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Tag: stereotypes

Pit bull wins national “hero dog” award

elle

Elle, a 5-year-old pit bull who helps children become more confident about reading, has been named the 2103 Hero Dog by the American Humane Association.

But it wasn’t just her listening skills that won her the honor. She also helps teach children about dog safety, and overcoming prejudice and stereotypes – “something a pit bull knows too much about,” the association noted in announcing the award.

The therapy dog and her owner started a reading program called “Tail Wagging Tales”  that helps students at two North Carolina schools — Vaughan Elementary in Macon and Chaloner Middle School in Roanoke Rapids — become stronger readers. Students take turns reading out loud to Elle for 20 minutes.

“She provides confidence for students and a comforting ear,” Leah Brewer, 42, told TODAY.com.

Elle and the other finalists for the American Humane Association award attended a ceremony Saturday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It will air as a 90-minute special on the Hallmark Channel on Oct. 30.

After a six-month natonwide search, 141 dogs from across the country were nominated. More than one million Americans cast votes for the eight finalists online. Those results, along with the choices of a panel of celebrity judges and animals activists, were combined to determine the winner.

Among other nominees were Carlos, an explosive detector dog who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan; John D, a rescue dog who uses his scenting capabilities to detect cancer in patients; Cassidy, a three-legged dog who visits rehabilitation centers to comfort children with disabilities; and Lola, a rescued guide dog who connects her deaf owner to the surrounding world.

“Choosing a top dog is difficult because they are all so terrific, but we are proud to announce Elle as the top American Hero Dog for 2013,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association.

“As an organization that for years has fought breed-specific legislation (BSL), we are also pleased to honor a breed that has been often been unjustly maligned. We hope that Elle’s story will help to underscore the many tremendously positive qualities of this breed.”

(Photo: American Humane Association)

Therapits: Pit bulls as therapy dogs

My favorite part of this news report is not the beginning, which dredges up recent footage about dog attacks to establish the pit bull’s reputation as violent and unpredictable.

It’s not the part where they shatter that stereotype, or at least put a dent in it, it by noting that — gasp! — pit bulls are being used as therapy dogs.

My favorite part is near the end, where a student reading to a pit bull stumbles over a word, and the dog’s owner, Lydia Zaidman — her chin resting on the dog’s back  —  offers some assistance.

“NAYSAYERS,” she says. “Do you want to know what that means?”

“Yeah, what?” the student replies.

“That’s people who say you can’t do something.”

A lot of people would say you can’t trust a pit bull, much less put them to work with children as therapy dogs, but a program  in north Austin’s Gullett Elementary School is going a long way toward proving them wrong, according to TV news report from KXAN in Austin.

It’s hardly — despite the report’s exclamation points —  the first time pit bulls have served as therapy dogs. Across the country, pit bulls — even one of Michael Vick’s former dogs — have been certified as therapy dogs. The therapy dog group Ace and I work with, Karma Dogs, recently qualified its first pit bull member. Zaidman, who’s president of ” Love-A-Bull ,” a nonprofit group that sticks up for the pit bull, has been taking her pit bull Mocha to the school for two years now.

What is unusual is that Zaidman’s therapy dog organization, called the  Pit Crew,  trains only pit bulls for therapy work. It’s believed to be the only program in the nation that does so.

Working with professional dog trainer Julie Eskoff, Zaidman recently concluded a training program designed to certify pit bulls for use in schools. The training program started with nine animals. Seven graduated, but two were soon sent home — not an unusual dropout rate for therapy dog qualification.

“They love people; they’re extremely tolerant of people.” Zaidman said of pit bulls. “Of course, each individual one has to be temperament tested and each one is an individual like any other dog. But in general, they temperament test very high. They really love people; they like to be around people and so they do really well.”

