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Posts Tagged ‘pit bull’

Sow Feral Pig walking

The sun rose over those umbrella-shaped pine that grow for miles and miles throughout the Southland. Their proper names are lobollies and short-leafs, replacements of the stately long-leaf pine, which, because it lives in symbiosis with fire. Fire might kill the living trees, but it also kills the loblollies and short-leafs. And the long-leaf’s terminal buds are quite immune to fire. So fire wipes out the competitor pines and makes way for the long-leaf pine forest in all its glory.

The other enemy of the long-leaf pine is the feral hog, which yearly swarms more and more across the pine woods. Unlike a white-tailed deer, which will drop–at most– a pair of fawns once year, the sows drop many little piglets maybe three or four times a year.  A bear might swipe the odd pig as it matures into a full-sized rooter, and a coyote or a bobcat might take a little pig if it somehow decided to dare its very existence against the sows slashing cutters.  But in the main, the hogs live without significant predators, and they tear through the countryside. They eat pine seeds and buds and run riot through bobwhite and wild turkey nests.

And in much of the South, there is still a time-honored tradition of feeding the deer up through the summer so that the bucks’ antlers will grow their largest and most most majestic for the fall hunts. But the hogs raid the deer feeders, knock them over, and then foul the expensive feed. And swine aren’t above lifting little fawns from their hiding places, and though the fawns will bleat and bleat, their mothers will not be able to fight the plug-nosed monsters.

And the hogs tear up cropland. Peanut fields and corn and soy bean acreages get rooted over and over.

With all these problems associated with feral pigs in the pine woods of the South, a deep resentment against their depredations seethes throughout the land. But a rugged bunch don’t have quite have that hatred of them. They are the hog-hunters, the ones who keep big packs of bay and catch dogs in their kennels, who dream of hogs and hog hunts and who might even make a few dollars on the side selling hogs to abattoirs and hunting preserves.

And so the sun rose over the pines. The mist of mid-spring hung in their green needs, and the land looked mystical and looming. The Spanish moss hung hard on the live oaks, and the mockingbirds and blue jays flitting around the pine bows. And the air filled with birdsong, each species lifting high its calls into the air, as the sun cast down through the mist.

A red Dodge pickup came hurling down a sandy road. It was dragging a trailer with a utility vehicle resembling a four-wheel drive golf cart, and in the back of that cart was a dog box full of bay dogs. Three were merle curs that one would have called Catahoulas if one were trying to peg them to a specific breed. They were both bitches and rangey with wall eyes and a grim expression.  The other two curs were One was fawn with a black mask, what are registered as a black-mouth curs these days, and the other was a cross between a cur and an English setter, dappled back and white and smooth-coated but with the soft-eyes and keen air-scenting nose of the setter.

The truck’s dog box contained the rest of the hunting pack. In one box was a solid liver Drahthaar, a cull from a versatile gun dog breeding program, and in the adjacent box was a black roan bitch of the same breed. She was doe-eyed and silly and young, and she pointed and retrieved well. She had a future as a duck and quail dog, but her owner wanted to try her out on hogs.

And the other two boxes were the catch dogs, a pair of pit bulls. They were a dog and a bitch, both deep red with flesh-colored noses and lips and amber eyes. They were of a color type sold as an “old country red nose,”  but in truth were just general hog catch dogs that were common throughout this part of the South.

This was a contingent of hog hunters and their dogs. Four men rode in the extended cab. They were all clean-shaven with closely cropped hair. All were employees of the pulp mill in town, where the loblollies and short-leafs were ground down into that stuff that someday would be called paper.

They were hog hunting fanatics, and just the night before, the call had gone out that the big sounder of hogs had wandered into this farmer’s peanut field. They’d ruined a couple of acres of crop, and he’d made a call to the head hog-dogger, who assembled his crew of dogmen to prepare for a good Saturday in the field.

The trailer was unloaded of its vehicle and dogs, and it began coursing along the sand roads of that cut along the big peanut field. The Dodge followed behind the the utility vehicle, stopping when it stopped, as the three men in the cab chatted about the day and the dogs and what could happen or what might happen. The windows were rolled down, and cigarette plumes floated out of the cab and toward the sky.

