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Pit bulls often a misunderstood breed
Pit bulls often a misunderstood breed
By Isabel Sanchez / The $#@!ociated Press
Posted: 03/20/2009 09:48:46 AM MDT
ALBUQUERQUE — What are you, crazy?
Kassie Brown and Rena Distasio hear that a lot.
So will the owners of Akira, and Ava, and Austin, and Sally, puppies that as part of their education are rollicking around the sunny room, chasing and being chased.
The pups are pit bulls. They're attending a Saturday morning cl$#@! for dogs of their breed, in part to help them become well-behaved, obedient pets, and in part so their owners aren't asked if they're crazy.
The puppies, all less than 5 months old, behave as puppies do, and learn quickly as puppies do, and the room is filled with "Good girl!" or "Good boy!" as they come when called, or drop a toy, or sit when told to sit. The only difference is that when they're grown, they could strike fear in the hearts of people who don't even know them.
Distasio is one of the founders of RAAP, for Responsibly Adopting Albuquerque's Pit Bulls, a nonprofit advocacy group that was born when she and two other volunteers at the city's shelters realized how many good dogs suffered and died because of bad reputations.
"We know they're family pets, and responsible owners know they're family pets," she says, "but what do we do to stem the tide? We often say the very best people own pit bulls and the very worst people own pit bulls."
RAAP's dual goal is to lower the number of the dogs that end up in shelters and to get the "vast majority" that are stable adopted.
Brown and a friend started Burque Babes and Bullies, also an advocacy
group that aims to shatter images — the pit bull as the pet of pretty young women instead of the spiked collar threat accompanying young men. The Babes also foster dogs and help raise money for rescue efforts.
The puppy cl$#@!, held at Animal Humane, teaches the owners and their dogs basic obedience but also socialization, to people and especially to other dogs. There's a lot of mythology about pit bulls, and a lot of negative press, but pit bulls do have an issue particular to the breed: what Distasio calls "reactivity to other dogs, an inability to socialize with their own kind. As much as we about dogfighting, the reality is that that is the task the dogs have been used for over the centuries."
Another task from centuries ago: Pit bulls were used to help butcher livestock, trained to catch and grip animals for slaughter. A dog could bite and hold a bull, for example, preventing the animal from goring the farmer.
"Many, but not all of them, retain this instinct to this day, which is what makes them a terrific all-purpose working dog and super-friendly with people," Distasio says. "But like any high-drive working dog, if a pit bull's mental and physical needs are not met on a daily basis, it can redirect that energy in other ways."
The discussion about what pit bulls were bred to do came up after a recent deadly attack by two pit bulls on a group of alpacas in Placitas.
Any number of "high-drive" breeds could have done the same, Distasio says.
"The fault lies strictly with the owners for letting their dogs roam and act out in that manner," she says.
Yet another trait of pit bulls is that they are "biddable," easily taught and willing to learn.
The puppy cl$#@!, by teaching the dog to focus on its owner, to handle being around other dogs, she says, aims at producing "a well-mannered, socialized dog, that when (their owners) take them out to the public, they become ambassadors of their breed." A cl$#@! for adults will start in spring.
Ava and Akira are not quite there yet. A barkfest erupts when they meet, and each dog strains at the leash.
Akira needs to learn "that being around other dogs is OK," Distasio says. As for Ava, trainer Pat Anderson says, she's "a little rough in her play style." Anderson wears a T-shirt that says, "My dog is a RAAP star."
Akira, who wears a pink collar and a pink heart-shaped tag, is asked to let go of a toy in a "take it and drop it" exercise. She does so immediately, a fast learner. She has learned to focus and focus is what helps a dog ignore distractions and pay attention to her owner.
"It's basically 'nothing in life is free' dog training," Distasio says. "If you want something, you have to earn it."
Brown is here with Austin, a 4 1/2-month-old she's fostering; his mother and siblings had been poisoned. She has two pit bulls of her own.
She'd heard of the pit bull stereotypes, she says, and didn't believe them. But other people did, such as landlords who wouldn't rent to her, and relatives who didn't want to come visit. Even just out on a walk, "people would cross the street if they had kids or another dog with them, automatically thinking my dog is vicious. She's not."
Pit bulls were once America's dog — movie star, our mascot during World War I, companion to Helen Keller. Trends in dogs rise and fall; where Rottweilers and Dobermans once ruled as the "bad" dogs to fear, pit bulls, a conglomeration of bull/terrier breeds and mixes, now reign.
Their advocates say it's not the dog but its owner; Burque Babes' motto is "Punish the deed, not the breed."
"The pit bull is the dumping ground dog, for all our fears and hysteria about potentially dangerous canines," Distasio says.
Every now and then, Distasio says, she'll see a graduate out in public. "It was wonderful to see those dogs grow up into beautifully behaved adults," she says. "It's kind of cool to go out into the community, and 'Hey, that's a RAAP dog."'
03-20-2009, 08:59 PM #2
- Join Date
- Nov 2007
It's great that they are making the breed visible that they are great family dogs. I'm sure I will get looks when Bella starts her puppy cl$#@!.
More and more people are seeing reports in the media of a "Pit Bull Type Dog" committed the attack. While the truth of the matter is, the people are uncertain the type of dog it was that attacked, and they say it was a Pit Bull Type for the media to get involved and commit their journalistic slander.
If we as citizens who love the breed and are tired of the false labels and claims that are false about Pit Bulls, begin to write to these journalists and begin to demand that they properly report, or report an "unknown type dog", perhaps we can begin to bring a slow down to the negative press that these dogs receive on a daily basis around the country.
It is ridiculous that we have to allow these slanderous remarks to continue to cause hysteria, about a breed of dog that a vast majority of the media know nothing about, yet are content to go on the record, not knowing exactly what they are talking about. I have actually heard reporters say that the dogs have locking jaws in their reports,which is another incorrect slanderous statement that they make on a daily basis.
I recently called two reporters in eastern Tennessee, to account for their statements in which in one story, it said a "Pit Bull Mix", and in another story it was reported as a "Pit Bull Type Dog", neither reporter has returned the 30 dog photo arrays that I sent to them and asked them to pick the Pit Bull out, while also asking that a retraction or correction be made in regard to their incorrect statements.
The fact of the matter is that these reporters only know what they have been told and done no research at all to their stories, other than what they hear from police officers, EMTs and animal control officers, who do not know what they are talking about.
As the owners of these dogs, we need to take our dogs out in public, on a regular basis to show that these dogs are not as dangerous as some other breeds of dogs.
The media also needs to understand that Pit Bulls are used on a regular basis, in federal, state and local governments, in addition to service dogs, which the media fails to report, because it would take away from their negative stance on this breed of dog.
If I would have known what lovable dogs they were, I would have gotten one years ago, I fully intend to adopt another one as soon as I get out of my apartment and into a house.
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