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Book Review
The World of the American Pit Bull Terrier
by Richard Stratton

Review by: Kate Connick, Aug. 2005

Some would call Richard Stratton's The World of the American Pit Bull Terrier a classic, while others would call it nothing short of an abomination. In truth, it's probably a bit of both.

Stratton is quite forthright in expressing his enthusiasm for the breed, as well as the purpose for which it was developed. "I'm not against dogfighting," he asserts, "I am a hopeless romantic when it comes to this breed, for I view them as the most courageous and heroic of dogs, and I'm not convinced they'd stay that way without the fiery sport that forged them."

Stratton represents the values of those who are similarly smitten with gamebred APBTs. The reasoning is essentially that it would be hypocritical to disavow the activity that served to shape and hone the breed's singular character. Stratton sums it up by saying, "In view of the fact that I am obviously a big fan of Pit Bulls (the product of countless years of pit fighting), it would be an incongruity - not to mention an absolute hypocrisy - for me to condemn it." Further, if gameness was no longer actively selected for (via dogfighting) then the breed would deteriorate into something like its less intense cousin, the Am Staff. Thus, Stratton is at least logically consistent in his approval of dogfighting. It becomes a necessary part of maintaining the breed true to form.

The book amounts to both a handbook for preparing one's fighting dog for the pit, as well as a lengthy diatribe against "humaniacs" and anti-dogfighting legislation. Frankly, Stratton's whining and ranting grows shrill and tiresome after a while. He'd have written a better book if he'd focused on the breed and avoided tangential ramblings about politics and animal welfare in general.

The author attempts to paint the dogfighting fraternity as a bunch of noble, decent, dog-loving, misunderstood and unappreciated sportsmen pursuing a time-honored pastime. But pit fighting isn't baseball, and while Stratton may be telling fellow fighting aficionados what they want to hear, it's a hard sell for anyone else.

I'm not unbiased, for sure. In truth, I find this sort of "literature" offensive and obscene. I see absolutely no redeeming value in purposely perpetuating intensely dog-aggressive dogs. Nor do I see any merit - sporting or otherwise - in allowing dogs to fight one another. Stratton mistakenly blames "humaniacs" for misrepresenting dogfighting as cruel and thereby wrongfully coloring public perception with their sensationalistic reports. But nothing is more grotesque than Stratton's own war stories taken from the pits:

"Even with his top canines broken off, Tater was considered unbeatable... a brutal fighter. He was a powerful wrestler and would smash dogs against the ground and against the pit walls... (Rastus) had broken dogs' legs in rolls several times... At fifteen minutes, Rastus got his first hold on Tater's leg, and the damage was substantial... kept working his vicious leg holds... was crippling him... By forty minutes, Tater had little use of his front legs... By one hour and forty-five minutes, Rastus had slowed down considerably and the fighting was even. I think Rastus was starting to go into shock. At two hours and six minutes, Rastus was counted out."

If dogfighting happens to be your cup of tea, this book will read like titillating porn, and you'll enjoy it. If dogfighting isn't your thing, then it will strike you more like kiddie porn, and you'll find it repugnant. Like pedophiles, dogfighters really do believe that they love their charges and see no harm in their activities.

In fairness, I do believe that Stratton knows more than a thing or two about APBTs. He offers insight into the breed and the mentality of those who value it for gameness. In that respect, the book has educational and historic value. Additionally, the book is filled with photos and comments about specific dogs and bloodlines.

I don't disagree for a moment with the author when he repeatedly asserts that gamebred APBTs love to fight, should not be trusted not to fight, and represent a danger to other dogs as a result. Indeed, these dogs do require an exceptional owner to provide for their considerable exercise and management needs.

Stratton compares APBTs fighting one another to hounds following a trail or border collies herding sheep. They are merely doing what they love and what is natural to them. The average person would consider that a potent indictment of the breed itself and a reason to extinguish it. Ironically, Stratton provides the strongest arguments against the existence of the breed (at least in its most intense, gamebred form) rather than being the advocate that he believes himself to be.

Few would share Stratton's perception that, "once you know what you are looking at and seeing, a pit dog contest gives no more impression of brutality than a marathon race." Nor would most agree with him that, "dogfighting is a humane and sensible activity." Nor it is legal, as the author emphasizes, even as he gives instructions on how to ready one's dog for the pit. Among his helpful tips, "You can report your dog's matches in a pit dog magazine, but it is only good sense to use an alias when you do it." I marvel at how anybody was willing to publish this.

In the end, this book is primarily a shameless celebration of dogfighting, an illegal and despicable activity. Most readers would find this book extraordinarily unpalatable for that very reason. Stratton's ranting and whining notwithstanding, there is probably still some historic merit to this book. Unfortunately, the book fails miserably at Stratton's intended goal of helping his cause in legitimizing pit fighting and improving his breed's public image.

The World of the American Pit Bull Terrier by Richard Stratton.
Published by TFH Publications, 1983. ISBN: 0876668511

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