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ABC40 Investigates: The Pit Bull Debate

pit bullSPRINGFIELD (WGGB) — It’s no stretch to say pit bulls, seemingly more so than any other dogs, are as polarizing as they are popular.

Just mentioning them on the news is enough to elicit a strong response from supporters and detractors.

But are they truly a dangerous breed as some suggest… or a safe family pet that’s often misunderstood?

It’s estimated pit bulls only make up about 6% of the entire dog population here in the US.

But last year, despite being regulated in more than 700 US cities – pit bulls were responsible for more bite-related fatalities than any other breed

Locally, according to dog bite reports for Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke from the most recent year 2013 – there were a total of 116 incidents, and the overwhelming majority – nearly 47 percent of all dog bites – were attributed to pit bulls or pit bull mixes.

Next on the list is German shepherds, but to a much smaller extent of under 7 percent.

Clearly – simply by looking at these local stats – pit bulls do pose a problem.

But before you send an angry email, or post something nasty on Facebook – let’s be honest that not all pit bulls are bad dogs, or even aggressive dogs.

But they are dogs and they can bite.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” said Pam Peebles, Executive Director of the T.J. O’Connor Adoption Center. “I think every single animal, actually I know every single animal is an individual. I’ve met the nicest pit bulls, the nicest Dobermans, the nicest goldens, the nicest poodles. I’ve also met the exact opposite of that.”

And Pam would know. As director of T.J.O., she’s around dogs all day – everyday.

And the center sees it’s fair share of pit bulls.

They make up about 50 percent of the dog population at the shelter – which as you might recall is nearly the same percentage they represent for dog bites.

“The dogs in the communities that we serve Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke are largely pit bulls,” explained Peebles. “They’re very accessible. They are extremely overbred and so that skews the results because we have a lot more of them than any other breed of dog.”

That’s something you don’t have to tell Springfield councilman Melvin Edwards.

“Pit bulls are cheap – you can trade pit bulls for a bag of weed. You can trade them for crack. People – if they have a large enough litter, they’ll give them away,” said Edwards.

He’s pushing for a stronger leash law in the city – for all dogs.

A year ago, his wife, out walking their two Chihuahuas, was attacked by a pit bull right in front of their house. For the second time.

“The dog came off the porch and grabbed the smaller of the 2 Chihuahuas and my wife went into combat mode,” Edwards said.

Suzanne Edwards was bitten and one of the dogs was severely injured.

The medical bills totaled $10,000.

Yet, Edwards doesn’t hold any animus towards pits.

Like Peebles he says, independent of the breed, the dogs that are likely behind most attacks are marginally cared for, unregistered, and uncontrolled animals.

“The responsibility of what happened kind of has to be with whoever pulls the trigger. And it’s the same thing with a dog,” said Edwards. “The dogs the one that does the biting but who raised the dog to do that?”

Peebles adds, “They live a life where they make their own decisions. They are not trained or managed. The door is opened up into a ramshackle fenced yard that is supposed to contain a 60 pound, intact dog not spayed or neutered – which is a hormone driven animal.”

And the hormone driven animal so often blamed is the pit bull.

Hard to believe not long ago they were known as the ‘nanny dog’ because of their wonderful reputation around children.

The dog we remember as the lovable Petey from our gang – a pit bull named ‘Pal’.

The dog in Buster Brown ads… also a pit bull.

And the dog chosen to symbolized the United States during World War I – you guessed it – a pit bull.

“It’s such a foreign concept to me that people wouldn’t just… I guess not judge a breed, but judge an individual,” said Peebles.

Fitting words for a dog once renowned for bravery, reliability, intelligence, and above all – affection.

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