The third and most slanderous article about pit bulls, published the same month as the Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated articles, was Time Magazine's Time Bombs on Legs. The article is a blatant attempt to shock American's into buying Time Magazine. In the time before the internet and shock jock radio, Time Bombs on Legs follows the creed if bleeds it leads and published many myths about pit bulls that advocates still work today to dispel.
Time Bomb On Legs
It is as if the vicious hound of the Baskervilles that burst upon Sherlock Holmes out of the fog has returned to haunt the streets of America. The creature last week attacked a 71-year-old woman in Stone Mountain, Ga., dragging her across her drive-way and savaging her so badly that she required 100 stitches. It snapped and tore at an unemployed man as he watched the July 4 fire-works in Rochester; last week he died from his multiple injuries, including a 15-in. wound from calf to thigh. And in Atlanta, Houston and Ramsay, Mich., it has seized small children like rag dolls and mauled them to death in a frenzy of blood-letting.
The new canine terror is the American pit bull, a dog with a squat, muscular body and thick, steel-trap jaws that is descended from the fighting bulldogs of 19th century England. In 2 1/2 years it has been responsible for 16 deaths across the country, six of them in the past year, leading many municipalities to pass laws to restrict ownership. It is estimated that there are now 500,000 unregistered, often poorly bred pit bull terriers in the U.S. So fearsome is the dog’s reputation that it has become imbued with much the same malevolent aura as the beast in Arthur Conan Doyle’s story. That is exactly the effect sought by some owners, among them dog-fighting enthusiasts, members of street gangs and drug pushers, many of whom use revolting and painful techniques to bring the animals to the verge of blood-lust.
Officials of animal-protection societies tell of pit bulls being given live kittens or small dogs, such as poodles, to tear apart. Often they are fed gunpowder or hot sauce in the mistaken belief that this will increase the animals’ pain threshold. Jean Sullivan, director of the Memphis-based Humane Society, charges that some owners have tried to increase their dogs’ (natural) aggressiveness by keeping them tied up with collars of baling wire or running them on treadmills until they are exhausted. The pit bull’s jaws — which can exert as much force as 1,800 lbs. per sq. in. — are strengthened by swinging the dog on a rope, its teeth clamped to a tire. This, she says, makes the animal a “lethal weapon. They hang on until their prey is dead.” Such techniques, says Franklin Loew, dean of the Tufts University veterinary school, turn the dogs into “time bombs on legs.” Many are used for high-stakes dog fighting, which has a sizable nationwide following, even though it is a felony in 36 states.
Ferocious pit bulls can be seen any day with their drug-dealer owners on the corner of Ninth and Butler streets in North Philadelphia. The dogs, with names like Murder, Hitler and Scarface, wear metal-studded collars concealing crack and cocaine and the day’s proceeds. They are equally visible on Chicago’s West and South sides, where teenage boys have taken to brandishing their fierce pit bulls just as they would a switchblade or a gun. “It’s a macho thing, like carrying a weapon,” says Jane Alvaro of the Anti-Cruelty Society.
Why are so many Americans indulging in this orgy of pain and violence “The dogs are almost like an extension of the owners’ egos,” says Orville Walls, a Philadelphia veterinarian. “The owners think, ‘I may be low man on the economic totem pole, but I have the meanest, toughest dog on the street.’ ” Owning a pit bull, says Robert Armstrong, Houston‘s chief animal controller, “is a warning to others to stay off the sidewalk.” Randall Lockwood of the Humane Society notes that the animals have become increasingly popular as dog fighting has moved from rural areas into cities. They appeal “to the disfranchised and the unemployed. The owners themselves are often violent.” Tufts’ Loew sees the bonding of owner and dog as akin to a “horror movie,” with maladjusted owners training their dogs to be an “extension of themselves.”
As a result of the growing fear of these killer dogs, responsible owners have been put on the defensive. The name pit bull loosely applies to a crossbred strain of the American Staffordshire terrier and the American pit bullterrier as well as to other varieties. The most ferocious dogs, says Pat Owens, director of the Women’s S.P.C.A. of Pennsylvania, are crossbred with German shepherds or Doberman pinschers. Richard Laue of the Northern California Pit Bullterrier Association accuses these “backyard breeders” of producing unpredictable “garbage dogs.”
Despite the dogs’ bloody reputation, owners such as Laue insist that purebred pit bulls have a “steady temperament and intense loyalty.” Indeed, breeders believe that in time the animal will regain its gentler image of the 1930s, when a pit bull played Pete in the Our Gang films. Only 30 years ago, notes Ed Almeida, a dog trainer in El Monte, Calif., the Doberman was the most vicious of dogs. Now, he says, after years of careful breeding, Dobermans are “big boobs” compared with the pit bulls.