But the man in the utility vehicle was all business. His eyes were cast on the road ahead. They were trained hard to spy the slightest sight of hog sign, and so he would stop and look and gauge the sign for its freshness.

Soon, the vehicles were out of the vicinity of the peanut field and were following the sand road as it cut through a vast stand of pine.

At one point the tracking man stopped to examine some hog sign in the road, and he knew fully well that the sign was fresh. A smile graced his face and he trotted back to his compatriots in the Dodge to tell them the good news. Fresh sign upon the ground, and hogs not far off.

The tracking man went back to his truck, and opened up the gait to his little dog box. He grabbed the setter cross cur, and pulled her excited, bouncing form to the sand. She sniff the ground intently, then began her setter cast into the wind.  If there were hogs about, she would soon be on scent as it floated through the air, and if there were no hogs nearby, she would be back in about five minutes.

Five minutes passed, and the tracking man let the other curs loose, and they set about tracking the setter cur.

And the tracking man had his buddies turn loose both Drahthaars, for their noses were dead solid and the grittiness of the old liver was beyond reproach.

And so six dogs now ran the pine woods, slipping around in stands of little sweet gums and palmettos, but not barking as the baying coonhounds do when on the track. Instead, they were tracking down on the hogs.

The little setter cur ran hard on the track. The wind was blowing the scent of a big sounder into her nose, and she was half excited and half timorous about the prospects of running into them alone. But the sound of other dogs running behind her increased her courage, and soon all six dogs were running the woods like wolves. Their GPS tracking collars gave their coordinates to the tracking man’s hand-held receiver.

And the four men stood on the road, smoking cigarettes, and telling stories and listening intently for the first wild barking that would show that the dogs had a hog cornered. The pit bulls rested in their boxes. The excitement was about to come.

About a mile away, the curs and Drahthaars came charging in on the big sounder. Half the hogs were black, a quarter were deep chestnut red, and the remainder were were red with circular black spots that gave them a sort of domesticated veneer.

But they were 20 hogs strong and dog wary and dog smart, and as soon as soon as they heard the dog paws rusting in the pine litter, the whole sounder shot off in all directions.  One young black sow, though, was caught a bit unawares of the approaching predators, and before she could run the dogs were on her. She ran with the pack yapping all around her.  She would try to run, but they would swarm her, and if she stood to fight, the big liver Drahthaar stood ready to pounce on her every time she tried to bust. He would bite her, and she would squeal in terror. But he had good sense to know that his job was not to bite and hold.

And so after three attempts of escape, she was backed up in a thicket of palmettos, with yapping dogs all around her. She popped her jaws at them and tried the odd mock charge, but she was stopped from her escape.

The yapping filled the misty air, and the tracking man checked his GPS receiver. The dogs were bayed up.

The excitement of what was about to come filled the cigarette-smoking men. They had quarry penned down, and now was the time for the dispatch. One man grabbed a heavy steel chain lead and attached it to the male pit bull, and another man did the same with the female pit bull. The big-muscled beasts bounced with excitement. Their amber eyes flashed with wildness, and the men struggled to get get the dogs kitted out in their Kevlar catching vests. The first dogs hunted down the hog and made it stand, but these were the dogs that were going to rush in and hold it with their teeth.

And the whole party ran through the pines.  Bows flew back slapped men in the face. Thorns scratched pit bull hides. But they were so single-mined and urgent in their approach that they could not stop and worry.

Adrenalin filled their forms, and they were now in the form of predators about to come upon their prey.

Soon, they were just 30 yards from the yapping cacophony of bay dogs, which occasionally was joint by the jaw popping and squealing of the sow. And at that moment, each man leading a pit bull turned it loose. Not a word was spoken. They did it in concert, as they were one mind, and the red catches shot out towards the palmetto thicket.

The bay dogs moved aside as they heard the catch dog’s approach. None wanted to get in the way of those holding jaws.

The female pit bull was the first to hit the hog. She grabbed it by the ear. The sow screamed in abject terror, and the female pit bull instantly adjusted her stance so that she was holding the sow’s ear and standing behind the quarry. That way, the hog could not bit her or try to cut her with her tusks.

Not even 15 seconds passed and the male pit bull grabbed the other ear, also adjusting his stance so that he was standing behind the screaming hog while he held her ear fast in his fell jaws.