“They are the number one most abused dog in this country,” Zaidman told KXAN. “Abuse is going to lead to a problem, no question. Unfortunately, there are a lot of irresponsible owners out there and that’s going to lead to a problem, but they have to use everything from amphetamines to abuse to get them to fight. So the idea that they are meant to fight is a falsity.

“Unfortunately, there’s a cycle right now,” she added. “There’s a media image, just like there was for Dobermans in the 80s or German shepherds in the 70s and it’s a cycle that just keeps happening. The more misinformation that gets out there, the more people that are attracted to the wrong dog. What we’re trying to do is put a positive image out there so that the wrong people don’t continue to be attracted to the dog.

“It’s like any other prejudice. You know, you have to educate yourself as to the facts. Unfortunately, too many people read things on the Internet and they don’t bother to find out what the truth is, you know, bother to actually meet one.”

Zaidman seems not only to have her facts right, and a well-articulated message (she’s a lawyer, after all), but she’s proving it daily through deeds.

If only people like Baltimore’s Mickey, and all the other naysayers, would listen. 

Attacking dogs weren’t pit bulls, after all

 

After its news reports blamed two pit bulls for the mauling Saturday of a 7-year-old girl, ABC2 News in Baltimore took steps to correct the error.

But take a look at the news report (above) and see if you agree with me – that they only compounded it in this story touted as “the real truth about dangerous dogs.”

Rather than clear the name of pit bulls, they besmirch that of American bulldogs, lumping them in with pit bulls and saying they share the same “aggressive” traits and legendary jaw power – or “muscles of mastication” as one vet calls it.

“They have muscles of mastication. They have muscles in their jaws that are so strong they have 500 pounds of pressure. They can snap a broom just like that,” Dr. Kim Hammond, of Falls Road Animal Hospital, says in the report. “They’re a predator if you’re lower on the food chain and they’re good at their job, and they’re going to win.”

Those remarks – inaccurate and irresponsible as they might be in reference to pit bulls or American bulldogs – were apparently being made about pit bulls, which he also compared to “a loaded gun.”

My guess is that ABC2 sent a reporter out to do the knee-jerk, misconception-spreading, how dangerous-pit-bulls-are story, then learned it was two American bulldogs that were actually involved in the attack on Amanda Mitchell, who remains hospitalized with severe facial injuries.

For the sake of expediency, it appears, the report portrays pit bulls and Ameridcan bulldogs as peas in a pod, which wouldn’t be so bad if the pod wasn’t 99 percent wrongful stereotype and 1 percent fact.

Mitchell was playing outside when the dogs escaped from a neighbor’s yard in Dundalk Saturday. Both dogs were later seized by Baltimore County Animal Control and, with the consent of their owner, euthanized.

On Monday, the Baltimore County Health Department issued a correction – identifying the dogs involved as American bulldogs – and, after more than a few complaints from vigilant Internet commenters, ABC2 corrected the story, pointing out that police had provided the misinformation.

In all fairness, the breed of the dogs was also misreported by other media outlets, including the Baltimore Sun.

Even though most news outlets have corrected their reports, the misinformation remains – not just in the public consciousness, but on Google, where search result summaries of news reports since corrected still describe the dogs as pit bulls.

Tragic as it is, the story goes a long way in helping to understand how pit bulls have gotten, and continue to get, a bad rap – based largely on police mistakenly identifying dogs, “experts” who may not know what they’re talking about and the news media’s dutiful reporting of such misinformation.

What gets lost amid all the assumptions and jumping to conclusions is this: Any breed or type of dog has members who can turn violent or aggressive – be it pit bull, bulldog or Chihuahua.

BARCS celebrates St. Pittie’s Day

A dozen adoptable pit bull-type dogs from Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) will put on the green and march Sunday in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Crystal, Wisteria, Penny and others will don green T-shirts, beads, bowties, shorts and shamrock headbands. Volunteers will walk the dogs in the parade, beginning at 2 p.m., and carry posters with pictures of other pit bulls available for adoption at BARCS.

