Rough reputation persists for pit bulls | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Rough reputation persists for pit bulls

Amanda Fehd
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Ringo, a pit bull that is up for adoption at the El Dorado County Animal Control Shelter, plays in the shelter's outdoor pen.
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While a debate brews in the Bay Area on whether to ban pit bulls after several recent attacks, people who deal with dogs every day in Tahoe say the breed shouldn’t be blamed.

Rather, the burden should lie on owners.

“It’s a big responsibility to own a dog, especially in this day and age with the heightened awareness to aggression by dogs,” said Robert Gerat, lieutenant and supervisor at El Dorado County Animal Control.

Gerat said in 11 years working in the basin he has not seen more aggression in pit bulls than other breeds.

“There are more dogs of other breeds here other than pit bulls, and those are just as territorial and charge people walking down the street just as often,” Gerat said.

Four serious pit bull attacks have been reported in Northern California this summer, including the nationally publicized mauling death of 12-year-old Nicholas Faibish by two family dogs in his San Francisco home.

Also known as the American Staffordshire terrier, the stout dogs are a result of breeding between English bulldogs and terriers, according to the American Kennel Club.

Once in America, the breed was popular in pit fighting, which is still common – but illegal – in major cities. They are known for a muscular body, powerful head and jaws, and strength unusual for their size, according to the AKC.

The characteristics can result in aggressive behavior if the dog ends up in the wrong hands, experts said.

“The pit bull needs to be in a loving home and not with somebody who has a puffed-up attitude,” said Randi Barnett, owner of Zephyr Feed and Boarding.

Barnett rescues pit bulls and has had at least one in her home for the past 30 years. She’s adopted dogs she could tell were trained to fight, and said she’s never had trouble breaking the bad habits.

Pit bulls were originally bred to be family companions and are noted for their loyalty and obedience, she said. In her 35-year-old kennel business, she has been bit most by Labradors, and never by a pit bull.

To prevent dog bites, the Humane Society of the United States recommends owners spay or neuter their pet, and socialization through exposing the dog to many other dogs and different situations.

The consequences

Prosecutors have wielded criminal and civil laws against owners of dogs who kill, of any breed. Owners have been convicted of negligence, felony involuntary manslaughter, second degree murder, death by a mischievous animal and child endangerment.

Web sites devoted to defending the breed, like RealPitBull.com, claim many attacks blamed on the dogs are actually attacks by mixed breeds.

Nevertheless, even the insurance industry has perked its ears to the situation.

If an attack occurs on private property, insurance must often foot the bill, prompting some companies to exclude owners of certain breeds from their policies.

One-third of all liability claims against homeowners stem from dog bites, and the home insurance industry claims it pays out $310 million for these annually, according to the Humane Society.

Bad rap persists

Despite efforts to combat the breed’s bad reputation, many people remain wary of unpredictable dog aggression, especially by pit bulls.

When Tahoe Daily Tribune photographer Jim Grant went to take a photo of Ringo, a pit bull up for adoption at El Dorado Animal Control, he said the dog was “ready to attack” and lunged at him when he lifted the camera to take a picture of the dog.

Ringo was restrained by animal care specialist Sherry Farrens.

“I’ve had other dogs react the same way to a large camera and a stranger,” said Farrens.

“It could have been any breed, any dog that could have reacted the same way. He’s fine,” she said.

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