Monday, September 27, 2010

The Pit Bull Problem: The Nanny Dog and Pit Bull Heroes

By the late 1800's or so, the Pit Bull was known as the Nanny Dog. The Pit Bull was so fiercely loyal to their family and yet so gentle with humans that they were used to guard small children and even infants in their cradles. Their high pain threshold allows them to deal with the pokes and pulls and prods of tiny hands without feeling a need to snap at their charges. The same sweet and do-all attitude that made them a favorite of dog fighting resulted in a dog that was safe to leave with the kids, while their intelligence helped ensure that they could keep the little ones out of trouble.

Some of the famous Pit Bulls and Pit Bull owners throughout history include:

Jack of Little House on the Prairie

As a child I loved the Little House books (and go figure, I'm now living a slightly modernized version). Laura Ingalls Wilder's beloved dog Jack, was -you guessed it - a Pit Bull. Never mind whatever sheepdogs and collies appeared on the TV versions, it's pretty obvious from the illustrations by Garth Williams. One of the later books (I'll have to re-read the series to recall which one) featured a stray dog who having been fed by Charles Ingalls (Laura's father) hung around and warded off intruders. This dog also fits the description of a Pit Bull, but who knows?!

Petey from the Little Rascals/Our Gang

The first Petey, makeup enhanced to create the signature ring around his eye (his ring mark actually was an almost-complete circle) was played by Pal the Wonder Dog, who had also earlier played Buster Brown's best friend Tige. Pal was an American Pit Bull Terrier and his son, Lucenay's Peter who also played Petey was an AKC registered American Staffordshire Terrier (also considered a Pit Bull breed).

Petey is perhaps the most well-known and most-recognized dog in the world to this day.

As the eptiome of the Nanny Dog, Petey joins his human children in creating comedy, mayhem and fun. Can you imagine a "vicious dog" being used in this series? Petey was obviously chosen because he was good with children, safe, stable and playful, far beyond his charismatic screen presence.

Helen Keller owned several pit bulls, perhaps some of the first dogs ever to be recognized as what we now call "therapy dogs." Pits are now used as therapy dogs because their high pain threshold prevents them from being upset when bumped by wheelchairs. Their smarts, gentleness and sheer desire to help certainly doesn't hurt here.

The classic American Dog, Pit Bulls were a beloved of early 20th century advertising. Besides Tige of Buster Brown Shoes, there was Nipper, the Victor RCA dog, and the Pit Bull from Pup Brand lemons are but a few.

Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson owned Pit Bulls, and General George Patton owned some sort of Bully breed. During WW1 and WW2, Pit Bulls were used to represent strength, courage and freedom and loyalty, and were featured on many WW1 and WW2 era posters. Pit Bulls are also the only breed to appear on the cover of Life magazine three times.

Sergeant Stubby

No mere advertisement here, Sgt. Stubby was a true American Hero. During WW1 he fought in the trenches of France during 17 battles. The most decorated dog of World War 1, he is also the only dog ever to be promoted to Sergeant through combat. Serving with the 102nd Infantry 26th (Yankee) Division in April 1918, he was wounded by a hand grenade and was sent to the rear to improve morale while he healed. Returning to active duty and the trenches, he learned how to warn his unit about poison gas attacks and let his people know when to duck and cover from artillery shells. He was single pawedly responsible for capturing a German spy and was alleged to have knocked a young girl away from being run over by a car. After the war he marched with the American Legion, was awarded (amongst many other awards) the Wound Stripe (which later became the Purple Heart). Stubby lived with his person, Corporal J. Robert Conroy until 1926, when he was eulogized in the New York Times with half a page, three columns wide - more than most humans get.

Not the first dog or Pit Bull to serve in distiguished combat, Sgt. Stubby is certainly the most famous, and he well earned the honor. His remains are now housed in the Smithsonian.


This brave lady was named the 1993 Ken-L Ration Dog Hero of the Year. Its a distinction she didn't win without courage and peril. Some time before winning this honor she saved her owner's 11 year old son from a rattlesnake, giving the boy a body slam to throw him out of the way and taking the bite herself. Thirty people, twenty-nine dogs, thirteen horses and a cat were fortunate that she survived the snake bite. During heavy rain that caused a dam break on the Tijuana River, Weela repeatedly crossed the flooded river, bringing food to stranded animals and helping other animals and people to find safe places to cross.

Oddly enough, when Reader's Digest later published the news of her heroism, they refused to mention that Weela was a Pit Bull.


Made famous by "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Milan's TV show, Daddy set an example of calm-submission and canine balance for the dogs he worked with personally as well as dogs and dog owners worldwide. RIP Daddy, our family will miss watching you waddle on screen.

Those I've mentioned are just a few of the Pit Bulls that have achieved heroic status. Pits have served as search and rescue dogs at 9/11's Ground Zero and throughout the world. They act as police dogs, drug sniffing dogs, and therapy dogs. And perhaps more than all else, they are kind and loving family dogs for people worldwide, keeping us sane and standing by us with their gentleness, their wisdom and their ever-faithful generosity.

And with that...What Makes Pit Bulls Special

1 comment:

  1. I love this post! I've always have been a huge fan of the sweetness and strong loyalty of Pitts.