Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Andrew Spivak

Second Committee Member

Robert Futrell

Third Committee Member

David Dickens

Fourth Committee Member

William Sousa

Number of Pages



This research draws from twelve months of ethnographic data using Las Vegas as a case study to understand how pit bull owners experience and negotiate stigma in various social settings. The human-dog relationship, long rooted in utility, transformed in the modern era as animals were promoted from worker to companion. The world’s first dog register, The American Kennel Club, created breed standards and encouraged selective breeding, which influenced the idea of certain dogs being more physically “dangerous” than others. Though the pit bull is not the first dog “breed” to be the object of discrimination, it is the first dog group to become subjected to restrictive legislation beginning in the 1980s. Using participant observation, casual conversations, and semi-structured interviews, I seek to expand our understanding pit bull stigma’s complexity, highlighting the roots of pit bull stigma, how pit bull stigma is expressed and experienced, and how it may be changing. Specifically, I confirm previous research which suggests pit bulls and their owners continue to experience stigma and the owners use various contextual strategies to negotiate it. I also discuss broader implications about human ridicule and animal welfare that flow from breed-specific stigma, policies, and legislation.


Breed specific legislation; Dog parks; Pet ownership; Pit bull; Stigma


Animal Sciences | Public Policy | Sociology