The Nanny Myth Kills
That blasted myth is killing the things that we love most, our children and our dogs. The sad thing, it’s not a myth created out of ill intention. It’s a myth that took a statement, twisted it, was retold and retold again. Advertised, promoted and became this huge belief that gets repeated over and over and over again. I’ll be honest, the idea of taking on the Nanny dog myth is daunting and intimidating. Have you googled “Nanny dog”?
“But not so long ago, pit bulls were brought in as “nanny dogs,” the trusted caretaker pups to watch over kids”-Claudine Zap, 2011
I can’t even count how many times I’ve come across that quote… God bless her, even Martha Stewart quoted it in her 2014 article written by Dr. Pia Salk. What’s that quote? The road to hell is paved with good intentions? That is exactly what the promotion of the Nanny myth is among pit bull owners. I get it, our dogs are AMAZING. Our dogs can do AMAZING things. Our dogs can clear a room with one single fart and lay there like nothing just happened. Our dogs can save lives, our dogs can make people laugh, our dogs can comfort us and others when we are ill, our dogs can somehow morph into these blobs that can over take furniture. They come in different colors, shapes, sizes, from different backgrounds, personalities and temperaments. Some are athletic, some are lazy, some like water, some hate water, some are the very best dogs we will ever have and sadly, some will be the worst dogs they might ever have. Our dogs are many things but the one thing they will never be is a “Nanny Dog.”
The best way that we can honestly help our dogs and our advocacy (not to mention shut down the steam behind the BSL advocacy) is to clear the air. A dogs purpose from way back to now are completely different UNLESS it comes from a specific line. Back in the old days, dogs had jobs, they had work to do unless you were rich enough to be able to afford the well known lap dog and many families from that era were not that lucky. A working dog that wouldn’t/couldn’t work would be culled. It’s a harsh reality. In the past, our beloved breed type (and the multiple breeds that fall under the “pit bull” breed label) had multiple jobs, none of them very pleasant and none of those jobs were to be a babysitter.
The Birth of a Myth
At some point, according to the myth, at the start of the 20th century (allegedly), “pit bulls” are declared as the famous Nanny Dog. That these dogs (who had some of the most brutal of jobs) were somehow AMAZING with children and possessed the delicate nature and intelligence to “care” for children. The point of the campaign was simple: garner public support for these dogs after the era of dog fighting was losing favor, transitioning the breed of dogs from that era into another role. Even Charles Dickens, who wrote about a bull terrier in his famous Oliver Twist failed to bring that label into the story.
Fast forward and the myth grows. In 1971 “Nursemaid” hits print for the first time thanks to an article written in the New York Times by Walter Fletcher.
It wasn’t until 1987, that the term was printed again in an archived Toronto Star article entitled, Move to Outlaw Pit Bulls Under Study in Several Cities, that breeder Kathy Thomas, president of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Association, mother of two young children, said her eight Staffordshires are “wonderful with children. In England, our Staffies were called the nanny-dog because they were gentle with kids.” Fast forward 4 more years when Lillian Rant uses the term “nursemaid dog” three times in her book Staffordshire Bull Terriers: Owner’s Companion : “He has a great affection for children, having earned the title ‘nursemaid dog’ many years ago.” In this instance, “many years ago” means about 20 years when she first used the term in regards to her own dogs.
Look to the Future
At the end of the day, we know our flaws and our strengths in our dogs. There is no hiding the fact that MANY (not all) of our dogs are amazing with kids. The tolerance that MANY (not all) have for kids is amazing and what makes them great family pets, but they are still dogs that don’t have the reasoning capability as we do. They don’t look at the world like we do and we can’t expect them to fulfill a role that they were never meant to be. No animal, dog or not was ever made to babysit our children. Our dogs are super stars, our dogs are our companions, our best friends and family members, they deserve to be defined by what they do today not what a handful of people labeled them years ago.