If you are old enough to remember the "Our Gang" comedies or saw the 1994 remake of "Little Rascals," you may remember the adorable pit bull, Petey, who was the constant companion of the adventurous children. Pit bulls were also the advertising mascots of Buster Brown Shoes and RCA Victor.
It is no surprise that pit bulls were chosen for those roles because, in the early 20th century, they were the No. 1 family pet and considered so good with children that they were often referred to as "Nanny Dogs."
The pit bull was featured in Army recruitment posters during World War I and there were several famous pit bulls that served in the American military. They were seen as a protector, a friend and an athlete, the sort of dog Americans aspired to have by their side.
That was the past; now fast forward to today. Our shelters are filled with pit bull dogs and pit mixes as rumors and myths about the breed abound. Many people do not realize that the term "pit bull" does not define a single breed, but instead includes the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier.
Of the hundreds of pit bulls that have come through Manatee County Animal Services, only a few have been unfriendly to people. Pits are gentle, loving dogs that are eager to please. Any behavioral problems with pit bulls have been man-made. The dogs that are aggressive have been raised specifically to be that way.
Even though it is illegal in all 50 states, dog fighting made a comeback in the 1980s, and pit bull dogs became popular. The majority of canine abuse cases in the country involve pit bulls.
Despite the abuse and conditions these dogs face, they are still eager for
human love and companionship.
Manatee County Animal Services has a wonderful group of volunteers who are dedicated to changing public perception of pit bulls as well as helping them find loving, forever homes. The program is called Adopt-a-Bull and is spearheaded by Animal Services Officer Christina Rios.
Shelter pit bulls that are chosen for the program go through weekly training to prepare them for taking the Canine Good Citizen test, learning to sit, stay, heel and play with others.
Tracy Peabody is one of our volunteers. Her goal is to "change one person at a time's perception of the breed." She credits the training with helping get many of the program dogs adopted. Since the program started last August, at least 30 Adopt-a-bulls have been adopted.
Another volunteer, Melissa Kinder, joined the program and ended up adopting her pupil, Eunice, who recently passed her CGC test. Kinder takes Eunice everywhere with her and together they are working to change the public's perception of the breed.
As wonderful as they are, we all need to work hard to control the number of pit bulls that end up in the shelter. Spaying and neutering is key and there are many free and low-cost programs available to cover the medical cost. A neutered male is less likely to roam, is spared the chance of developing testicular cancer, and generally will play better with other male dogs.
Stop by and meet some of our wonderful pit bulls and pit mixes. Romp with them inthe play yard and you will soon be a pit supporter.
And, when you are ready, they would be happy in a forever home.
Check out Manatee County Animal Services on Facebook. Like us and share us with all your friends.
Our web site www.mymanatee.org/pets has a wealth of information, including your new family member for adoption. Or call 941-742-5933 for information.
Kris Weiskopf, chief of Manatee County Animal Services, writes this weekly column for the Herald.