Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Richard Stratton Is A

I reread Richard Stratton's pit bull books with great reluctance the other day because I needed to refresh my memory. The first time I read "The Truth About Pit Bulls", almost four years ago, I was still new to the pit bull scene and struggling to understand what I had gotten into. The book left me with a bad taste in my mouth, but Stratton had decades (five decades by now) of personal experience with pit bulls, which was far more than I had at the time. I couldn't understand why his books made me feel so uncomfortable, but I was in no position to argue.

The second time around, with several more years of research under my belt, I finally get it. I'm still searching for an appropriate analogy, but reading Stratton's books to learn about pit bulls is like asking a pedophile about proper child care. A pedophile can claim to be an "expert" on children ("been handling them for decades, now"), but do you honestly want to take his advice? Would you really raise him to a professional status, quote him in the paper, and use his "experience" to create public policy regarding childrearing?

Sure, Stratton knows about pit bulls, but his knowledge (and his interest in pit bulls) seems to be limited to an unrepentant glee for dog fighting. His books are filled with what can only be described as a macho desire to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the American Pit Bull Terrier can beat the tar out of any other dog breed or wild animal on the planet. His "charming" stories - the ones that are meant to persuade the reader that pit bulls are great dogs - consist almost entirely of tales about dogs managing to get loose and fighting with or killing another animal. Aww, how sweet. Stratton does not value dogs for their cuddle factor; dogs are only worthy of his love and admiration if they are capable of winning a fight.

The photos in Stratton's books are primarily purebred fighting dogs. The photo captions never fail to point out fight champions. In a handful of photos, the dog is being hugged or cuddled or played with, but the vast majority of the pictures are of a dog on a heavy chain, or "stacked" in a show pose, or straining against a thick leash. The dogs are not portrayed as sweet or clever or social. They are all faceless backyard kennel dogs churned out by dog fighters.

In one passage in "The Truth About Pit Bulls", Stratton hopes to "impress" his audience by describing a pit bull fight with a ferocious wild animal (a lion if I recall correctly but I'm not going to dig into the book again until I start writing my own book). Upon reading this passage, I did not feel impressed at all; rather, I felt nauseous. What kind of audience is attracted to pit bulls by hearing tales of animals tearing each other apart for human entertainment? Violent, sick, antisocial individuals - and Stratton, apparently.

Needless to say, Stratton has done serious damage to the image of the pit bull breed-type. He has managed to gain a respected "expert" status despite his loud support for the cruel and illegal act of dog fighting. His books have been used time and time again to "prove" that pit bulls are inherently vicious and different (stronger, more dangerous) than other breeds or types of dogs - even though Stratton's writings are clearly geared toward an audience of dog fighters and lowlifes (or at least, people who are "impressed" by fighting). Using Stratton's words as evidence that pit bulls are somehow different from other dogs is like using a Ford commercial's script as scientific proof that Fords are "the best in Texas". Are we really so blind that we cannot see past the bias and the sensationalism?

Stratton claims to be an expert on pit bulls, but he's not the kind of "expert" I will ever take seriously. His beliefs about proper care of pit bulls - and treatment of dogs in general - are, for lack of a better phrase, totally whack. Anyone who judges a dog's worthiness based on its willingness to beat the crap out of another animal should be considered a criminal, not an expert.