What’s the connection? Not much, except for two possibilities: both are misunderstood and feared. Up until the 1930’s, pit bulls were associated with kids. (Remember the Our Gang series or the mascot for Buster Brown shoes? Both were pit bulls.) Because pit bulls are a strong, intelligent breed with thick chests, big heads, and well-defined, muscled necks, they were used as working dogs, particularly in herding. But because of the fierce way they look, they were also misused and thrown into pits (according to one source) with “riled-up” bulls of the bovine kind, where spectators would place bets, to see which species survived. Today when “dog-bites-man” attacks are reported in newspapers, they are often by pit bulls. Whether the news is slanted or the so-called facts are true, I can’t say (not being an expert on dogs), but according to one animal rights group, the general public’s perception is tantamount to “canine racism.”
As for mental illness, those of us with it, or working in the field, are well aware of the stigma. Part of the problem is due to lack of care and misplaced fear. When hospitals began closing in the 1960’s, money was supposed to be transferred to local community centers. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen so that jails and prisons have become the new “asylums.” With treatment, people with MI are no more dangerous than those without it, but those not treated have a higher rate of committing crimes, at least, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center’s website, particularly if drugs are part of the mix. They also have a higher rate of being victimized just as pit bulls are.
So what can we do? Advocates for animals and those with mental illnesses are working to change the public’s perception, but it will take time, money, and research. As for me, I still hold out hope for the day when not only treatment will be an option but actual cures, too. Until then, the best we can do is to speak up and raise awareness, both for our animal friends, and for those we love, care for, and care about.