Pet owners, groups cite favorable aspects of pit bulls
By Alicia Miller & Megan Hopps
SUN PRESS Newspapers
Bright eyes, smiling faces and wagging tails are just some of the admirable traits of a pit bull.
American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers (the breeds typically lumped in the term “pit bull”), are loving family dogs with endless energy and a tenacious personalities, according to the rescue group, A Rotta Love.
“Their clown-like ways set them apart from many breeds,” A Rotta Love said. “It seems this misunderstood comedian is always wearing a smile and wants nothing more than to be with their humans.”
Unfortunately, the group said these dogs have gotten a bad reputation over the years but deserve the benefit of the doubt.
When English immigrants came to America in the 19th century, dog fighting was a common practice. However, as immigrants traveled west, the pit bull took on a broader and more humane function. On the frontier, pit bulls assumed the role of an all-purpose dog from herding cattle and sheep to protecting families and livestock from the ever-present threat of thieves and wild animals.
Today, the pit bull is a beloved animal that is used in a variety of helping functions in society including police dogs, search dogs, therapy dogs, and farm dogs. Even so, negative publicity has led many cities to condemn them as a community problem.
Over the years, many famous Americans have owned pit bulls. Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Thomas Edison, Woodrow Wilson, John Steinbeck, Helen Keller, and Fred Astaire have all been proud pit bull owners. The actor Ken Howard (the father on the TV show Crossing Jordan) even credits his pit bull with saving his life.
There are plenty of stereotypes and myths about pit bulls, but the probability of being fatally attacked by a pit bull is lower than many other types of dogs.
The probability of being fatality attacked by a pit bull is .00125 percent compared to .00217 percent by a German Shepherd, .00333 percent by a Chow and .00433 percent by a Rottweiler, according to arottalove.org.
There was also a study done that evaluated canine temperament, with 82 percent of dog breeds receiving a passing score. Of those breeds the pit bull consistently scored above the average with 86.8 percent, which is higher than the golden retriever scoring 85.2 percent.
Over the years various municipalities have deemed a number of dog breeds as dangerous, such as pit bulls, and implemented breed-specific legislation to ban or restrict these breeds. A Rotta Love Plus, a rescue organization, said in those communities that have passed this type of legislation, there has been no reduction in dog bite incidents.
Amanda Jackson of Minnesota Pit Bull Rescue said, “I really just encourage people to look at all dogs as just that — dogs. We desire so strongly to put labels on dogs and then we like to assign meanings and assumptions to those labels, but in the end, this practice does nothing for public safety. Assuming the pit bull down the street is dangerous might prevent you or your family from making a new friend and learning something new, just the same as assuming the lab or cocker or chihuahua or mixed breed that you see is friendly could end up getting a person bit.”
What is far better for the public to focus on is learning about dog body language and safe interactions, Jackson said. For instance, a closed mouth and a temporary freeze in body posture can be strongly indicative of an impending bite or snap from a dog.
According to well-known veterinarian and columnist Dr. Michael Fox, “Dogs are pack animals and need frequent contact with their own kind or with human beings. Long periods of social deprivation can make a good-tempered dog quite ill-tempered. As a result, dogs do bite when they become overexcited. It’s as though they don’t know what to do with all their pent-up energies.”
This might explain why some chained dogs, who are used to being alone, attack when they are finally approached, even by a familiar face or a family member. Over a period of many years, dogs were gradually domesticated and came to rely on humans not only for their care but also for companionship.
“Dogs need to be a part of a social group,” Animal Behaviorist Linda Goodman states. “Isolation from the pack is a very severe form of punishment. Chained dogs have to endure an unnaturally lonely life. It is like a sentence of solitary confinement for life.”
Dogs, like humans, respond to potentially harmful situations in one of two ways. When confronted with a threat, a dog’s psychology and physiology dictate that he or she will either flee from the danger (“flight”) or confront it (“fight”). Because dogs that have been chained or kenneled have no opportunity to flee from danger, they must resort to aggression and attacks. It is important to note that this behavior is not breed specific.
A Rotta Love Plus has found statistics about the mistreatment of animals, specifically pit bulls. There website states, “When it comes to animal abuse there is no blaming the animal. Pit bull types are targets of human abuse more than any other breed.”
As of July 2012, there were 10,728 total canine abuse cases. Of those cases, 77.5 percent involved pit bulls.
Ultimately, animal behaviorists said pet owners have the greatest influence on a dog’s behavior.
Jackson said that promoting education about humane handling and care also plays a role. “Committing ourselves to being responsible and knowledgeable about safety around all dogs will improve public safety, compared to negatively labeling certain dogs and promoting restrictive policies that only serve to punish responsible and caring owners,” she added. “We need to stop wasting time arguing about whether or not any specific breed of dog is good or bad and start investing in promoting safety around all dogs.”
