October is National Pit Bull Awareness Month

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On the PorchProbably one of the most misunderstood dog breeds is the pit bull, yet owners of the animals claim that they are some of the most loyal, gentle and friendly dogs they have ever owned. In fact, even the term “pit bull” is a misnomer as recent DNA analysis shows that dogs commonly called pit bulls today are actually a mix of multiple breeds. Today, pedigreed pit bulls are often labeled as American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, or, more recently, American Bullies.

Historically, a dog that looks much like today’s pit bull, an Olde English Bulldog, was used to “bait” bulls in the 1800’s in Britain as a type of entertainment. In 1835, bull baiting became illegal, and dog fighting replaced the sport as entertainment. The dogs used as fighters during this time were actually trained against biting humans so that the dog handlers could manage the animals during fights, and, as a result, Olde English Bulldogs gained a reputation for being trustworthy around humans.

Pit bulls came to America with the immigrants who considered them a prized possession. The dogs were used not only in dog fighting, but to protect homesteaders and as working animals on large farms. In most cases, pit bulls were companions to small children because they were loyal and protective. Over time, pit bulls developed a reputation for being brave, hardworking and friendly, and they lost their appeal as fighters. In fact, American Pit Bulls often appeared in family photos, and even appeared in national advertisements as a loyal companion, with the most famous being Buster Brown, whose companion was a pit bull. One was also featured in the television show, “Our Gang,” which featured the Little Rascals.

According to Kristin Schnee, who at one time owned three pit bulls, and has been a pit bull owner since 2003, the dogs were like her security detail when she was at home, as if they were protecting her every move.

“They seemed to think they were there to protect me,” Ms. Schnee said. “They would follow me all around the house, up and down the stairs. Usually one guiding me, one following me and one right beside me. They are extremely loyal and always trying to please. I think that is why so many of these dogs end up in these horrible dog fighting rings. They just want to please their owner even if it kills them.” In fact, one of the most common misperceptions about pit bulls is that the dogs have a natural instinct to fight to kill, and although, like most dogs, pit bulls have been bred to behave differently during a fight, when properly trained pit bulls are no more dangerous than other breeds. Unfortunately, because some owners choose pit bulls in order to appear “tough” may inadvertently encourage the pit bull to act aggressively, according to the ASPCA.

Ms. Schnee, whose family owned a Doberman when she was young, as well as several Cocker Spaniels, says that she was skeptical at first because of the horror stories she had heard about the breed, but that she cannot imagine ever not owning them now.

“They have an amazing sense of humor. I can’t tell you how many times Bella would run around in circles with her butt tucked in, and so fast that I was in tears from laughing,” Ms. Schnee said. “Baby was always ‘look at me, look at me’ and mothering the others. Knuckles, who now lives with my parents, is probably the laziest dog on the planet. Sometimes my mom has to go to work from 6 AM until noon and he refuses to get out of bed until she gets home from work.” Ms. Schnee says that since they got Baby, who passed away in 2012, she is more educated about the breed than she was before. She also lost Bella recently as well, and now has Kai. He suffers from chronic pancreatitis, and also, like Baby, has Mast Cell tumors, a common ailment among the breed.

“I am happy Baby was brought into my life,” Ms. Schnee says. “My next ones will be officially ‘adopted’ because I want to give my love to dogs who never had a chance to feel it before. There are no bad dogs, just bad owners.” Pit Bull Pride of Delaware echoes Ms. Schnee’s sentiments on their website. The group’s mission is to better the lives of homeless “pit bull type” dogs as possible, and offers education to the public on the breed. In addition, BadRap.org offers training to pit bull owners to help them learn the best way to handle not only pit bulls, but other breeds as well. You can visit Pit Bull Pride at their site www.pitbullprideofdelaware.org and BadRap.org at their site as well.

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