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Interesting article about pit bulls in Waco Texas

twodogsandacat
April 21st, 2006, 01:08 AM
Can't agree with all but there are some interesting comments.

A pit bull breeder switches breeds as she doesn't feel that the people buying pit bulls care for them properly. A proposed anti-chaining bylaw (I like it) and some interesting numbers regarding the types of dogs the shelter deals with the most.

http://www.wacotrib.com/news/content/news/stories/2006/04/16/04162006wacpitbulls.html

Pit bull owners often to blame for breed's bad press

Sunday, April 16, 2006

By J.B. Smith

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Some people buy pit bull terriers as the canine equivalent of a Hummer: an overpowered, macho status symbol, able to crush anything in its path.

Others in the grip of “pit bull fever” fall in love with the dogs’ loyalty, affection and athletic grace.

“They make the best pet you could ever have,” said Linda Harper, a former pit bull breeder from Bellmead. “Once you get one, you’re hooked and hooked bad, because they’re such awesome dogs. You have to tell people to be careful, or they’ll end up with five or six.”

For whatever reason, Waco’s pit bull population is booming and becoming a public safety issue, police say. Pit bulls now account for about 80 percent of Waco animal control calls, as well as 16 of the city’s 28 dog bite cases in the first three months of this year.

The pit bull boom is part of what’s driving the city Animal Advisory Board to recommend an ordinance to prohibit the prolonged chaining or tethering of dogs.

Chained dogs in general tend to be more vicious and likely to attack people, animal control officers say. If that dog is a pit bull that hasn’t been well-socialized, the danger is especially great, they say.

“The majority of the people who have (pit bulls) don’t have them fenced in,” said Waco animal control supervisor Bill Vieregge. “They put them on the end of a logging chain, with little or no human contact.

“The difference between this and any other dog is that when you’re bitten by a pit bull, the bite is more serious. Their jaws have such crushing power, they can snap your arm.”

The rising popularity of pit bulls has ignited a national debate, with passionate partisans on each side. Some say the breed is inherently dangerous, and some cities, including Denver, Colo., have banned the dogs altogether. Texas law doesn’t allow “breed-specific legislation,” but that doesn’t mean pit bulls get the same treatment as other breeds. In Waco, Fuzzy Friends Animal Rescue won’t take pits, and the Waco Humane Society’s animal shelter won’t adopt them out. The shelter received 1,208 pit bulls last year — about 10 percent of the dog total — and released 134 to the owners. The rest were euthanized.

Pit bulls in the news

Attacks by pit bulls and pit bull mixes have been in the news lately, including the fatal mauling in November of a 76-year-old Milam County woman by six dogs, described as a mix of pit bull and Rottweiler. In February, a Bell’s Hill Elementary fourth-grader was taken to the hospital after an attack by dogs described as pit bull mixes. And a North Waco man was recently convicted on Class A misdemeanor assault charges after his pit bull mix bit a 9-year-old neighbor on the arm, leg and ribs in May 1995.

Pit bull advocacy groups say the breed is unfairly maligned, and the problem is one of nurture, not nature. They note that pit bulls were bred over the centuries to fight other dogs, but those that attacked people were immediately killed under dogfighting rules. The result, they say, is a dog breed that generally is aggressive toward other dogs but friendly to people, to the point that a well-socialized pit bull is often ineffective as a guard dog.

Carrie Kuehl, executive director of the Waco Animal Birth Control Clinic, said pit bulls show a wide variation in temperament. Some pit bulls that come into her clinic have to be muzzled, but others are harmless.

“Some are the sweetest dogs you could ever ask for,” she said. “They have the power to inflict serious wounds, but if they are raised in the right environment, they are very good companion pets.”

‘Not status symbols’

She said pit bulls that are aggressive to people reflect the owner more than the breed.

“The part that’s disturbing to me is that many people will go and adopt a pit bull, and they want to own it like they want to own an article of clothing or a car,” Kuehl said. “Dogs are not status symbols. They are part of our families. They’re not to be purchased as a commodity.”

But that’s too often the case, said Waco Assistant Police Chief Clare Crook, who oversees animal control. She attributes the rise of pit bulls partly to hip-hop subculture and rap videos that show mean-looking pit bulls as macho accessories.

“It’s a status thing, like bling,” she said. Owners with such a mindset tend to neglect their pit bulls and leave them on short chains without adequate shade or shelter.

Animal shelter officials have documented cases of severe festering wounds on the necks of chained dogs, often because the owner failed to adjust the collar as the dog grew. One pit bull in quarantine at the shelter this week showed such neck scars, while another had scars all over its face, a possible sign of dog fighting, shelter workers said.

Animal advocates say an ordinance against tethering dogs for more than two hours would be a good start in fighting inhumane treatment.

“It’s just the progressive thing to do,” said Pat Seesing, a Waco Humane Society board member who also serves on the city Animal Advisory Board. “We need to get in line with the progressive cities of Texas. . . . Rome wasn’t built in a day. But you have to have it on the books before you can start making progress.”

Canine escape artists

But some aren’t so sure an ordinance against chaining would safeguard Waco’s streets from vicious dogs. In a recent city council discussion with the Animal Advisory Board about tethering dogs, Councilwoman Alice Rodriguez voiced concerns that dangerous dogs might be more likely to escape from a pen than a chain.

Harper, the former pit bull breeder, agreed, saying pit bulls in particular are great escape artists that can get over, under or through fences. Anything less than a concrete floor or a reinforced pen with a cover may not hold a pit bull, she said.

“They will chew through a chain link fence,” she said. “That’s why I kept my dogs on chains with swivels on both ends. If they pass some kind of ordinance that you can’t keep pit bulls on a chain, it’s almost like the city has opened fire on the public. These animals will not be contained.”

Crook, the assistant police chief, said that, under the city’s proposed dog-tethering ordinance, dog owners who can prove their animals need to be chained can claim that as a defense, as long as they also have a fence at least four feet high. She said loose dogs will continue to be impounded and their owners cited.

‘Heartbreaking’

Harper said she has stopped raising pit bulls in the last few years because customers were not giving them the care and attention the dogs need.

“I raised them for 14 years, but moving to Waco has made me not want to raise pit bulls,” she said, adding that she has switched to raising Olde English bulldogges.

“The vast majority of pit bull owners are the kind of people who don’t take them to obedience training,” Harper said. “I’ve never met anyone who I felt did the right thing with the dogs. It was heartbreaking to sell a dog and find they end up in a place where you wouldn’t want them.”

She said the last straw was when she sold a blue-eyed, white pit bull puppy to a man she thought would take good care of him. Instead, she discovered the dog had become a “reigning champion” in dogfights around Marlin, she says.

“He bought the dog for $800, and I offered him $1,500 to buy him back,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I won that much the other day fighting.’”

Harper said she finally persuaded the owner to sell back the pit bull, but she found that it had become too aggressive. One day the dog escaped and nearly killed one of her other dogs, and she decided to euthanize the pit bull, she said.

The experience cured her of pit bull fever.

“These days I have no interest in the pit bull breed, other than hurt feelings,” she said. “So many of these dogs have a lot of emotion, real personality and spirit. When they’re treated like vicious animals, it’s a sad thing to see.”

jbsmith@wacotrib.com