A Popular History of the Pit Bull in America
History of the Pit Bull in America Stubby in World War I
World War 1 had just ended on the day that Stubby marched proudly at the head of the 102nd infantry as they passed in review before President Woodrow Wilson. Stubby was an American hero. He was also a brown-and-white American pit bull terrier. Mascot and member of the 102nd, the young dog had served his men and his country in 17 battles in France. He had saved hundreds of lives, and his loyalty and courage had inspired thousands of soldiers. Now he delighted the president with his customary salute, a paw raised ceremoniously to his face. Stubby was destined to become the most decorated war dog in U.S. history.
He was just a scrawny stray puppy when Private John Conroy picked him up on the campus of Yale University in 1917. The lonely young private was at Yale for training before being sent to the European front. Soon he and the pup were inseparable. When deployment orders came, Conroy managed to smuggle the patchy pup aboard the troop ship bound for France. Once aboard, Stubby quickly won the hearts of all the men of the 102nd. They even taught him to perform his trademark salute by raising his right paw to his face. When finally discovered by Conroy’s commander, the little stray was so beloved by the troops, he was allowed to stay to keep up morale.
But once in Europe, Stubby had to grow up fast. Within weeks of their arrival in the European theatre, the 102nd was under fire on the front lines in France. And it was there that the young pit bull began to really prove his mettle. Stubby reached the trenches of the front line in February 1918, in the midst of a horrific battle. Although the dog was never trained to cope with such nightmarish conditions, he calmly endured a mounting barrage of shelling for the first 30 days. In fact, Stubby’s caretakers were amazed by his cool under fire, and absolutely stunned when he voluntarily ventured out into the battle zone to seek out and comfort wounded soldiers caught in the crossfire. News of the little dog’s heroism and fidelity reached the French village of Domremy, and after the fighting subsided the women of the town presented him with a hand-sewn chamois coat, decorated with Allied flags and his name stitched in gold thread.
During the next 18 months Stubby carried messages under fire, stood sentry duty, and helped paramedics find the wounded in “no man’s land”. He gave early warning of deadly gas attacks and was credited many times with saving his entire regiment. When Stubby found and helped capture a German spy who was mapping a layout of the Allied trenches, he was awarded the honorary rank of Sergeant. When seriously wounded by shrapnel, he was sent to the Red Cross hospital for surgery just like any other soldier. Once recovered, the gutsy pit bull returned to his regiment and continued to serve until November 11, 1918, the day the war ended.
Upon his return to the U.S. after the Armistice, Stubby was greeted by a wildly cheering American public. Recognition of his valor came from all directions. Named a life member of the Red Cross and the American Legion, he was awarded many medals including one by General John J. Pershing. Called to the White House several times to meet Presidents Harding and Coolidge, he led more regimental parades than any other dog in history.
Stubby spent his final years with John Conroy, the beloved soldier who had rescued him so many years ago, until dieing of old age in 1926. Civil War Dogs
Stubby was not the first American pit bull terrier to help America’s fighting men. During the Civil War, Sallie—intrepid pit bull mascot and comrade in battle of the 11th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers—had already made her mark. Sallie was a lady; she was a soldier too—
She marched beside the colors, our own red white and blue
It was in the days of our civil war that she lived her life so true
During the fiercest fighting of the war—Cedar Mountain, Pope’s Retreat, Bull Run, Chantilly—the little brindle dog stood bravely under fire. Her refusal to leave the wounded of her regiment during the three-day stand at Gettysburg became a legend among the battle-hardened veterans. When Sallie was killed by a bullet to the brain on the front line at Hatcher’s Run, her “boys” risked their lives under fierce enemy fire to bury her where she fell. Today Sallie lies, immortalized in bronze, at the foot of the 11th Regiment’s Monument at Gettysburg National Military Park.
The 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry, a unit of volunteer firemen, claimed that their beloved Civil War mascot—a brown-and-white pit bull named Jack—understood bugle calls and obeyed only the men of his regiment. Jack participated in nearly all of the regiment’s battles in Virginia and Maryland, fearlessly seeking out the dead and wounded. Once severely wounded in battle, he recovered only to be captured by the South on two separate occasions. The second time he was exchanged for a Confederate soldier at Belle Isle.
