The bad reputation pit bull have has more to do with nurture than nature.
Someone once told me nice people come in all colors. The same holds true that nice dogs come in all breeds.
A recent pit bull attack occurred June 10 when Kelly, a pit bull mix, attacked a carriage horse in Old City. Kelly was being housed at the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society at Second and Arch streets and escaped her leash while going for a walk with a PAWS volunteer. The incident made headlines, but while news organizations emphasized the pit bull being wrong, it was Kelly’s past environment that affected her reaction.
Kelly was brought to PAWS in April, after she was thrown out of a moving vehicle on Kelly Drive. During the June 10 incident, the horse startled Kelly, whose previously rough life did not prepare her for such circumstances and prompted her to react in such a dangerous manner.
In the two weeks following the attack, two pit bulls were viciously killed. First, a pit bull puppy was found hanged by its own leash at Barrett Recreation Center at Eighth Street and Duncannon Avenue. A week later, a pit bull mix was found lying in a puddle of its own blood after being tied to a fence and shot in the head.
Regardless of whether the killings are related to the pit bull attack, they represent a generalized ignorance toward pit bulls.
Abused and neglected humans can grow to become out-of-line, and so can pit bulls. A pit bull’s appearance is enough to incite fear with its heavy jaw, broad shoulders, deep rib cage and athletic back legs. The American Temperament Testing Society, however, reports that pit bulls are no more vicious than golden retrievers, beagles or other popular breeds.
Pit bulls that are treated properly can grow to become loving, affectionate companions like Sarge, the companion pit bull of Kim Wolf, a primary pit bull advocate in Philadelphia.
“Sarge is a certified therapy dog with Pals for Life,” Wolf said. “He interacts regularly with people, ranging in age from 3 years to 103 years.”
Even rescued pit bulls adapt and develop in a good environment when given the chance. Daniel Featherston, a visiting assistant professor in Temple’s English department and an animal welfare advocate, said he loves his 3-year-old rescued pit bull, Mazzy. Pennsylvania SPCA Humane Law Enforcement officers found Mazzy in an abandoned house in South Philadelphia. She was starving and had a severe case of mange, causing her body to lose its fur and become covered with scabs.
After she quickly regained her health, she became “the belle of the walk,” Featherston said, with her charming and social personality. Featherston said he and his wife, Rachel, looked to adopt Mazzy not only as an opportunity to save an otherwise unwanted life – and free up a kennel space for the next unwanted dog – but also as an “opportunity to reeducate people about pit bull-type dogs.”
Too often people confuse poorly bred and abused pit bulls that come from “backyard breeders” with the true friendly, trustworthy and gentle breed.
Pit bulls are often popular in communities with little access to proper treatment and care. The main issues include spay/neuter services, pet training and irresponsible owners. Visit an animal shelter in Philadelphia, and you will likely find the majority of dogs are pit bulls or pit bull mixes.
Last July, Animal People News reported that more than 50 percent of euthanized dogs are pit bulls. Once pit bulls are finally placed in shelters, many do not want them because of the profile or bad reputation associated with the breed. This underlines the focus of Best Friends Animal Society, an agency that challenges breed discrimination and works to restore the image of pit bulls.
For more than 25 years, pit bulls have been one of the most misunderstood and abused breeds in our society. But the bottom line is: The irresponsible owners should be punished – not the breed as a whole.
Lauren Hertzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.