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Pit bulls: Lovable and misunderstood

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Pit bulls despite their negative stereotypes, there’s lots to love about them.

So believes one organisation now trying to educate the public about the breed.

Our Misunderstood was formed back in January, shortly after a St David’s man admitted drowning his pit bull after it killed a neighbour’s Pomeranian.

That story really hit home for a mother-of-two who didn’t want to be identified for this story.

She’d had positive interactions with the breed in the past and wanted there to be a central place where dog owners could constructively discuss the issues, learn more about ‘misunderstood’ breeds, connect with other owners like themselves, and brainstorm ideas on progress towards breed equality on the Island.

She jotted down some ideas and, with the help of Facebook, the group has garnered community support.

The woman didn’t grow up around pit bulls, but had friends who owned them and found the animals were “nothing like the extremes you hear about”.

“The pit bulls I met were very friendly. They played well with my children and it wasn’t the dangerous, vicious dog that people made them out to be,” she said. “Obviously a lot of them can get that way because of the way they have been bred or raised in Bermuda, but that doesn’t mean all of them are like that.

“I don’t even find that most of them are like that.”

The dogs are accurately known as American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers or Staffordshire bull terriers.

“The term ‘pit bull’ is actually a general name for all dogs of a certain appearance and/or breed or combination of breeds,” the woman explained. “The misconception that a ‘pit bull’ is simply one dangerous breed is damaging to the true breed, the American pit bull terrier.”

Our Misunderstood has launched two campaigns to show pit bulls in a more positive light. The most recent, an initiative with Two + Quarter Studios, features the dogs in family-style portraits with their owners.

“We are trying to use these images to change around the stereotype and perception of these dogs,” the woman said.

“The images are currently on our website and Facebook page and we are continuously in the process of getting more pictures so we can keep building our collection of Bermuda’s misunderstood pit bull population the population of good family pets with responsible owners that rarely get the spotlight.”

They have also brought the Yellow Dog Project to Bermuda. The scheme encourages owners to attach a yellow ribbon to their dog or its leash, to show others that their animal needs space — this could be because of health issues or if they’re being rehabilitated or scared and reactive to other dogs. The ribbons are available at Endsmeet Animal Hospital and the Animal and Garden House, free of charge.

“It’s not to say this is a bad dog, but it’s so that other owners know they also need to be responsible with their pets,” the woman said. “What I am finding is a lot of owners of smaller dogs might have their own dogs off the leash saying it’s friendly, but if there is another dog that the owner is trying to be responsible for and it reacts to this smaller dog that is invading its space who is going to get the blame? The fault is obviously going to go to the bigger dog.”

The woman said she’s learned a lot more about the breed in talking with owners around the Island. Over the past few months she has also started talking with different dog professionals to find out their stance on pit bulls.

“I am finding a lot of people are in support of what we are doing, which is great to see.”

In order to move forward, she said there needs to be guidelines on who can own the dogs.

Most important is to keep them out of the hands of people with criminal records “who only want the dogs for the wrong reasons”, she said.

The group also wants to show support and provide resources for the responsible dog owners out there.

“We really want to start changing the image of the pit bull and start putting out the positive side of them,” she said.

She said when the dogs are inbred they are more likely to develop skin conditions or exhibit different behavioural temperaments, which aren’t typical in the true American pit bull terriers. One suggestion is to bring in dogs from overseas to start a new blood line on the Island.

“We are all trying to explore the positive side of the issue and would like people to comment constructively by telling us what their fears are of having pits and other similar dogs in Bermuda.

“For instance is it that you just hate the dog? Maybe not. Is it to do with you wanting safety in the community? If so, how can we provide that so it’s a win-win situation where people can feel safe, while having these dogs in Bermuda and not having to put them all down.”

Useful website: http://ourmisunderstood.com

Zoe Kempe and Skyler (Photo by Two + Quarter Studios)
Frances Portelli and Jas (Photo by Two + Quarter Studios)
Simona Terceira with Norma and Roman (Photo by Two + Quarter Studios)
Three-year-old pit bull rescue Leica (Photo supplied)

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Published April 25, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 24, 2013 at 4:53 pm)

Pit bulls: Lovable and misunderstood

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