The Upshot

Pit bulls’ surprising past: Nanny dogs

The Upshot

Try to quickly summon an image of good-with-small-children dog, and chances are you'll picture something adorably Benji-shaggy. Or maybe a sweetie-pie golden retriever, or a loveball of a lab. It's not likely, at least not in today's perception of the breed, that an American pit bull terrier leaps to mind.

But not so long ago, pit bulls were brought in as "nanny dogs," the trusted caretaker pups to watch over kids.

Vintage photographs recently posted on a personal blog show off the breed as babysitter.

It's striking--and quite sad--to see such documentation of how beloved the now-maligned dog once was. The very same American pit bull is now more often associated with Michael Vick's dogfights, and stories of household pets gone bad, sometimes tragically involving kids.

In the case of Vick, who was convicted of running a dogfighting ring, 47 of the pit bulls from his kennel were taken to animal sanctuaries or adopted. One rehabilitated dog named Mel, who moved to Dallas with a new owner, even received an edible key to the city.

But back to the breed's history as a family dog: Helen Keller had a pit bull. Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote "Little House on the Prairie," owned one, too. And Petey, the mascot pup with the black eye patch in "The Little Rascals?" Pit bull.

Over time, the breed, which was also bred to battle bulls and fight other dogs, picked up a reputation for a nasty nature. Cesar Millan, the "dog whisperer" who is around the breed every day, says it's people who should be blamed, not the breed. He writes on his website, "Pit bulls get a bad rap because of irresponsible owners."

Responsible owners include Jon Stewart, Alicia Silverstone, Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel, and Jessica Alba.

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