The volunteers will dress the dogs at 1 p.m. Sunday, meeting at the Washington Monument, 600 N. Charles St.

The parading dogs are meant to show that pit bull terrier-types who are loved, spayed or neutered, properly trained and socialized, make happy and affectionate pets — and that anything else you might have heard to the contrary, according to BARCS “ is just a bunch of blarney.”

In conjunction with the parade, the shelter is having an adoption promotion March 13-19. All week, adopters of pit bull-type dogs will go home with a a goody bag filled with dog treats, toys, T-shirts, collars and leashes, as well as educational information on pit bull terrier-type dogs and tips on responsible dog ownership.  

BARCS works in conjunction with Best Friends Animal Society on the Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls Project, with funding support from PetSmart Charities. The project is designed to encourage responsible pet guardianship and reduce euthanasia of pit bull terriers and similar-type dogs, as well as to improve the public’s perception of pit bulls.

Pit bulls: Trials and tribulations

We can’t remember a week — at least not since 2007, when federal authorities raided 1915 Moonlight Road – that pit bulls have grabbed so many headlines … without even biting anyone.

Here in Baltimore, the week began with a pit bull parade, sponsored by B-More Dog and designed to improve the image and shatter the misconceptions about the breed — such as the one that they are innately inclined to inflict violence.

Those who ran into the pack of four-legged goodwill ambassadors at the Inner Harbor Sunday got a chance to see beyond the myths.

The very next day, a mistrial was declared in the case against twin brothers in Baltimore accused of setting a pit bull on fire in the summer of 2009. Phoenix, as the dog was dubbed, died five days later. The police investigation that followed, testimony at the trial indicated, was something less than thorough — likely, I think it’s safe to say, because the murder victim was a dog, and, in particular, a pit bull.

Jurors were unable to reach a decision, and a new trial is a possibility, but as of now, it appears the fatal burning of Phoenix will go unpunished. Despite that, she leaves a legacy.

“We waited almost two years for justice for Phoenix and though justice was not met for her, she became the change agent and public figure for animal abuse,” said Jennifer Brause, executive director of Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS). “Thousands of people offered their support on her behalf. Because of her, a Mayor’s Commission on Animal Abuse has been formed and the seriousness of animal abuse has been elevated to a national level.”

No dog, I will go out on a limb and educatedly guess, is more often the victim of abuse and neglect than the pit bull type — just as they are the most often maligned. Society, rather than simply label them as aggressive, and ban and muzzle them,  needs to come to terms with the fact that, in those instances when they are violent, our fellow humans are responsible for it, training them to fight, attempting to breed for viciousness, and trying to turn their natural born tenacity into something mean and macho.

Which brings us, once again, to Bad Newz Kennels.

Down in Dallas, the adoptive parent of one of Michael Vick’s dogs confronted the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and offered him an opportunity to meet Mel, a shy and fearful pit bull who was apparently used as a bait dog at Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

The convicted dogfighting ring operator — in Dallas to receive the key to the city — declined, and his entourage shoved Mel’s new owner, local radio personality Richard Hunter, who captured the whole episode on his shaky camera, out of the way.

A few days after that, reports surfaced that Vick’s former estate on Moonlight Road, the Surry, Virginia, headquarters of Bad Newz Kennels, which has sat empty for three years, may be getting a new owner — Dog Deserves Better, a Pennsylvania-based dog rescue and advocacy group.

They hope to turn the former Vick mansion — where 51 dogs were seized by authorities and eight more were found dead and buried on the grounds — into a training and rehabilitation center for rescued dogs.

As usual, bringing up Michael Vick brings on lots of comments, on this blog and others, from his supporters — those who say “give it a rest,” those who say “he served his time,” those who say he’s a different person now who should be permitted to move beyond his besmirched reputation.

Be that as it may, I’m wondering when pit bulls — given they are regularly accused and punished without any trials, given that any violence they display has been instilled into them by humans, given that their bad reputation is mostly undeserved – will be afforded that same opportunity.

