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Pit bulls: Deadly dogs or lovable pets?

Miss Bailey is a pit bull who also works as a service dog for owner Julia Jones, who suffers from recurrent seizures. Miss Bailey goes with Jones everywhere, staying close to her side while wearing a pink service dog coat. If Jones shows signs of a seizure, Miss Bailey alerts her and often prevents the attack. - Margo Horner, The Mirror
Miss Bailey is a pit bull who also works as a service dog for owner Julia Jones, who suffers from recurrent seizures. Miss Bailey goes with Jones everywhere, staying close to her side while wearing a pink service dog coat. If Jones shows signs of a seizure, Miss Bailey alerts her and often prevents the attack.
— image credit: Margo Horner, The Mirror

Local owners of potentially dangerous dogs hope that the story about a woman recently attacked by two pit bulls in Gig Harbor won’t damage public perception of their beloved pets.

Last week, two pit bulls entered a woman’s partially open door in Gig Harbor and attacked her and another dog while they were in bed. The dog was killed and the woman was hospitalized with severe injuries.

“I think it’s a terrible, terrible tragedy that another dog got hurt and a woman got injured,” said Adrienne Gerard, who owns three pit bulls.

But Gerard doesn’t blame the dogs.

“You have to make them mean. They’re not just born mean,” she said. “I blame the owners 100 percent... A dog is only as good as the owner that raises them.”

Gerard also blames the media. Too many news stories focus on just a few pit bulls who cause trouble, she said. But not all dogs in the breed are dangerous. Her dogs sleep in her bed with her, and children of family friends ride the dogs like horses.

But still, people are afraid. Gerard recalls bringing one pit bull, Tucker, out in public.

“I would go to parks and people would grab their little dogs or their kids and turn away and literally look back like he was a monster,” she said. “People are so afraid... They’re not just going to chase you down and kill you.”

Part of the reason pit bulls may have such a bad rap is because they draw a type of owner who may not take good care of them, many pit bull owners said. Pit bulls are often chosen more for the fear they provoke than the companionship they provide.

“They look aggressive, they’re very muscular. They are intimidating,” Gerard said.

“The type of people that are getting pit bulls are just the wrong type of people. I don’t believe they’re being treated the way they should be, socialized, responsible ownership... They’re putting these horrible spiked collars on them to make them look even meaner,” said Noreen Lara, who owns two pit bulls. “It makes it really hard for the responsible owners that have good dogs.”

As far as what happened in Gig Harbor, Lara also blames the owner.

“Any dog should not be allowed to roam free. I don’t care if it’s a Chihuahua,” she said, adding that pit bull owners must be extra vigilant.

“It does carry an added responsibility on the owner simply because of the bad press,” Lara said. “It’s a privilege to own a dog, and I’d like to see stricter enforcement on even being able to own a dog, especially a dog that can cause bodily harm.”

Pam Jones of Federal Way said she makes a point of being watchful of her pit bull, Blue. She adopted Blue after a neighbor dropped the dog off at her house as an abused puppy six years ago. He had been abandoned and had cigarette burns on his skin.

Jones had the puppy checked out at the vet, then had his temperament checked with a pit bull rescue organization. Blue is a good dog, Jones said.

“He has never shown an aggressive streak toward another person or dog,” she said.

But still, she always keeps Blue on a leash.

“I’m vigilant about it. I’m extra precautious with him,” she said. “If another dog nips at something, that’s not going to be as bad as if a pit bull nips.”

For Julia Jones, who works in Federal Way, her pit bull Miss Bailey is more than a companion. She is a lifesaver. Jones suffers from recurrent seizures, and Miss Bailey is her service dog. The pit bull goes with her everywhere, staying close to her side while wearing a pink service dog coat.

If Jones shows signs of a seizure, Miss Bailey alerts her and often prevents the attack.

Miss Bailey is the sweetest of dogs, calm and well-behaved. Sitting outside Starbucks on Monday afternoon, folks passed by and petted her, complimenting on how beautiful and polite she was.

“I think the fact I’ve dressed her in pink with hearts kind of disarms her a bit,” Jones said.

It could be the outfit, but it’s most likely Miss Bailey’s peaceful demeanor that draws the compliments. Miss Bailey, like all Jones’s pit bulls, went through obedience school.

“A pit bull with a proper temperament should be like this,” Jones said, motioning to Miss Bailey sitting calmly at her feet, lazily watching passers-by.

But what if someone tried to attack Jones?

“My guess is she’d probably wet the floor and hide,” Jones said. “The only thing she bites are food and cookies.”

Jones also blamed misbehaved pit bulls on the owners. She said people are drawn to pit bulls because they want a mean dog.

“It’s an image thing,” she said. “They want that mean, bad looking dog.”

Pit bulls should be carefully bred not to produce mean dogs, Jones said. Backyard breeders are worsening pit bulls’ rap by breeding dogs with poor temperaments.

Gary Fuller of Federal Way said proper breeding for potentially dangerous dogs is key in keeping families safe. His dog, an Akita, is on the list of potentially dangerous dogs in Auburn.

However, Fuller said that the aggressive tendencies in Akitas have mostly been bred out. He purchased his dog from a reputable breeder who insisted he take the dog to obedience school.

“I’ve trained them since they were puppies that they don’t touch people with their teeth,” Fuller said.

As he spoke, the Akita sat on the porch licking the family cat.

“These are big dogs, they can be dangerous dogs and if you don’t have them under control they’ll either go out and get killed, or they’ll go out and hurt somebody’s pet,” Fuller said.

To be a responsible owner, it’s also necessary to understand the dog’s breed history, Fuller said. Akitas, for example, were bred to hunt large game like bears. And they hunt in pairs, so Fuller knows that when his two dogs are together, they could be more dangerous.

Even though his Akitas haven’t shown aggressive tendencies, Fuller always keeps them on leashes or secured in the yard. Those precautions are essential elements of responsible dog ownership, several dangerous dog owners agreed.

“Dogs have to be under control at all times,” Fuller said. “That’s the only way to deal with them responsibly.”

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Extra info

Pit bull is a term that describes several types of dogs with similar physical characteristics. The American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and, to a lesser extent, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier commonly fall under the category of “pit bull.”

Source: Wikipedia.com

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