Richard F. - Articles>The True Heroes by Richard F. Stratton

Many years ago, a young female journalist called me for my opinion about "Pit Bulls." She had read parts of some of my books, and she was clearly amused by my opinion that these were good dogs. Her amusement was understandable. After all, everyone knew that the dogs had no redeeming points. I was obviously blinded to the real facts. My reply to her was that common knowledge was often in error and that nonsense has always found a ready audience.

I gave her examples, such as Paul Revere's ride, George Washington and the cherry tree, the moon hoax (perpetuated by the fledgling Sun newspaper, desperate for subscribers), Velikovsky's theories about Venus, Von Daniken's speculations about ancient astronauts, and Berlitz's tales about the Bermuda Triangle. I won't belabor the particular facts here, but suffice it to say that she acknowledged that all of those things were false but commonly believed. My point was that the public accepts too many "facts" uncritically. One reason is that it takes a little discipline and a little effort to do a little critical thinking about new information. It is even more difficult to question established "fact," but we all should do it anyway.

In any case, I told the young reporter that I not only looked upon Pit Bulls as good dogs but as a phenomenal breed. To me, they were heroes, but I didn't bother to elaborate that they were the only true heroes. I'll tell you why that is, but first, let me tell you the story about how they became heroes for me when I was just a young boy.

As I have told elsewhere, my first love in the dogs was the Collie breed. When I was about twelve years old, we lived in Arizona next door to a home that contained ten children, several of them boys near my age. I had a female Collie, and they had a large male German Shepherd. He was a natural bully, but if one of the boys was angry with me or wanted to get my goat, they could just sic the dog on my Collie. He would grab her, and she would holler. But it wasn't only things he did to my dog that angered me. The boys had an old jalopy that they would drive out on the desert where they had steel-jawed traps set for catching coyotes and foxes. I was with them when they came upon a coyote that was caught in one of their traps and was obviously frightened and in terrible agony. But the boys had little sympathy for the "varmint," and they sicced their big, bad German Shepherd on the poor distraught animal.

My only thought was to help the poor beleaguered animal, but this was back in the days when coyotes were considered vermin, and the only thing I could do was to put him out of his misery. I found a large branch to use as a club, and I brought it down hard on the head of the coyote, ending his agony. In the process, I had nearly hit the German Shepherd, and the boys complained about it; however, I had the club in my hand and was clearly in a mood to use it again.

The ill-disguised pride of the boys in their bully dog really bothered me to the extent that my father heard about it at considerable length. My father was a border patrolman at the time, and the head of the Border Patrol was Carson Morrow. He was quite a character, and he had a life time of experience in law enforcement, with lots of stories to tell. The point is that he had game chickens and pit dogs. When he heard about my tale of woe, he picked out a small brindle Bulldog and loaned him to me. He gave me a breaking stick and showed me how to use it. It was hard for me to picture having to save that big German Shepherd from that little nondescript dog, but Chief Morrow merely told me that the boys would be in for a surprise when they sicced their bully onto that "little gentleman"!

It would take too long to tell all that transpired. The short version of the story is that the boys ended up totally humiliated, their dog whipped to the extent that he never bothered mine again, and I was left with an incurable view of this little known breed as nothing short of heroic.

But am I showing a lack of critical thinking here? Was I mesmerized merely because a little dog proved that he didn't have to be big to unmask a bully? Believe me, I have done a lot of thinking about that. Let me tell you why I believe the dogs not only to be heroes but the only true heroes.

During the World War, heroes were those who didn't talk under torture. But that was a myth, of course. The fact is that everyone talks under torture. Some people can just hold out longer than others.

In olden days, there were many myths about heroes, such as Beowulf and King Arthur, men who were stronger than any other human and absolutely fearless and resolute. Today we tend to cluster around the television set and we make athletes our heroes. I am not immune to this either; but the point I am trying to make is that we have a built-in propensity to worship heroes. A further point is that nearly all of our heroes are going to be idols with clay feet. They will soon fall. A fellow who used to be team physician for the Chargers was a friend of mine, and he told me that even the toughest athlete screamed in pain when a knee was torn. It is just something that can't be suppressed.

When we look to animals to idolize, the lion is most often mentioned, with other predators following in differing order. But predators select their prey carefully, always trying to pick out the easiest mark. Many years of natural selection has favored such caution. A wounded lion can't seek veterinary care in the wild, and he or she can't hunt while wounded either.

A Bulldog is a unique animal that has been bred for hunting and fighting for countless centuries. From human protection, it has been molded outside the Darwinian world, in which natural selection favors caution and the ability to recognize defeat quickly.

So when I say Bulldogs are the only true heroes, I mean that they are the only animals that are anything like the Beowulfs of legends. And we humans have evolved somehow to automatically respect that. Knowing that it is artificial should not affect our admiration. After all, there are no breeds of dogs that are not artificial. Even the wolf has been molded by modern civilization. I doubt that the ones before civilization were as man-shy as the modern animals.

It is worth mentioning the game chickens, for I disagree with those who proclaim the gamecock the gamest animal in the world. If game chickens were matched to the same rules as the dogs, they would get credit for more quits than the dogs. Further, a duck will chase the gamest game chicken, while Bulldogs, of course, respect only humans. Part of the reason that Bulldogs out do game chickens is that the wild dog (or wolf) is a more formidable animal to begin with than is the wild jungle fowl.

Part of all of this is what we define as heroes. I am talking about the traditional fearless physical hero that we all automatically respect. It takes experience and education to have the same reverence for someone with intellectual courage and integrity. Consequently, such people are little noticed and sometimes persecuted. Thomas Paine was an excellent example of that situation, although today he is revered.

Not only is the Bulldog the only true hero (in the limited sense that I am using the term), it is an amazing breed which has developed some amazing capabilities. For one thing, it has strength and tenacity that belies its size. For another, it has the ability to over ride pain that would incapacitate any other mammal. One of the arguments used to try to save endangered species is that we haven't learned enough from them yet. I would argue the same in regard to the American Pit Bull Terrier. He has much to teach our researchers about pain control, among other things.

I don't know how much I influenced my young journalist. She said that she found me completely credible. For that reason, she did not have another "piling-on" article about Pit Bulls. And for that reason, her editor wouldn't run her article. Nevertheless, she remained firm. I would submit that a little courage was involved in her integrity and commitment to her profession. Although I consider Bulldogs to be the only true heroes in the Beowulf or Siegfried mold, I would submit that people of principle and integrity are worthy heroes, too.