By Nok-Noi Ricker, Bangor Daily News
Pit bulls have gotten a bad rap, representatives from Southern Maine Pit Bulls, or SOME Pit!, said at a presentation Saturday at the Bangor Humane Society.
Media reports about pit bull attacks have made the public scared of the dogs, she said.
“I don’t blame people for being afraid,” she said. “That’s the information they’re receiving. It’s caused a hysteria.”
Dolce and Adam Ricci, training coordinator and co-founder of SOME Pit!, said that explaining to people the misinformation that surrounds pit bulls can change people’s perceptions. The duo travel the state educating people about pit bulls and ask pit bull owners to be educators themselves by being good examples while out in public.
“You need to be ambassadors for the breed,” Dolce said. “You have to hold yourself to a higher standard. It’s not fair, but the truth is people have all these misconceptions.”
The term “pit bull” refers to three breeds: the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, and Staffordshire bull terrier.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, and one in five are injured badly enough to require medical attention. From 1979 to 1998, more than 300 people were killed by dogs, and pit bulls tallied 76 of those deaths.
The National Canine Research Council estimates that dogs cause 25-30 fatalities each year.
The data are shocking, but considering there are an estimated 72 million dogs in the U.S., people are “five times more likely to be killed by a cow,” Dolce said.
Patt Pinkham, Bangor animal control officer for the past 27 years, has plenty of experience dealing with dogs and says pit bulls are no different than other breeds.
“My theory is all dogs have teeth, so any dog is capable of biting given the right circumstances,” she said. “A bite is the last resort with most of these dogs.”
The group of 22 people at the SOME Pit! seminar included shelter volunteers, those thinking about adopting a pit bull and others who own pit bulls.
“I used to have a pit bull but had to give her up when I moved,” one man said. “I want another one.”
Hampden residents Maggie and Bill Villarreal said they adopted their 11-year-old pit bull, Hondo, from their son nine years ago.
“We love our dog,” Maggie Villarreal said.
No matter what breed of dog people own, they must be responsible for their pets, she said.
The couple acknowledged that the public is apprehensive about their loving and friendly dog because of his breed.
“He [gets] walks every morning and we’re cognizant of the fact people are wary,” Bill Villarreal said.
Shelter volunteer Karen Littlefield of Stillwater, who began working at the shelter in January and is qualified to take dogs home, said she has had a major change of heart over the last seven months.
When she was first assigned a walking detail with a pit bull, she responded by saying, “I’m only here for the easy dogs,” she recalled Saturday. “Now my husband is asking, ‘Are you ever going to bring home any dogs that aren’t pit bulls?’”
“Out of all these dogs, the pit bulls are the easiest” to handle, Littlefield added.
SOME Pit! has three upcoming seminars in the next month, including one in Westbrook and another one at Portland’s Irish bar Brian Boru on July 29.