There are many organizations around the state that help rescue, foster and re-home pit bulls.
One of those organizations is Minnesota Pit Bull Rescue, which is an all volunteer rescue based out of the Twin Cities.
Jackson, on behalf of MN Pit Bull Rescue said, “All dogs in our program are housed through foster care, often with other pets and possibly children too. If someone is interested in fostering or adopting, the first step would be the visit the website and just familiarize oneself with our process and our goals.”
Dogs in the program mostly come from shelters or animal control agencies. “Many times they come from agencies where the only way a pit bull might get out of the institution is through a rescue, otherwise they are put down,” Jackson added. “Rescue is truly their only chance at life.”
On occasion the rescue is able to take owner-surrendered dogs, but more often it tries to encourage other avenues for the owner such as advice and referrals for quality training.
She added the organization does make itself available to people for one-on-one education, referrals to other services like training or a low-cost spay or neuter.
A Rotta Love Plus is another organization is a comprehensive and proactive all-volunteer advocacy organization that uses a “nose-to-tail” approach to address the issues faced by Rottweilers and pit bulls.
This organization’s strategies include public outreach and awareness to repair the reputation of its breeds, community enrichment and education via its therapy dog program, spay/neuter initiatives, owner education and training, and foster-based dog rescue and re-homing.
A Rotta Love only can save a certain number of dogs, which is dependent upon the number of foster homes available.
Michelle Klatt with A Rotta Love said, “Unfortunately, pet overpopulation, especially for pit bulls, is an enormous problem and ARLP reserves its limited number of foster homes for dogs that are in shelters or humane societies and on ‘death row.’ For this reason, ARLP cannot take owner-surrender dogs into foster care.”
She added, “All ARLP program dogs are in a foster home, spending time with loving guardians who have been working hard to polish them up for a forever family.”
Dogs that come to ARLP are all spayed or neutered, up-to-date on vaccinations and microchipped prior to adoption. “They’ve also been evaluated by ARLP directors to make sure they have the potential to be wonderful representatives of their breeds — you can bet that the dogs are the friendly, eager, optimistic, people-pleasing, and confident animals [they] were born to be,” Klatt added.
ARLP foster dogs do not appear on the website’s “Available” page until they have been in the program for at least a month. Klatt said this month behind the scenes allows them to really get to know each dog and to know what type of home they would do best in.
“When you foster or adopt a dog through ARLP you will know exactly what you are getting: a dog with the potential to be a superstar breed ambassador,” Klatt said. “If you adopt an ARLP dog, you will know your new dog’s temperament, size, personality, and all of their favorite things.”
There have been many pit bull rescue successes around the area over the years.
One of those success stories was posted on the Save-a-Bull Rescue website Aug. 8. Chad and Amber V. adopted two pit bull brothers, Gauge and Maverick. When asked what are their dog’s favorite activities, they responded: “Gauge loves to ring the bell attached to our door so he can go outside and play. He loves to go on walks but prefers to run and loves to cuddle. Maverick loves to chew toys. He also loves to go on walks but he could live without the running. Maverick also loves to cuddle.”
Chad and Amber V. were asked what sort of reactions they get from others about owning pit bulls. They said, “The boys do not have a lot of pit bull features. Once we share with people that they are a lab/pit bull mix they are often shocked. People initially give you the ‘oh my those are dangerous dogs’ line. We love to inform them about pit bulls and let them get to know [our dogs]. They always fall in love with them by the end of the conversation. They are fantastic with kids and are the most gentle caring dogs we have ever met.”
Another story comes from Minnesota Pit Bull Rescue.
Jackson said a pit bull named Scirocco came into Maplewood Animal Control on May 31st, spending over a month there waiting for rescue. “While there it became apparent in the first part of July that Scirocco was pregnant,” she added.
Scirocco was picked up July 3 and went into a foster home as the only dog, getting her name from her foster mom’s favorite Volkswagen. She was scared of the stairs for the first few weeks, but with lots of treats and praise she used because that was the only way Scirocco could sleep in bed with her foster mom Jackson said. Scirocco loves toys, especially tennis balls and has quite the collection of them.
On July 13, she gave birth to five puppies – three girls and two boys. Scirocco is a good mom and taken her responsibility for caring for them very seriously, Jackson added. Scirocco has shared her puppies with people, which can be an issue for dogs.
Scirocco has found her forever home with her foster mom, but all five puppies still need forever homes. These puppies will be ready for their adoptive forever homes when they are eight weeks old, which will be on Sept. 7.
Visit the following groups, which are a few of the many resources, for more information or training or rescues or fostering:
• PUPS (Pets Under Police Security) through the Maple Grove Police Department. Checkout MG Impound Dogs on Facebook for animals looking for homes.
Contact Megan Hopps and Alicia Miller at [email protected]