I’m A Good Dog

By Ken Foster. Viking Studio. $17.50

From the moment you pick up this impassioned volume and see an endearing dog’s face looking you squarely in the eyes, then read the first sentence, “By the time I learned what a pit bull really was, it was too late: I was already in love,” how can you not love it?

Packed with anecdotes, vignettes and terrific photography, Foster skillfully and colorfully constructs a case for the pit bull in America’s canine kaleidoscope. He acknowledges it has been given a dreadful image by dog fighting rings, gangs and backyard breeders with no concern for temperament just hard cash.

But the heart and soul of Foster’s work are his observations:

“She (his pit bull Sula) changed me because there wasn’t a day that people didn’t judge her solely on how she looked.” (When Foster had canine DNA testing performed on his two pit-bull-looking dogs the results revealed Rottweiler-shepherd and bulldog-Bernese mountain dog, meaning it’s totally unfair to breed label any dog without empirical evidence.)

“Wiggly, that’s the word most often used by pit-bull owners to describe their dogs.”

“The term ‘pit bull’ is used to describe 10 to 20 percent of the dogs found in the United States, including pit-bull type breeds, indeterminate breeds and breed mixes.”

“A pit bull is American, and like most Americans, these dogs are a jumble of DNA and contradictions, which is, naturally, what pit-bull lovers love most about their dogs.”

“The inside of a dog, generally speaking, has nothing to do with the outside of a dog, their behavior, or their appearance – and vice-versa.”

Foster guides the reader through a historical panorama of the American pit-bull terrier from its early day popularity as an iconic advertising figure (Tige) for the Buster Brown Shoe Co. to its more recent comeback roles for Old Navy, The Gap, Lowe’s, Martha Stewart and Amazon Kindle. In between those high-visibility stints came plenty of negative publicity as dog fighter and gang guardian, highlighted, of course, by being featured on a Sports Illustrated cover surrounding the Michael Vick case.

The SI story, written by Jim Gorant focused, however, on the dogs, not Vick or dog fighting, and attracted 488 letters and e-mails, nearly all of which were positive, since the animals were characterized as victims in the crime, not accomplices.

On the flip side, the American pit bull terrier plays an important role with such agencies as U.S. Customs, the Washington State Patrol and the Washington State Ferries System.

Foster’s impassioned homage recognizes the occasional combustible reactions of the public, noting “these impressions of the breed reflect the inner workings of their own minds rather than anything to do with the dogs themselves. Their reactions are based on accepted generalities rather than rational, individual evaluation and thought.”

“I’m a Good Dog” is basically a love fest with the pit-bull terrier yet a philosophical wake-up call to readers that what you see isn’t necessarily what you get.