Life Magazine’s Only Trifecta Dog

The Pit Bull is the only dog to have ever graced the cover of Life Magazine three times, and as you can see, the covers came at a very different time in the county and for the breed.

But wait, is the “Pit Bull” even a breed?

Honestly, there may be as many answers to this as there are people answering the question. Our understanding is that “pit bull” isn’t a breed, per se, but an encompassing term used to describe the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier – or these days, any type of dog resembling any of the aforementioned breeds.

Many dogs identified as “pit bulls” by animal control or shelter personnel don’t even have any of the aforementioned breeds in them as determined by DNA identification, they are simply muscular dogs with blocky heads, and upright ears (that said, Sara Chisnell-Voigt, the United Kennel Club’s legal counsel once said she didn’t know of any court that would accept a DNA test to prove a dog’s breed).  In most cases, “Pit Bull” is used as a catch all term to describe a wide array of dogs with common characteristics much as one might use “hound” to describe a dog with hound-like attributes.

There is a breed called the American Pit Bull Terrier that was first registered with the United Kennel Club in 1898, though the AKC accepted it in 1936 as the Staffordshire Terrier, a name that was revised in 1969 to American Staffordshire Terrier to distinguish it from the Staffordshire Bull Terrier of England.

Do you think you could spot a “Pit Bull?” In this test, there are twelve dogs, and only one of them is an American Pit Bull Terrier. Can you identify it?

Where the name, “Pit Bull” even came from is explained by Bronwen Dickey, author of “Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon,” who puts early use of the term in the 1800s: It became “short hand” for  ‘pit bulldog,” originals that were probably Old English Bulldogs or Bulldog and Terrier mixes.

While Life Magazine’s portrayal of the breed was benign, it may have been a 1987 cover of Sports Illustrated that helped demonize the dog. With teeth flashing and the accompanying story named, “The Pit Bull Friend and Killer,” the dogs were put in a terrible light. A few years earlier, BSLs (breed specific laws) started to spread like a virus, Hollywood, Florida becoming the first city to pass such a law in 1980. The magazine story didn’t help.

Curiously, while the horrific case of football player Michael Vick in 2009 put the breed on notice, so to speak, it also provided a platform on which to discuss the positive attributes of Pit Bulls, and in particular, that most of the Vick’s confiscated dogs were rehabilitate. It also presented the chance to mention that “Pit Bulls” consistently rank among the least aggressive breeds in temperament tests by the American Temperament Test Society.

We’re seeing positive signs that this undeserved “rap” is ever so slowly turning around as people realize that “Pit Bulls” are not monster-born statistics. Some people, however, will never be persuaded of the “deed not breed” defense.

The Champions was a documentary made about the dogs rescued from the brutal fighting ring of Michael Vick. You can see its trailer and download the movie here.

2 thoughts on “Life Magazine’s Only Trifecta Dog”

  1. Shameful to reference Bronwen Dickey’s book of mythology and lies. That nonsense was debunked many times over. There are many good books written about Pit Bulls like the one from Colby, the creator of the breed.

    • For the benefit of other readers, John Colby started breeding a line of Pit Bulls some 100 years ago, and not only do some consider the Colby line to be the most most popular pit bull, but the oldest, purest, and rarest bloodline, as well. That said, Dusty, while you may have issues with Bronwen Dickey’s book, the only reference we made to it was with regards to the origin of the term, “Pit Bull.” We didn’t, and should have, mentioned that “pit” in the name had to do with “ratting” in a pit, and not fighting dogs in a pit. While the American Pit Bull Terrier is a Pit Bull breed, these days the term has come to encompass different types of Pit bull breeds and they include the breeds referenced in the post. We’re glad you wrote, your comment provides additional information, particularly about John Colby.

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