The “bloodhounds” feared in the 19th century were a different breed of dog

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)
Wrote Jim Gorant of pit bull terriers in The Lost Dogs:
Michael Vick’s dogs & their tale of rescue & redemption:
“In the 19th century a different breed of dog was considered
so vicious and insidious that it inspired almost universal fear and
loathing. That breed was the bloodhound.”
Gorant merely restated a claim often made for decades by pit
bull advocates and opponents of breed-specific legislation, but
anti-dogfighting blogger Dawn James–an animal rights activist for
more than 30 years– found this difficult to believe.

For starters, James was aware that no dog identified as a
bloodhound has ever killed or disfigured anyone in the 28 years that
ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton has logged dog attack deaths and
James embarked on an exploration of 19th and early 20th
century canine history that turned up evidence that the once feared
“bloodhounds” did not share any recorded lineage with the bloodhounds
of today.
Along the way, James also discovered documentation
contradicting several other common beliefs about pit bulls.
Aggression toward humans was not demonstrably bred out of fighting
dog lineages, James found. Nor was aggression toward humans bred
out of the first line of pit bulls sold to the public.
Also, James learned, the early film character Buster
Brown’s pit bull Tige was no cuddly child’s pet. Buster Brown,
created by comic strip artist Richard Outcault in 1902, was the
prototype for an entire genre of humor reversing the stereotype of
the young innocent. Tige, in four 1904 Thomas Edison film shorts,
twice attacks humans and once attacks another dog.
English bloodhounds, the big-headed, floppy-eared dogs
caricatured as McGruff the Crime Dog by the National Crime
Prevention Council, “made their way to the United States around
1880,” James found. “The first importer of [English] bloodhounds
was Jenks L. Winchell of Fair Haven, Vermont. Winchell became first
president of the English Bloodhound Club of America. But, though
Winchell began selling purebred litters in 1881, English bloodhounds
were so slow to develop a fancy that the American Kennel Club had
registered just 14 by 1889. They did, however, command prices of
$1,000 apiece–more, at the time, than most Americans’ annual
A different “bloodhound” was the dog considered dangerous,
most often called a Cuban bloodhound, sometimes called a Russian or
Siberian bloodhound. Some sources say these were different breeds
but the few available engravings and photographs of these dogs show
dogs looking much alike –but not like scent hounds of any sort, and
nothing like McGruff the Crime Dog.
“The so-called Cuban Bloodhound which was used in Jamaica and
the Southern States was not a bloodhound in the true sense of the
word,” wrote fancier Walter Dyer in a 1917 article for the magazine
New Country Life. “He probably possessed less hound than mastiff
blood, with perhaps an infusion of bulldog,” Dyer suggested.
“The White English Bulldog Preservation Society describes
Cuban Bloodhounds as similar to the Presa Canario or the Dogo
Argentino, dogs that most people classify as pit bull type dogs,”
James notes. “The society describes the dog used by the United
States Army during the Seminole Indian War as ‘easily mistaken for an
American pit bull terrier,'” yet says “‘History records this to be a
Cuban Blood-hound, known in the South today as the Brindle Bulldog.'”
Continues James, “The White English Bulldog Preservation
Society contends that the Cuban Bloodhound is the ‘direct ancestor of
the Brindle Bulldog and Old Red Bulldog of Louisiana and
An 1870 article in Oliver Optic’s Magazine, James found,
asserted that “The bloodhound of the south, perhaps known best as
the Cuban bloodhound, is not of the genuine breed, but is descended
from the Biscayne Mastiff, and is trained to fight as well as to
Five years earlier, James discovered, a Confederate prison
guard named Henry Wirz was hanged by the Union for setting Cuban
bloodhounds on Union troops at the notorious Andersonville
Prison–and someone drew a picture of one of the dogs.
Massachusetts banned Cuban and Siberian bloodhounds in 1886,
but in 1892 created an exemption for any “English bloodhound, of
pure blood, whose pedigree is recorded or would be entitled to
record in the English bloodhound herd book.”
In Newburyport, Massachusetts, dogfighter John P. Colby
meanwhile began breeding pit bull terriers, producing his first
litter in 1889. The Boston Globe on December 29, 1906 reported that
police shot one of his dogs, who mauled a boy while a girl escaped.
On February 2, 1909 the Globe described how one of Colby’s
dogs killed Colby’s two-year-old nephew, Bert Colby Leadbetter.
“Prior to John P. Colby’s breeding program, 1889-1941,
breeders and fanciers of pit bulls bred for fighting were a tight
group,” James wrote. “According to a July 1994 issue of the
Registrar for International Sportsman, “The finest dogs were only
passed to family and the most trusted friends and the secrecy of
their lineage was closely guarded. Colby broke this long-held
tradition by offering stud services and pit bull puppies to the
‘common man.’ The Sportsman article also notes that Colby was a
charter member of the Staffordshire Club of America and backed them
in ‘forcing the breed’s acceptance’ into the registry of the American
Kennel Club,” James continued. “In 1936 the AKC accepted the breed,
but only under the name ‘Stafford-shire.’ As a standard for the
Staffordshire breed, the AKC chose the fighting dog known as Colby’s
“After Colby’s death in 1941,” James blogged, “his wife
Florence continued the Colby breeding program. She was also the
president of the Staffordshire Club of America. As stated in the
Sportsman article, she ‘worked closely with the screening process of
the American pit bull terrier into the American Kennel Club under the
name Staffordshire.'”
Two of Colby’s sons helped to popularize pit bulls: .Joseph
Colby, author of American Pit Bull Terrier (1936), and Louis
Colby, co-author with Diane Jessup of Colby’s Book of the American
Pit Bull Terrier.

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