddy well of the old “Nature vs. Nurture” debate. Nature vs. Nurture has been hashed around in wearisome detail in academic circles where it concerns anti-social human behavior, but it also seems to suitably apply to Pit bull personalities. In other words, are Pit bulls innately aggressive from birth or did environmental factors make them that way? I can’t think of any other breed of dog where “Nature vs. Nurture” is more appropriate to the discussion, and this is where I think my experiences as a letter carrier can most usefully be brought into play.
I’ll begin by drawing an analogy which I believe typifies what goes wrong with Pit bulls. Once on my route there was a cute Pit bull pup that was very friendly toward me for approximately the first three or four months of its doomed existence. The dog was allowed to roam free by its owner, who unfortunately was stereotypical of what happens when dogs that start off friendly enough are paired up with bad people. This dog owner had a very loose interpretation of society's standards of good behavior. He was one of those who behaved, again either because of nature or nurture, that rules did not apply to him, and although he went around with a carefree smile that indicated satisfaction with his charmed, rule-free existence, he could turn into an aggressive, threatening bully at the drop of a hat.
As was to be expected, this attitude soon trickled down to his dog. Within a few months that cute, frisky puppy was jumping away from me skittishly when I attempted to pet it, as if it had learned that the touch of a human hand more often than not results in pain rather than pleasure. As time went on the dog grew bigger, and instead of running away it began to feel its strength and wanted to assert its domination of the neighborhood. To the dismay of those of us who were forced to elude its aggressive tactics, the dog was still being left unrestrained. I could no longer safely deliver the mail in that neighborhood and on a couple of occasions was forced to curtail the mail for the entire block. After I had done this a few times the Pit bull’s owner would drive by me, lean out of his pick-up truck, and hint at threatening things that would happen if I continued taking back the mail when his Pit Bull was on the prowl. I suppose he just expected me to tolerate whatever dangers to life and limb his dog imposed upon me when it was loose. By the way, there were 38 fatal dog attacks on human beings last year, and the majority of these were committed by Pit Bulls. Was I wrong in trying to protect myself from an animal that statistics have proven to be dangerous? The old poem about the mail going through in rain or snow or whatever, one often quoted by belligerent dog owners in these situations as if it was official postal policy, doesn't mention Pit Bulls.
A Letter Carrier's Lessons from Pit Bull Encounters
I have had many other encounters with Pit Bulls, and you can read the details of the most noteworthy in two other of my hubs, which are subtitled, “The Dog Days of Mail Delivery,” and “Six Dogs that Letter Carriers Must Avoid.” These experiences continue, because I come across Pit Bulls every day. Just last week a Pit Bull succeeded in knocking out a plank in a fence by continually bashing its head against it, and I had to give that yard a wide berth because I was not sure whether the dog would be able to squeeze its compact, muscular, Mailman-mauling body through that slot. Another Pit Bull I know continually roars out its displeasure from down the other end of a thankfully long metal mailbox, and I am starting to wonder if the day will come when it will attempt to squeeze its body down that same wide mail receptacle and take a chunk out of my hand when I am throwing the letters in. A few weeks ago a CCA in our office on his second or third day of training was chased by a Pit Bull that squirmed out beneath the bottom of a fence. Fortunately the employee escaped unhurt, but talk about baptism by fire! The point I am making is that I could compose an encyclopedia length volume about my run-ins with Pit Bulls, and a few months from now I could sit down and write another one.
Hope for the Pit Bull's Maligned Reputation?
But you may be surprised to learn that not all of my experiences with Pit Bulls are bad. Letter Carriers are supposed to hate dogs in general and Pit Bulls especially, right? This isn’t true, at least in my case. I love dogs, and for every ten negative Pit Bull clashes there is at least one redeeming incident that offers up a glimmer of hope for this oft slandered breed, something that tells me that it isn't the dog but the evil people that are drawn to the dog because of its warped, distorted reputation as a killer beast. Here again I will rely on an analogy, because I don’t think I could pull up any statistics to support my conclusions.
I was delivering a certified letter to an apartment the other day when a young lady came to answer the knock. Upon opening the door I was rather disturbed and disquieted to see that she was accompanied by a large, white Pit Bull with one of those black bandit patches over one eye that seems to enhance this breed’s fearsome impression. There was only a flimsy screen door between me and that dog, which I am certain it could have pushed it away with a single burst of its buffed out body as if it were made of paper. To add to my rather besieged, exposed feeling, I was standing at the top of a long staircase, and this started me thinking about that letter carrier in Oceanside who was killed a few years ago after striking his head when a mastiff chased him down some stairs. I didn't feel right about the situation at all, and my foreboding sense of impending doom did not improve when the massive dog turned around and disappeared somewhere into the dark depths of the customer’s living room.
I was pretty sure that the dog was backing away to get enough running distance to make the bullish, door-breaking run that would push me down that staircase, after which I would be just a sad note in an obituary column and an unsightly stain on the sidewalk. But then something else happened instead, something that would soften my attitude toward Pit Bulls, something that would make me consider that the Pit Bull breed is just another victim as well, the victim of bad human behavior. Instead of getting up steam and bursting through that door, this vicious Mailman mauler came back with a little stuffed toy in its mouth and began making supplicating, whimpering noises. It wasnt going to attack me; it wanted me to play with it.
Nature vs. Nurture? I now lean toward the side of nurture. Pit Bulls can be bad, this much is true, but were they born bad? This Mailman is now forced to conclude that they were not. Perhaps there is hope, after all.
Born Bad or Made Bad? How did the Pit Bull get its nasty disposition?
What is the primary cause of the Pit Bull breed's dangerously agressive temperment?
San Diego Union-Tribune Article about Pitbull Shooting
- San Diego man admits shooting neighbor's pit bull on Facebook | UTSanDiego.com
A San Diego man admitted he killed his neighbor's pit bull on Facebook, and a bizarre conversation erupted on his page. San Diego police are investigating Lee Patison's fatal shooting of the pit bull in Valencia Park even as the man's Facebook friend