The Eleventh Commandment

by

Richard F. Stratton

Yes, indeed, we must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will hang separately.—Benjamin Franklin

Although not religious myself, I recall that Barry Goldwater had an Eleventh Commandment. It was: “Thou shall not speak ill of other Republicans.” In my opinion, that’s a good rule for politicians—but it’s even a better rule for dog men! And yet, they are—especially the newcomers—terrible violators of that rule, sad to say. Just to be clear, I’m talking about not speaking ill of other Pit Bull people.

If any group ever needed to hang together, it would be dog men, especially pit dog men. In the public’s mind, they have to be the most despised group of all, as everyone loves dogs—even those who don’t keep them. And why not? Dogs are certainly lovable, as humans have unintentionally selected them for that trait as well as to love us. However, the public might be surprised to learn that nearly all pit dog men are dog lovers, too.

But other reviled persons include people who want the dogs for purposes other than as canine gladiators. Whether it is keeping them as pets, catch dogs, stock work, hog hunting, or showing, we should not speak ill of other owners of the American Pit Bull Terrier. That’s because we’re all in the same boat in that we admire a breed that so many other people abhor. One of the reasons for that is that a lot of people simply don’t like dogs that would hurt other dogs or other animals, and that is something that is a possibility, even with American Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Yet, fanciers of those breeds want to be sure that they aren’t lumped in with people who place their animals in pit contests. That’s understandable, but it doesn’t help for them to make the pit dog game seem even worse than it is. People will obviously still have their ignorant opinions.

Why should we be so fussy? The Bull Terrier fanciers are proud of their breed’s history as the “gladiator of the canine race.” One of the humorous points here is that they may never have been used for that ever on a regular basis. But never mind. Bull Terrier folk and other show dog people can afford to be gossipy about one another, unbecoming though it might be. That’s not so with our breed because it’s always in danger of being outlawed. Also, the owners are always subject to possible persecution and even prosecution.

One point I wanted to make is there is no safe path if you want to avoid association in that regard. People will still suspect you. I’d like to have a dollar for every time I’ve been asked if I fought my dogs. The standard question is usually framed “You don’t fight them, do you?” Usually, the person wouldn’t be asking if they really thought that, but one of my answers has been “Only on the weekends.” That elicits laughter or shock that is followed by laughter because they soon reason it through that if it were the truth, I certainly wouldn’t be telling them that.

I well remember a friend of mine, a distinguished surgeon driving me to his house in a very opulent neighborhood in my town, and I noticed that one of his neighbors had kennels of several American Staffordshire Terriers. I made mention of it and the fact that they were very well kept in luxurious kennels, and my friend replied, “Yeah, but I think he fights them.” Educated man that he was, he was definitely ignorant when it came to dogs!

I’ve been around for a long time, and I recall when the Stafs were simply the show version of the American Pit Bull Terrier. But not since Chuck Doyle, way back in the forties, has any Staf breeder ever utilized his dogs in the pit—or sold them for that purpose. Since the breed was bred only for a show standard, it began to lose a lot of attributes, including gameness, that game-bred dogs have. The same is true of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, which is the British show version of the breed. As for the Bull Terrier, it is a nice breed, but there is considerable room for doubt that it was ever used for the pit consistently. Many decades ago, a fellow who had called me (before I got an unlisted number) was a Bull Terrier breeder, and he ended up a long diatribe with words to the effect that Bull Terriers were the dogs that dog fighters really wanted, but their breeders weren’t letting them out. I recounted that line to several knowledgeable dog men—and it never failed to send them into paroxysms of laughter. That was also the attitude of several Staf people that I knew way back in the 60s. They seemed to feel that pit dog men were too ignorant to know how to do selective breeding. Did that make any sense? Ignorant as they might have been, pit dog men knew to breed to accomplished dogs, while Staf people were breeding for show points.

I was the one that first wrote that the show version should be considered a separate breed, even though they were descended from the same stock. Partly to deflect criticism of themselves, Staf people used to be some of the worst critics of pit dog men and even the dogs they bred. I suspect that was counterproductive, and as my anecdote about my friend’s opinion of his Staf neighbor, there is no safe path with these dogs—even the show version of the breed! I think Staf people have moderated their views, and it is my hope that they will abide by the Eleventh Commandment, too.

I used to be the bête noire of show dog people because of the fact that I emphasized the separate breeds and that I had actually defended the matching of dogs. I really thought that I was just setting the record straight, and I may have gotten carried away. In any case, I noticed that I was referred to as a “historian” in one book. I thought that was reasonably stated, as I had done a lot of original research on the breed, but the main thing I appreciated was that it was done in a respectful way, and that was a refreshing change.

Vicki Hearne, the late Yale professor and author of several bestselling books on dogs sent me copies of Adam’s Task and another book in which she had referenced me and my books. I am human enough for that to please me or for any good things to be said about my books, such as a really good review that took place in Dog Fancy many decades ago.

However, nothing may ever stop the general denunciation of our “outlaw” breed and the people who keep and breed them. My plea here is to our own people to not say deprecatory things about our fellow Bulldog fanciers or their dogs. Let’s all adhere to the Eleventh Commandment.