The squealing of the sow reached that insane octave, where all was shut out that horrible sound, and that din only increased the urgency of the men’s approach.  They were in full on human hunter mode.

Each man grabbed a cur or a Drahthaar and attached a lead to it and tied it to a nearby tree. The hog blood was gushing all over the pit bulls now, and then two men came behind the sow and grabbed her hind legs and complete orchestration they flipped her on her side.  Another man came and knelt upon her exposed shoulder and then pulled out a massive dagger of a knife and drove it down into to the hog just above her armpit.

The blood gushed out of that stabbing hole and the squealing began to cease. The sow was dead. A peanut rooter was off the land, and the whole sounder had been driven from the peanut fields for a while.

The men slapped each other on the back. There was pride in the hunt, a camaraderie of sorts that our species has largely lost when the vast majority of us gave upon hunting.

The dogs were celebrated for their skills. The bragging filled the air along with the smoke from the newly lit cigarettes.

Blood was on the ground. The dogs were hot and panting.

And thus ended a scene that could have been transplanted from the Stone Age where men hunted the wild and fell beasts with their newly tamed dogs. No guns were fired at the hogs.

This kill had come from the skill of dogs and the sharpness of knives. The GPS collars, the gasoline-fueled vehicles, and the specialized breeding of hog dogs are certainly modern advances.

But in the main it was still Stone Age and savage and wondrous, as best could be expected for the twenty-first century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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bronwen dickey pit bull

Three years ago, I received an email from a writer who wanted to interview me on what I knew about the history of bulldogs and bull and terrier types.

I have received several emails like these over the years.  They usually go nowhere, but when we were able to talk  on the phone, I was actually  quite surprised.

The author had actually read my blog very carefully, and the questions showed that she had done quite a bit of research on the topic. When you write these sorts of blog posts, you often wonder if people are actually paying attention to what you write.

She obviously had done her homework. She asked me something about Cuban bloodhounds, a defunct breed of dog used to catch runaway slaves. I hadn’t written on Cuban bloodhounds for many years. She asked about the ancient alaunt dogs, whether pit bulls had essentially become an urban landrace, and how society came to understand this concept of breed.

The author who contacted was Bronwen Dickey. I didn’t know it at the time, but she is the daughter of the great Southern poet and novelist James Dickey. And as I came to find out, she is a very fine writer in her own right.

In April 2013, she was delving deeper into the research around pit bulls. She was writing a book on the story of the pit bull type dog in America. Pit bulls, as we all know, are the most controversial dog breed in America. Many, many claims are made about them, but whether these claims withstand objective scrutiny is quite another thing. There is a widespread belief that these dogs have locking jaws or that they suddenly turn on people without warning. There is also a belief that a pit bull is a super canine that can readily dispatch  a feral hog on its own and then curl up with the kids as the “Nanny dog.”

Both advocates and detractors have created an image of this sort of dog. What Bronwen wished to figure out is which parts are true and which are parts of contrived to the point of being pure fantasy.

It turns out there was quite a bit.

Now, this book isn’t out yet, and it’s already being attacked.

Pit bulls are so contentious that I stopped writing about them quite a while ago. Of all the issues I’ve seen dog people invest emotional time and energy into fighting over, pit bulls are truly an outlier. Dog people fight over just about anything trivial, but when it comes to pit bulls, there is a whole other dimension:  If a pit bull mauls someone, there will be a group that wants them all executed. If a pit bull mauls someone, there will be a group of people who want that dog’s life spared at all costs.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this in dogs. Indeed, the only other topic that riles people up more online is whether feminism destroyed video games or not.

In one week (May 10), Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon will be released. There are people whose minds will never be changed on both extremes of this debate, but for that great middle, who really wants to know what the pit bull is and what it truly means to this country, Bronwen Dickey has produced a nuanced analysis that is well worth reading.

And she’s a good writer.

When she had me review a few chapters of her drafts, I found them to be quite fascinating in deed.

But if you really want to know– and are brave enough to have your assumptions challenged– buy a copy. Only a few more days to wait.

