Sunday, September 26, 2010

Making the Case for Pit Bulls

By Adria L. Henderson, Newtown Patch

Pit bulls and their owners often live in secrecy, but the fear they often instill is unwarranted

The decision to write a column about pit bulls was easy.
Finding owners willing to be interviewed about their dogs was a challenge.
"I really try to keep a low profile about the fact that I have pit bulls. I live on a back lot so very few people, including my neighbors, know that they're here," said a Newtown resident, who asked to remain anonymous and who owns two perfectly behaved pit bulls.
I heard this or similar stories from several other pit owners in Newtown.
Mention to friends and family that you're planning to adopt a pit bull and the reaction is immediate, most often negative and sometimes downright outrage. Propagating this viewpoint are the insurance companies who refuse to write homeowner's policies for the owners of pit bulls.
No wonder many pit bull owners live in secrecy. Many pit owners, as well as pounds and shelters, often refer to the dogs as boxer-terrier mixes to avoid the common harsh reaction to this breed.
Pit bulls that arrive at the Newtown pound usually stay longer than any other breed before being adopted. The continued "bad press" awarded this breed continues the fallacy that all pits are bad. In addition, many of the pit bulls that end up at the pound have been abused, adding sometimes serious behaviorial issues to the mix.
Matt Schaub, who works at the Newtown pound, said, "You have to remember their full name is pit bull terrier. People tend to forget that the terrier part of their breed usually means that they're tenacious, active and head-strong, in addition to being powerful. It's not the breed for everyone, just as a really small dog may not be the best breed for families with small children. People should educate themselves about a breed before they adopt a dog."
Some of the pit bulls at the pound would make wonderful pets according to Schaub, who is quick to add, "for the right family."
And, there have been amazing success stories for many of the pit bulls that have been adopted at the pound, due in part to the patience and attention of Animal Control Officer Carolee Mason and the pound staff, as well the diligent training and socialization that each dog gets there.
Jim Gorant's newly released book, The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption, takes the reader on the journey of the 51 pit bulls found and removed from Vick's property, many of whom were long-time dog fighters, with the scars to prove it.
That journey has been nothing short of amazing — 47 of the 51 dogs that were rescued have made remarkable progress, due to the landmark decision handed down by the U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia who originally heard the Vick case.
In that landmark decision, Judge Hudson ruled that each dog would be individually evaluated by a group of trainers and behaviorists. Each dog would then be placed in the setting that would be in the "best interests" of the dog. Allowing the dogs to be assessed individually gave them each that necessary second chance.
In addition, Vick was required to pay $928,000 for their care and treatment. Under the law, this damages award amounted to restitution, defining the dogs, for the first time, as more than just a piece of property and, therefore, entitled to compensation.
Michael Vick did prison time for his crime, and was recently named the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, resurrecting his football career. If Vick deserved a second chance after his horrendous treatment of his dogs, didn't his dogs deserve that same opportunity?
Fortunately for the 47 pit bulls that were successfully rehabilitated, the courts believed they did.
So goes the old saying, "There are no bad dogs, just bad owners."

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