Marisa Wojcik, Special To The Star Tribune
Pit bull owners work to boost breed's image
- Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA
- Star Tribune
- July 11, 2012 - 3:57 PM
In the past month or so, pit bulls have killed a baby in Ohio, attacked a 7-year-old girl in New York, jumped off a balcony and bitten a man and his dog in Milwaukee and killed a Chihuahua in an Austin, Minn., dog park.
But pit bull owners say the breed is misunderstood, and they are fighting back. Locally, rescue and adoption networks sprung up around the Twin Cities and the south metro, complete with foster parents and foster care, to help abused dogs and place them with new owners.
In the latest twist, pit bull aficionados in the south metro and around Minnesota are participating in "pittie parties," parading pit bulls through parks to celebrate the breed and what they say is the dogs' caring and playful nature.
"They're just so loving and loyal it's incredible," said Mandi Morgart, a Prior Lake woman who founded Rescue Wire, a rescue information network, and who participated in a "pittie parade" last weekend in Fridley. More than 100 people paraded almost as many dogs for about a mile through Locke Park.
Among the more colorful T-shirts worn by the scores of owners who showed up, some from as far away as Duluth: "Love-A-Bull," "Kiss-A-Bull" and "Dangerous My [expletive]."
"We're just trying to draw attention to the fact that pit bulls are just normal dogs, and they have this reputation that is not deserved," said Kirsten Neilson, executive coordinator of Secondhand Hounds, an Edina-based animal rescue that organized the parade in Fridley. "Local pit bull owners are just normal Minnesotans, and pit bulls are just another breed of dog, not something to fear, ban, or kill."
Deserved or not, the breed during the past two decades has come under increased scrutiny as reports keep coming of pit bulls attacking children, adults, postal workers, police officers, other animals and each other.
Insurance companies routinely charge homeowners an added premium to their policies if pit bulls live on the premises. A number of states and cities allow pit bulls to be banned or restricted. Among them are Maryland, Texas and Florida; Toledo, Ohio, and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
In the late 1980s, Denver was one of the first jurisdictions to ban pit bulls, and opponents claim that the city has killed more than 1,100 of the dogs since 2005.
Minnesota has no restrictions on the animals, although it seems as if a year doesn't go by without a pit bull attack reported in the state. The pit bull attack at the Austin dog park, for example, was followed by another report in that city of a pit bull cornering and threatening two people. In the summer of 2011 a mother and her 5-year-old boy were attacked by a pit bull in Minneapolis.
Rescue group evolves
Sara Nick, an Eagan woman who has adopted pit bulls and has also served as a foster mom to several of the animals, hears such stories and is quick to defend the animals.
"They have sort of gilded image," said Nick, who adopted a pit bull two years ago. "I don't think you can judge if a dog is good or bad strictly by its breed."
Nick, 29, is a member of A Rotta Love Plus, a rescue group that focused on Rottweilers when it began and added pit bulls as the breed's popularity increased and so did the number of abandoned or abused animals as owners tired of them.
"The population has sort of spiraled out of control," Nick said.
The group "re-homes" 35 to 50 pit bulls a year and it has 10 to 15 in foster homes at any one time because of the amount of time needed to rehabilitate a dog. The group also has an extensive network of foster homes all over the Twin Cities, including south-metro cities such as Eagan, Shakopee, Jordan, Mendota Heights, Inver Grove Heights and Apple Valley.
Margie Newman, a St. Paul writer, said she had "no qualms" about adopting her dog, Tango, two months ago from Rotta Love. Tango, a white pit bull-lab mix, was tied up and abandoned outside a foreclosed home in St. Paul.
"I have an affinity with pit bulls," Newman said. "I love how they look -- they're very cute to me. I love their tough-but-lovable look, though I know many people won't agree with the lovable part."Nick said she believes the bad behavior of the animals can be attributed to the bad behavior of the owners. She said pit bulls are no more aggressive than other breeds. She points out that pit bulls have a better temperament than most other breeds, based on testing done by the American Temperament Test Society.
Nick said if an animal cannot be rehabilitated, then it is euthanized. She said only about 20 percent get rescued from shelters but her group’s success rate is much higher. "We really take a quality over quantity approach," she said.
"Pit bulls are made for this kind of work," Nick said. "They love people. They have just as solid a temperament as any breed. The more I learned about the dogs, I realized this was a breed I was nuts about. When I adopted Josie I don't recall that the pit bull part gave me pause."
Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281
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