 

 

 

 

 

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skull 1

A recent study of pit bull skulls using 3-D imaging technology has revealed that they have skull measurements that are more similar to the extinct canids in the genus Borophagus. Further analysis involving SNP technology revealed that the average of 24.6 percent ancestry that is from a canid that is neither wolf nor domestic dog.

Abbott Millard, a canid researcher with the Dog Origins Project, has performed the 3-D imaging research, which included 130 pit bull skulls. His a comparison with the measurements of the pit bull skulls with those of several extant and extinct canids.

“Our results show that pit bulls have skull morphology most similar to the extinct dogs of the genus Borophagus. These results were quite shocking because Borophagus has been classified with an extinct group of canids that were thought not be related to modern dogs at all,” said Millard.

However, knowing that canids have a tendency towards convergent evolution in skull morphology, it is quite possible that pit bulls, a breed known for its massive jaw strength, evolved similar jaws to the Borphagus through similar selection pressures.

Which is why the Dog Origins Project decided to do some research on pit bull DNA. The researchers used SNP chip technology, which allows for extensive genome-wide assays. Similar research has been used to disprove East Asian origins for the domestic dog and raised real questions about the taxonomic status of the red wolf.

Otto Klinger, lead geneticist at the Dog Origins Project, compared DNA from 20 pit bulls, 15 boxers, 4 dingoes, 6 wolves from 4 different regions in the Old World, 12 coyotes, and 3 golden jackals. Pit bulls were found to be mostly domestic dog in origin, but a large sample of their genetic material didn’t match any extant canid.

“It is possible that this mystery canid was actually an undocumented wolf subspecies, but the finding that pit bulls have similar skulls to the Borophagus raises intriguing questions. It could mean that the pit bull terrier developed in America was crossed with a relict population of Borophagus,” said Klinger, “There are many mentions of strange wolves in the colonial literature that might be very suggestive of Borophagus, and there are mentions of blocky-headed wolfdogs belonging to the Algonquin peoples of the Northeast. Maybe these dogs and wolves were the relict Borophagus. They certainly would have been great fighting dogs.”

The discovery of the hybrid origin for the pit bull, though, does raise some important questions.

Millard believes that these studies mean that pit bulls deserve their own species status:

“The hybrid origin of the pit bull strongly suggests that we should not be classifying pit bulls as part of the greater dog species. We propose that the scientific name for the new pit bull species be Canis horribilus. Pit bulls are the grizzly bears of the dog world, so we think that we should use the grizzly bear’s name [Ursus arctos horribilus] to define the pit bull.”

With this new definitive DNA research on pit bulls, breed specific legislation will now be much easier to enforce, and the Dog Origin Project plans on donating its findings to law enforcement to develop a definitive pit bull genetic test.

“Our research will now have a positive impact upon society. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am wih the possibilities!” said Klinger.

So we now know why pit bulls are so different from other dogs. They are hybrids with a mystery canid that might be a survivor from the days of the ancient Borophaginae.

*The above is an April Fools’ prank. Not a single word of it is factual. Reposting or quoting this article as if it were fact will make you look extremely stupid.

 

 

 

 

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If it is, I doubt that it’s an F-1, though:

pit bull golden retriever

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dog of note

The answer to the question I asked nearly a month ago is that there are three correct answers.

This dog is Jock of the Bushveldt, not to be confused with Jock of the Bushveld, which is a novel by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick that details the life of a bull terrier type dog in the South African bush.

This dog was born in England in 1910.  The dog in the novel lived in the 1880’s.

And this, of course, leads to a lot of stupid debates on the internet. Many people actually believe the South African Jock was a Staffordshire bull terrier, because his father was purebred from England. However, in the 1880’s, the only bull terriers that were being registered and show with the Kennel Club were the Hinks-strain of bull terrier.  These were the white dogs that eventually became very popular throughout the world.  Jock’s mother was just a bull terrier, which means that she may have been derived from just generic bulldog and terrier crosses– which are also the source for the “pit bull” and “staffie” type dogs.

However, the dog in the photo is of more consequence than Jock.

This dog was actually a first cross between a brindle bulldog and a Manchester  (“black and tan”) terrier.

So the first correct answer is that he was a bulldog/Manchester terrier cross.

The second correct answer is that he was a Staffordshire bull terrier, for dogs derived from him became part of the Staffordshire bull terrier breed.

