What we all think of when we hear the words Pit Bull, which includes the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and other dogs that resemble them is either really loving pets or the nastiest dogs on the planet. “The range of emotions they evoke is wide and varied,” acknowledges Stephanie Collingsworth, animal care technician at Multnomah County Animal Services.
“People always know something about the pit bull, whether it’s correct or not,” says Katie Williams, a culinary student who recently started a pit bull advocacy group called the Portland Pit Bull Project. To help combat the stereotypical perception that all Pit Bulls are “evil child killers”, Williams organized monthly “bully walks” for the dogs and their owners. “The dogs are loving, loyal and sweet”, she says.
Dog trainer Alysse Kinane, owner of two pit mixes and foster mom to two more, says “the dogs are goofy and great with kids. They do little things to make you laugh, like fall off the couch, and they’re very loyal,” she says.
But not everyone agrees that these dogs are sweet. Portland resident, Elissa Szymanczyk doesn’t buy it and in fact had her cat viciously attacked and killed by a neighbor’s Pit Bull while a toddler was petting the cat on her porch. “It was incredibly vicious and violent, and I absolutely feel it could have just as easily been that child,” she says.
Szymanczyk actually doesn’t blame the dog for her cat’s death. “It’s our fault for allowing this breed’s population numbers and breeding practices to spiral out of control,” she says. “It’s so easy to get them,” says Amy Sacks, executive director of the Pixie Project. “Breeding is unregulated, and people sell them in parking lots.”
Pit Bulls are a very energetic dog breed and they need lots of exercise to be happy. Unfortunately, too many Pit Bull owners either don’t care or don’t want to take the time, so they chain them to the back yard. “They don’t do well like that,” says Angela Adams, founder and director of Born Again Pit Bull Rescue. Their bad behavior can often be traced to the fact that they often are neglected. “We live in a fast-food society — nobody wants to work hard for anything, and they want everything now,” she says.
The good news is that these dogs have had several advocacy groups rally behind them to help change the way people perceive these dogs. PetSmart Charities recently awarded a $240,000 grant to the Best Friends Animal Society to fund a one-year pilot program in five cities to foster good ownership of pit bull type dogs. “They are really, really good dogs, wonderful dogs,” says Danielle Black, executive director and president of Good Fellas Rescue in Mill City, “if people would just give them a chance.”