Pit bull attacks are frequently documented by the media, but controlled studies do not show pit bulls to be disproportionately dangerous compared with other breeds. Some jurisdictions have enacted legislation banning the breed, and some insurance companies do not cover liability from pit bull bites. Among other roles, pit bulls have served as police dogs, search and rescue dogs, and several have appeared on film.
Pit bulls were created by breeding bulldogs and terriers together to produce a dog that combined the gameness and agility of the terrier with the strength of the bulldog. In the United Kingdom, these dogs were used in blood sports such as bull-baiting and bear-baiting. These blood sports were officially eliminated in 1835 as Britain began to introduce animal welfare laws. Since dogfights were cheaper to organize and far easier to conceal from the law than bull or bear baits, blood sport proponents turned to pitting their dogs against each other instead. Dog fighting was used as both a blood sport (often involving gambling) and a way to continue to test the quality of their stock. For decades afterwards, dog fighting clandestinely took place in small areas of Britain and America. In the early 20th century pit bulls were used as catch dogs in America for semi-wild cattle and hogs, to hunt, and drive livestock, and as family companions. Some have been selectively bred for their fighting prowess.
Pit bulls also constitute the majority of dogs used for illegal dog fighting in America. In addition, law enforcement organisations report these dogs are used for other nefarious purposes, such as guarding illegal narcotics operations, use against police, and as attack dogs. On the other side of the law, pit bulls have been used as police dogs.
In an effort to counter the fighting reputation of pit bull-type dogs, in 1996 the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals renamed pit bull terriers to "St. Francis Terriers", so that people might be more likely to adopt them. 60 temperament-screened dogs were adopted until the program was halted, after several of the newly adopted pit bulls killed cats. The New York City Center for Animal Care and Control tried a similar approach in 2004, relabeling their pit bulls as "New Yorkies", but dropped the idea in the face of overwhelming public opposition.
Currently, there are a number of breeds that are recognized by different associations which fall under the term "pit bull". The Federation Cynologique Internationale currently only recognizes three breeds: the Bull Terrier, the Miniature Bull Terrier, and the Staffordshier Bull Terrier. The Canadian Kennel Club also recognizes these breeds, as well as the American Staffordshire Terrier. The American Kennel Club recognizes the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Miniature Bull Terrier, and the Bull Terrier as breeds also.