Monday, November 17, 2008

Pits Receive Some Rare Good Press

We just don't see many stories like this so we're happy to see them. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Pit bulls out to prove breed is great family dog, not aggressive
Sunday, November 16, 2008
By Anya Sostek, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Buddy uses a plastic green donut to play tug of war with his cage mate. Camden licks her handler's face as he feeds her a hot dog. And Franco has eyes only for his tennis ball.

Those three dogs were among a group of "Super Seven" pit bulls on display yesterday at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, which held its first-ever "Super Star Pit Bull'' adoption event.

"We're trying to bring them back into the home," said Susie Gilbert, intake team leader for the North Side humane society and organizer of the event. "This dog is a great family dog. It can live with children. It's not going to be aggressive."

The "Super Seven" program, which started in July, gives special behavioral training to a group of seven pit bulls at the shelter. The idea is to make the dogs into "goodwill ambassadors" that may ease the fears of prospective adopters who might be nervous about pit bulls' bad reputation.

That reputation has suffered from their use in dog fighting rings, as well as from widely reported attacks on children around the country.

Since the "Super Seven" program began in July, however, 24 of the 27 dogs that have gone through the program have been adopted.

The dogs are taught commands such as "sit" and "down," they are discouraged from jumping up on people, and they are instructed on properly walking on a leash.

Nutmeg, a member of the Super Seven with a Little Rascals-esque brown ring around his eye, still needed work on his jumping lessons, as he nearly lept into the lap of a volunteer in the hallway yesterday.

Innately, pit bulls tend to be "giant goofballs," said Ms. Gilbert. "They're like giant puppies for four years. They don't know that they are big dogs."

Because of the Humane Society's urban location, the majority of the dogs that the shelter receives are pit bulls, she said.

All dogs that come into the shelter are inspected for scars or other signs that they were used for fighting or breeding, she said, and are given behavioral tests to determine whether they would be safe pets.

Any dogs deemed to be unsafe -- aggressive against humans or other dogs -- are not put up for adoption.

During the event yesterday, individual dogs were showcased in a makeshift pen in the Humane Society's hallway, while volunteers sold raffle tickets and distributed goody bags.

Across the street, visitors took tours of the 82-foot-long Rescue Rig of the American Humane Association. The giant bus -- equipped as a full veterinary hospital with living accommodations for 12 volunteers -- was deployed earlier this year during Hurricane Ike and rescued thousands of animals during Hurricane Katrina.

When it is not used to rescue animals from natural disasters, hoarders or puppy mills, the Rescue Rig tours the country to raise awareness about its work.

Program manager Connor Michael has worked on the Rescue Rig, or on one of its earlier incarnations, for the past 13 years.

He worked with cadaver-seeking dogs during the aftermath of Sept. 11 and coordinated rescue efforts as searchers used boats to reach abandoned animals during Hurricane Katrina.

"It seemed like you never, ever finished," he said. "There was no sense of closure down there."