The third correct answer is “colored bull terrier,” for he was also an ancestor of the colored variety of bull terrier.

Black and tan and tricolor– often with brindling in the tan– are pretty common colors in bull and miniature bull terriers.

One of the Hinks-type bull terrier’s ancestors, the English white terrier, which was basically a white Manchester terrier, became extinct because deafness was so common in the breed.

And although the original color for all of these bull terriers was white, it was well-known  that breeding for the white color alone was clearly linked to increased deafness.

So it was decided to allow in blood from rougher strains of bull and terrier.

This was almost without controversy in the United Kingdom, but when it happened, many members of the Bull Terrier Club of America lost their minds.

For decades, American bull terrier fanciers refused to allow in any color but white. However, they eventually relented, but only if the “colored” dogs were show as a separate variety.

“Colored” is also a word that has a clear racial meaning, so I have often wondered if the distinction for “colored” bull terrier is actually meant to be some sort racial slur.

The white dogs bred by Hinks were meant for gentlemen.  All gentlemen in those days were white, so they should have a white dog to back them up. The dog’s nickname from that era even reflects a member of the white gentry– “the white cavalier.”

Cavaliers, of course, were the landed gentry who supported the king during the English Civil War. The Virginia planters, who themselves were actually rabble that rose to the status of gentlemen through their tobacco enterprises, backed the king in that war, which is one reason why the University of Virginia’s mascot is the cavalier.

The Staffordshire bull terrier type was pretty common long before James Hinks came along. They are really what you’d get if you crossed an old type bulldog with some sort of terrier. They are the basis for the pit bulls– which were usually called “bull terriers”– that have been in America for hundreds of years.

But they were the dogs of unrefined peasants and colonials.

They weren’t white cavaliers.

This same sort of bias exists in many parts of the country with BSL.  Pit bulls and staffies get the legislation; the egg-headed pig dogs usually don’t.

It is really amazing how class and race get mixed up in our discussions about dogs.

They are really reflections of what people were thinking about each other than the actually dogs themselves.

 

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I know I’m about to break one of my own rules.

I know I said I wasn’t going to write about pit bulls.

But I think I need to make an exception.

I’m not talking about BSL  or anything that controversial.

Instead, I’m going to talk about a particular type of conformation show that pit bulls are now being bred for.

To illustrate my issue, here is G. G belongs to my cousin, Laura Atkinson:

G is a brindle pit.  I don’t think anyone would argue about what he is.

He’s typical of the unregistered pit bull-type that exists throughout the country. (I know that technically there are American pit bull terriers, which are a UKC recognized breed, and there are “pit bulls,” which are not.)

The UKC standard calls for a dog that isn’t vastly dissimilar to G.

Something like this:

It’s not a particularly exaggerated dog in terms of its conformation.

The AKC recognizes another type of North American bull and terrier type, which is called the American Staffordshire terrier. (Not to be confused with the Staffordshire bull terrier, which is an English bull and terrier breed that was derived from bull and terrier types that were not bred from the Hinks strain).

These terms are all highly contentious, but let’s just say that the bull and terrier types that don’t have egg shaped heads aren’t particularly exaggerated dogs.  The official breed standards call for very moderate dogs.

But there are other conformation standards.

In recent years, there have been new “Atomic dog” shows. These Atomic shows actually do reward exaggeration in type.

This is the sort of dog they want:

These shows reward dogs with very wide chests and massive bone.

They aren’t being judged according to any breed club standards, so they’ve written their own.

Now, there’s nothing really wrong with people writing their own breed standards, but when these standards are rewarding exaggeration, then we do have to have some discussion about it.

I have not seen any studies on the health of these Atomic-type dogs, but my guess is they are being predisposed to certain growth-related health problems, like OCD .

It’s also very likely that these dogs are being given growth supplements to build these Schwarzenegger bodies, and in Atomic Dog magazine, these hormones are advertised. If you have to give a dog growth hormones to produce the type you want, then there are definite ethical questions that must be answered.

There is nothing in the bull and terrier’s history that would require the breeding of such beefy dogs.

It’s simple vanity.

And I don’t think we’ve looked closely at the welfare issues associated with breeding for this particular phenotype in this particular breed.

