Three years ago, I received an email from a writer who wanted to interview me on what I knew about the history of bulldogs and bull and terrier types.
I have received several emails like these over the years. They usually go nowhere, but when we were able to talk on the phone, I was actually quite surprised.
The author had actually read my blog very carefully, and the questions showed that she had done quite a bit of research on the topic. When you write these sorts of blog posts, you often wonder if people are actually paying attention to what you write.
She obviously had done her homework. She asked me something about Cuban bloodhounds, a defunct breed of dog used to catch runaway slaves. I hadn’t written on Cuban bloodhounds for many years. She asked about the ancient alaunt dogs, whether pit bulls had essentially become an urban landrace, and how society came to understand this concept of breed.
The author who contacted was Bronwen Dickey. I didn’t know it at the time, but she is the daughter of the great Southern poet and novelist James Dickey. And as I came to find out, she is a very fine writer in her own right.
In April 2013, she was delving deeper into the research around pit bulls. She was writing a book on the story of the pit bull type dog in America. Pit bulls, as we all know, are the most controversial dog breed in America. Many, many claims are made about them, but whether these claims withstand objective scrutiny is quite another thing. There is a widespread belief that these dogs have locking jaws or that they suddenly turn on people without warning. There is also a belief that a pit bull is a super canine that can readily dispatch a feral hog on its own and then curl up with the kids as the “Nanny dog.”
Both advocates and detractors have created an image of this sort of dog. What Bronwen wished to figure out is which parts are true and which are parts of contrived to the point of being pure fantasy.
It turns out there was quite a bit.
Now, this book isn’t out yet, and it’s already being attacked.
Pit bulls are so contentious that I stopped writing about them quite a while ago. Of all the issues I’ve seen dog people invest emotional time and energy into fighting over, pit bulls are truly an outlier. Dog people fight over just about anything trivial, but when it comes to pit bulls, there is a whole other dimension: If a pit bull mauls someone, there will be a group that wants them all executed. If a pit bull mauls someone, there will be a group of people who want that dog’s life spared at all costs.
I’ve never seen anything quite like this in dogs. Indeed, the only other topic that riles people up more online is whether feminism destroyed video games or not.
In one week (May 10), Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon will be released. There are people whose minds will never be changed on both extremes of this debate, but for that great middle, who really wants to know what the pit bull is and what it truly means to this country, Bronwen Dickey has produced a nuanced analysis that is well worth reading.
And she’s a good writer.
When she had me review a few chapters of her drafts, I found them to be quite fascinating in deed.
But if you really want to know– and are brave enough to have your assumptions challenged– buy a copy. Only a few more days to wait.