It was no surprise then, that even before Stubby (and America) went to war, the American pit bull terrier had been chosen as America’s World War I poster dog. Wrapped in the American flag and flanked by the dogs of England, Germany, France and Russia, the pit bull made America’s statement to the world. “I’m neutral, but not afraid.” It was a fiercely patriotic time and the American pit bull terrier symbolized loyalty, courage, and America's steadfastness. The Pit Bull in England
The breed had originally come to the shores of America with English families beginning a fresh life in the new world. Known as the Staffordshire Terrier in his native England, the pit bull descended from the old English bulldogge, or butcher’s dog, an animal bred down from the Middle Ages to participate in the cruel “sport” of baiting bulls, bears, and other animals. Developed as the pastime of the common people, these baitings consisted of forcing fearless, mastiff-like dogs called alaunts to attack larger animals that were confined or otherwise restrained. By the 16th Century, baiting events had garnered the enthusiastic support and patronage of royalty—Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth, who reportedly took great delight in the sport in which the bull-dog was often disemboweled or thrown into the crowd. By the close of the 18th Century however, increased public consciousness of the suffering of animals caused growing revulsion at this display of barbarous cruelty. Early in the 19th Century, animal baiting was banned by law.
Enthusiasts tried a new tack by forcing their bulldogs to fight other dogs. As time went on, those engaged in fighting began to seek a lighter, more athletic animal. To this end, the bulldog was often crossed with the English black-and-tan terrier, producing the “bull and terrier” progenitor of the dogs that found their way to America. Strong, agile, and very intelligent, these crossbred dogs were, by nature, extremely loyal to their masters. “The wisest dog I have had was what is called the Bull and Terrier.” wrote Sir Walter Scott of his beloved Wasp in 1832. Fiercely competitive with other dogs in the fighting ring, they were stable and trustworthy with people of all ages, including young children. Because it was necessary to separate their dogs in the pit, any dog displaying reactive aggression toward humans were not serviceable and were quickly culled. These trustworthy and fearless dogs were carefully line bred for hundreds of years by discriminating breeders selecting for athleticism, gameness and amicability, that is, for stability and handlability during times of high stress. Pit Bulls often lived as family members and their reliability with children earned the nickname “nursemaid’s dog” or “nanny dog”. It was at this point in its development that England’s bull and terrier began to cross the Atlantic. The Pit Bull in America
Soon after arrival in the new world, the breed became a common sight in wagon trains and villages. Although a few of these animals were still used as fighting dogs, the majority lived with families who treasured their loyalty, stamina, and courage. It was a difficult time, a time when every dog had to earn its keep. In addition to protecting children and farm animals from predators, these dogs were often used in rounding up livestock. As the young America developed and matured this dog of the pioneers, now often called the pit bulldog or pit bullterrier, became deeply rooted in the history of the country. By the beginning of the 20th Century it was even called the Yankee terrier. It had become America’s favorite dog.
Stubby was not alone in winning American hearts. Petey, pit bull mascot of “Our Gang”, was beloved by children and adults alike. Tales of American pit bull terriers by American writers were everywhere—John Steinbeck wrote about Jigg;, James Thurber wrote about Rex; even Mark Twain described Andrew Jackson, a pit bull pup in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Advertising featuring the pit bull sprang up—Tige was selling Buster Brown shoes; a young boy and his pit bull were selling Levi’s jeans; and Nipper, the black-and-white pit bull of an English artist called Barraud, was making American advertising history as the dog in RCA Victor’s “His Master’s Voice”. Even the U.S. Postal Service showcased the breed with a stamp featuring Helen Keller with her pit bull at her feet. Then, in World War II, the American military called upon the breed once again, this time with a poster depicting a U.S. Marine and his American pit bull terrier declaring them “Defenders of Old Glory". The Pit Bull Today
Today the American pit bull terrier is under siege. While outlaw breeders, drug dealers and dog fighters torture these dogs by forcing them to fight or guard drugs, the public, unaware of their suffering, often brand the APBT a criminal. This label frequently includes any dog which looks like somebody’s idea of a pit bull. And too often, any dog of any breed that attacks a person is called a pit bull.