As a breed, they’ve done their time.

(Photo by Tim Quinn)

A parade of pit bulls, prompted by pride

If you happen to be strolling around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Sunday and run into a pack of pit bulls, fear not — they are there to make friends, influence people, and lick away any misconceptions you may have about the breed.

B-More Dog, the organization behind “Pit Bulls on Parade,” plans to make group walks like Sunday’s a monthly event, held in various parts of the city — all aimed at erasing the stereotypes surrounding the breed.

While all breeds are welcome, dogs must be signed up in advance to take part in the parades. So while it’s too late to get your dog into Sunday’s, you can find out about participating in next month’s by emailing bmoredog@gmail.com.

To check out Sunday’s parade, show up around the Inner Harbor at 11 a.m.

Pauline Houliaras, a founding member and current president of B-More Dog, came up with the idea for the parade after noticing how often she’d be stopped and asked about the dogs she was walking. Her own dog, Ravenopolis, she found, often got greeted on walks around the harbor by tourists and locals alike, who’d stop to ask questions and pet the dog.

Taking the concept to the next level, B-More Dog organized groups of pit bull owners to walk together and spread goodwill about the breed. Then they decided, rather than just do it once a year, to try and parade pit bulls every month.

B-More Dog is an outreach and education organization that formed in the fall of 2007 to speak out against breed specific legislation being proposed in Baltimore County. That legislation, which would have required all pit bull owners to muzzle their dogs and confine them in locked kennels, was not passed.

Since then, B-More Dog has gone on to focus on improving the breed’s image and promoting responsible ownership of pit bulls and all other breeds through education, mentoring, and outreach.

Its members work with local shelters to provide information packets about the breed to adopters. B-More Dog also offers a “Humane Education” program in which members take their friendly, trained and well-mannered pit bull to community centers and after-school programs.

Roadside Encounters: Sarah

Name: Sarah

Breed: Pit bull

Age: 7

Encountered: In a parking lot in Cave Creek, Arizona, where her owner sells cowboy hats at a roadside stand.

Backstory: Everyday, Michael Chazan, of Phoenix, sets up his tables on a dusty parking lot and hawks hats from Guatemala. At first, he would bring his daughter’s dog with him — partly for company, partly because, he’s found,  dogs can help bring in business.

When she moved away, he debated whether he should bring along his dog, Sarah, who he’s had since she was a pup. While amazingly and unwaveringly friendly, she is a pit bull, and while he knows she’s a sweetheart, some customers, he feared, might shy away.

He gave it a try anyway, and Sarah proved to be as good for business as she is at being a friend.

I picked up her affectionate vibe from 50 yards away. When she saw me, her tail began wagging wildly. She got down on all fours, shaking with anticipation of meeting someone new.

I had no choice but to go over and say hello. And now — though I’m not the cowboy hat type — I’m wearing a cowboy hat.

Michael says Sarah is good at luring in customers, and while he sometimes tells customers that his dog will eat them if they don’t buy the hat they tried on, one look at Sarah’s smiling face lets them know, if they didn’t already, that it’s a joke.

Sarah is good with other dogs, too, Michael said, and she seemed to adore Ace, licking his face and prancing around him.

He, as is usually his way with assertive females, all but ignored her.

I, on the other hand was smitten – and not just because we both have big heads. It was her sweet disposition that hooked me, reeled me in and sealed the sale, with a big sloppy lick.

(To see all of our Roadside Encounters, click here.)

Euthanizing first, asking questions later

Ohio executed an innocent dog.

Carolyn Baker, 63, of Cleveland Heights, died of a heart attack in Feburary — not from being mauled by the family Rottweiler, the News-Messenger reported today.

Baker was found dead at her back steps, wearing only a thin polyester nightgown and boots, with bite marks on her arms and shoulder. That, apparently, was enough for the police, and subsequently the press, to indict Zeus, the family’s 9-year-old, 140-pound Rottweiler.

