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Beloved Companion or Problem Animal

The Shifting Meaning of Pit Bull

In: Society & Animals
Authors:
Maria A. Iliopoulou Global Urban Studies, Michigan State University Dr. Maria’s Traveling Vet Care Lansing, MI

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Carla L. Carleton College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University

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Laura A. Reese Political Science and Global Urban Studies, Michigan State University

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Abstract

The term Pit bull is widely used. However, is it assigned a specific definition, or is it associated with overly inclusive and contradictory meanings? At the beginning of the 1900s, dogs identified as Pit bulls were known for their love of children. Media sensationalism has contributed to a shift in perceptions of Pit bulls from favorite companion animals to problem nonhuman animals. Thus, the process of constructing “problem animals” is examined. A qualitative study was conducted to explore what the term Pit bull represents for a sample of fifty-six adults. The data collection tool was the Personal Meaning Map. Respondents seemed to have vague and conflicting definitions of Pit bulls. For some, they are gentle companions, but for others they are gang-related status symbols. For some, Pit bulls represent one breed, whereas for others they represent many breeds. Finally, they were perceived to be both victims of cruelty and predators.

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