In an interesting set of coincidences, no sooner did I finish reading Malcolm Gladwell’s essay about profiling that ran in the Feb. 6 issue of The New Yorker (sorry, no link — it’s off the Web site) than I found myself staring at the endearingly goofy mug of Rufus, the four-year-old colored bull terrier who took Best in Show at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club, after which I read this Star-Ledger story about how Rufus (whose owner, incidentally, lives in Holmdel, New Jersey) falls under the classification of “pit bull” that makes him part of that outlaw breed so many towns want to ban.
The New Yorker article noted that many of the notions underlying the “profiling” of potential bad guys – whether criminals, terrorists or canines – are apt to hinder rather than help law enforcement. They illustrate the truth of Mark Twain’s maxim that it ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s the things you think you know that really ain’t true.
Pit bulls like Rufus are strong, quick and determined – if they decide to attack something, they don’t bother much with threat displays, they just wade in. This means that pit bulls that have been neglected, abused or maliciously trained can do serious damage to people and other dogs, as has been demonstrated in some spectacular incidents that have led to anti-pit bull legislation. After all, everybody knows that pit bulls are just four-legged serial killers ready to rip out your throat, right?
Yet the same qualities that make the dogs such dangerous antagonists also make pit bulls like Rufus into superb family dogs – loyal to their owners, tremendously patient and resolute, and loving with children. Lots of other, more ostensibly cuddly breeds actually have a worse record when it comes to attacks and injuries to people.
That’s because the biggest factor in predicting a problem dog — the character of its owner – is usually invisible until it’s too late. Not until something bad happens do we learn if a dog owner is some inadequate dickhead who thinks having a vicious canine makes him into a tuffie-wuffie. In a just universe, the owner of a mean dog would be the one who gets neutered or euthanized (preferably both), but in our less than perfect world it means the dog is killed while the owner gets off with a fine.
So, if you live in a town where some grandstanding politician is trying to ban pit bulls, tell him to focus his energies elsewhere. I mean, go look at that picture of Rufus. Who would want to ban a face like that? I ask you!
Originally posted at The