A few years ago a New York Post story told of a man who was attacked and severely bitten on the leg by another breed of dog. He called the local media, but they didn’t find it exciting enough to report. So a few days later, out of curiosity, he falsely told the same story to the same media, but this time he said that the dog was a pit bull. Three television news stations and four newspapers sent reporters immediately.(3)
The media’s image of the American pit bull terrier as a natural human aggressor is attention grabbing, but false. Pit bulls were never bred to attack people. Animal aggression is very different from human aggression. If animal aggression translated into human aggression, authorities would need to outlaw most dog breeds—the gentle Irish wolfhound, bred to kill wolves; the beautiful Scottish deerhound, developed to take down deer; and nearly all of the terriers that were (and are) deadly rodent hunters. The typical American pit bull terrier is stable and reliable with people. As a matter of fact, the true ambassador of this breed loves people.
Several American pit bull terriers now work with U.S. Customs as drug-sniffing and bomb-sniffing dogs. These include Popsicle, as a puppy he was found wounded, bloody, undernourished, and near death, abandoned in a freezer on a drug dealer’s back porch. Now Popsicle makes his mark helping federal agents sniff out the kind of bad guy who nearly killed him. Then there is Kris Crawford and her three search-and-rescue pit bulls: Cheyenne, Dakota, and Tahoe. Dakota began her life as a bait dog, and Tahoe was found in a Dumpster. Today, as members of the California Rescue Dog Association, Kris and Dakota were selected with 9 other elite teams to search the Columbia Shuttle disaster site. Throughout America, thousands of pit bulls visit nursing homes, hospitals, and schools as Certified Therapy Dogs.
Weela is a contemporary example of the virtues of the American Pit Bull Terrier. Gary Watkins, eleven years old, was absorbed in chasing lizards when Weela, the family Pit Bull, plowed into him with a body slam that sent him sprawling. Gary's mother, Lori, saw the whole incident and remembers being surprised at first, because Weela had always played kindly with children. But her surprise quickly turned to horror when she saw a rattlesnake sink its fangs into Weela's face.
Somehow Weela had sensed the snake's presence from across the yard and rushed to push Gary out of strinking range. Luckily for thirty people, twenty-nine dogs, thirteen horses, and a cat, Weela recovered from the snake's venom to save their lives a few years later. For her heroism, Weela was named Ken-L Ration's Dog Hero of the Year. Strong, gentle, intelligent, and brave, Weela, CGC,TT, is the ultimate American Pit Bull terrier, epitomizing the best that the breed has to offer. But her story also highlights an important yet often mis-understood fact about the breed. The Pit Bull is a dog that loves to please its owner and tries to become whatever kind of dog its owner desires.
Weela has had two owners. The first owner dumped her in an alley to die when she was less than four weeks old. Her present owner, Lori Watkins, found five starving Pit Bull puppies whimpering in an alley took them home, and raised them. Later, the Watkins family placed four of the puppies in loving homes, and kept the little female they named Weela. They believed Weela was special, and she proved them right.
Most Pit Bull puppies grow up to become a reflection of both their owners' personality and the care and training they receive. One can only imagine what a different dog Weela would have become if her original owner had raised her, and she had done her best to please him.
This loyalty is the hallmark of the breed. Strong and sensitive, outgoing but devoted, easily excited but highly trainable, intelligent and ever alert, the American pit bull terrier has served America and its people long and well. Today we ask you to join us in our efforts to dispel the myths, explore the truth, and return this dog to an honorable position in American society.
1.The War Dog, Jennie E. Hussey
2.The Lost History of the Canine Race, Mary Elizabeth Thurston
3.The Ultimate American Pit Bull Terrier, Jacqueline O’Neil