After all, the enthusiasts who breed this sort of dog aren’t operating even within the framework of established kennel clubs.

And it’s relatively new.

But it does need to be examined.

It’s not just the conformation shows within the major clubs that are causing canine distortions.

They are also happening in other places.

The main registry for this sort of “wide stance” pit bull is the American Bully Kennel Club.

They also register a “Shorty Bull,” a wide stance dog with even shorter legs!

They even have a totally bogus breed called an “Old Roman bulldog.” This is what it claims one of these dogs is:

Before all the modern Bulldog crosses of today, there lived a true giant Bull-Dog, the Bull-Dogs of old Rome. We have done the research and have acquired the right genetic makeup to produce what we feel is a good representation of a True “Original Bull-Dog”. A bull-dog that has a great temperment (sic) and can do work or just hang out with the family. The total package!

Um. No.

Bulldogs aren’t from Ancient Rome.

The best history on bulldogs traces them to the dogs of the Alani, but even that information is a subject to debate.

The truth is this sort of dog appeared in northern Europe and the British Isles during the Middle Ages, and over time diversified into a wide variety of breeds.

But if dog breeds didn’t originate in Ancient Egypt, then they obviously came from Ancient Rome!

Breeding for super exaggeration and making up certifiably nutty crap about bulldogs and bull-and-terrier types is not something confined to the Bedlams that are established breed clubs and registries.

The start-ups are often just as bad!

***

Some people claim that the American bully is a different breed, but I’m not playing into this game. Even if the dogs do have other blood in them, so do most unregistered pit bulls.

This is a silly argument– on the level of trying to split apart all the different dogs we call Jack Russell.

Keep in mind that Labrador retrievers were the last retriever breed to have a fully closed registry. Some lines of Labrador have the influence of other retriever breeds that others lack. For example, “English Labs” have a influence from flat-coated and golden retrievers, and “American trial Labs” often have an influence from Chesapeakes.

No one splits hairs over them.

So I’m not going to here.

There’s already too much stupid splitting among dog strains that I refuse to indulge it any more.

That’s a very weaselly way of operating– and it’s intellectually dishonest.

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The Rev. John Russell was a parson in the Church of England. He had studied at Oxford and was given a parish in North Devon.

He was a fox terrier enthusiast and a founding member of the Kennel Club– yes. he was in the fancy.

But he was never fully comfortable there. Even though he helped write the standard for the smooth fox terrier, he never showed his own dogs.

He just wanted a good little fox bolter.

And he would later describe how he would create a fox bolting terrier, and this strongly suggests that the fox terriers, including the terriers which would eventually be given his name are partially derived from the bull-and-terrier types– pit bulls, if you will.

Russell describes the best way to create a fox terrier in this fashion:

“The process,” replied Russell, “is simply as follows: they begin with a smooth bitch terrier; then, to obtain a finer skin, an Italian greyhound is selected for her mate. But as the ears of the produce are an eyesore to the connoisseur, a beagle is resorted to, and then little is seen of that unsightly defect in the next generation. Lastly, to complete the mixture, the bulldog is now called on to give the necessary courage; and the composite animals, thus elaborated, become, after due selection, the sires and dams of the modern fox-terriers. This version of their origin,” continued he, “I received from a man well qualified to speak on the subject.”

The bulldog blood thus infused imparts courage, it is true, to the so-called terrier; he is matchless at killing any number of rats in a given time; will fight any dog of his weight in a Westminster pit; draw a badger heavier than himself out of his long box; and turn up a tom-cat possessed even of ten lives, before poor pussy can utter a wail. But the ferocity of that blood is in reality ill suited—nay, is fatal—to fox-hunting purposes; for a terrier that goes to ground and fastens on his fox, as one so bred will do, is far more likely to spoil sport than promote it; he goes in to kill, not to bolt, the object of his attack (A memoir of the Rev. John Russell and his out-of-door life, , by Edward William Lewis Davies, 1902 ed., pg. 54-55.)

So Jack Russells and other fox terriers likely do have some bulldog and bull-and-terrier blood.

And when you see someone who loves Jack Russells excoriate “pit bulls,” keep in mind that the acorn didn’t fall that far from the tree.

Who knows how much a Jack Russell is actually a bred down “pit bull’?

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