COMMENTARY: It’s the owner, not the dog, that’s the problem

Finally! A positive story about a pit bull.

The story recently made the news about a northern Ohio police chief, Terry Mitchell, who rescued a 2-year-old pit bull named Leonard at Union County Humane Society. Despite being listed as unadoptable, Leonard is now the first rescue dog from that center to be trained for narcotics detection as a police K-9. Mitchell said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better dog.”

There is a television series called “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” where a woman has rescued 300 pit bulls and has them up for adoption. She says at the beginning of each show that pit bulls are the most misunderstood dogs in the world, and she demonstrates how friendly and affectionate they can be.

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Cesar Millan, better known as “the dog whisperer,” produced a documentary on pit bulls, showing the plusses and minuses of the breed. He showed scenes of them fighting in pits as well as scenes demonstrating how friendly they can be as pets. The bottom line was, pit bulls can be lovable pets despite a reputation as ferocious fighting dogs. It is ultimately the influence of the owner.

In April 2007, 51 pit bulls were seized from Michael Vick’s property. The NFL star was hosting dog fighting events, as well as mistreating pit bulls that would not fight. Two rescue groups took most of the seized dogs and were successful at finding most of them homes where they became lovable pets. These were pit bulls with scars on their faces and legs from fighting.

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I was a pit bull owner for 13 years. It was my favorite dog of the three dogs I have owned, and my family loved him. He was given to me when he was 7 months old. His name was Tiger, and he was a great family dog, and he was never encouraged to be aggressive.

But one has to realize these dogs were bred to fight and not give up. If an aggressive dog attacks, a pit bull’s instinct is to stand its ground and not quit. That is what the original breeders of pit bulls liked about the dog. But the breeders always bred the dogs to be friendly with people. They wanted a friendly dog that was a determined fighter. Most people who own a pit bull never experience a fight, because their dog is not around aggressive dogs. Most problems are the result of a pit bull that is unattended or running loose, results of an irresponsible pet owner.

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Any high-energy dog can be dangerous if mistreated. German shepherds and Dobermans make good K-9 attack dogs, because they are professionally trained to attack people — but they also make good pets.

A pit bull is half terrier, and most terriers were bred to kill rodents and small animals. But they can still make great pets. The Westminster Kennel Club describes the terrier group as lively and aggressive towards certain animals classified as vermin. Yet, these dogs make good pets because they can be very friendly toward people. In fact, the Staffordshire terrier is a direct descendent of the pit bull. They are described as muscular, extremely courageous and friendly with people.

Pit bull owners have said for years that it is not the dog that is the problem, but the owner. If a dog is the victim of its owner's irresponsibility it is likely to become a dangerous animal. Do not penalize the breed if that dog gets loose and hurts someone. If you are the boss and your pit bull is trained properly, that person will have a great and loyal pet.

Al Scholp is a regular contributor.

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