“Cleveland Heights Woman Dies Afer Being Attacked by Rottweiler,” one headline read. “POLICE: Woman Mauled to Death by Dog,” shouted another. “Woman Found Mauled to Death by Pet Rottweiler,” concluded a third.

As ohmidog! reported in February,  police and, in turn, the news media, may have jumped the gun — perhaps a little too eager to place blame on a dog because of his breed, which is, of course, nothing new.

Zeus was seized by authorities and impounded, despite the family’s contention that the dog was actually trying to rescue the woman, and that any bite marks were a result of him trying to drag her back to the house.

It took almost six months, but now Cuyahoga County Coroner Frank Miller says there were few dog bites on Baker, that she died of a heart attack and hypothermia, and that her injuries indicated “the dog was trying to help her.”

Had the results come in sooner, Zeus might still be around.

The Cleveland Municipal Court ordered him destroyed in April.

Novelist overcomes her pit bull prejudice

zzz-treonNovelist Susan Wilson loved all dogs — well, almost all dogs.

As she describes it, “ There was only one type of dog that I never approached, and when the subject came up on town meeting floor, I added my voice to the vote requiring their owners to restrict them behind tall fences.  

“That fear wasn’t based on any actual experience, but on the stories of attacks on children and owners and I, like many, accepted the conventional wisdom that pit bulls were bred mean and are unpredictable.”

But while researching her novel, “One Good Dog,” Wilson had an awakening — one she describes in a recent piece in the Huffington Post.

onegooddogI haven’t read the novel, but apparently its protagonist is a pit bull named Chance — who apparently might not have been so positively portrayed  if it weren’t for Jane Rotrosen Berkey, a literary agent who is also founder and president of Animal Farm Foundation, a pit bull rescue in New York.

Wilson, who is associated with the Jane Rotrosen Agency, ended up getting a lesson in pit bulls — and learning the whole “innately evil” thing is a myth.

“Lucky for me, she was more than happy to talk with me and help me overcome a number of misconceptions. Enlisting the help of an animal behaviorist, Bernice Clifford,  also of Animal Farm Foundation, I was saved from perpetuating myths and promoting misinformation about the pit bull, even a fictional one.”

As Wilson explains it, she needed a tough but unwanted type for her protagonist dog.

“I needed a dog that was unlikely to be adopted. I needed a tough guy who essentially mirrored my human protagonist in attitude. Not knowing at the outset where the story might go, I also needed a dog that I might be able to sacrifice without guilt. Instead, I got Chance, the philosophical pit bull. And I got a lesson in pit bulls from one of the dog’s strongest advocates.

“What I learned from Jane and Bernice is that people train these dogs to fight and they are good at it because they are doing what their masters want them to do. Once called the nanny dog because they were so good with children, these dogs have become more associated in the public mind with gangs and violence than with family life. That connection has taken the pit bull from “Our Gang” to gangsta.”

(Photo by John Woestendiek / ohmidog! — one of more than 150 to be featured at the upcoming exhibit, “Hey That’s My Dog!”)

How to slander a Rottweiler

DSC07857If conclusion-jumping was a Winter Olympics event, both the police and the press would be deserving medals for their handling this week of an incident in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, that saw a  dead woman’s Rottweiler locked up as her suspected killer.

The facts of the case are these: Carolyn Baker, 63, was found dead at her back steps, wearing only a thin polyester nightgown and boots, with bite marks on her arms and shoulder.

Here are just a few of the headlines (online versions) that followed over the next two days: 

Cleveland Heights Woman Dies Afer Being Attacked by Rottweiler

Ohio Woman Dies of Suspected Dog Attack

Woman Found Mauled to Death by Pet Rottweiler

POLICE: Woman Mauled to Death by Dog

Of course, headlines are never the whole story; and sometimes the whole story isn’t the whole story, as was the case with these.

Instead, as it turns out, the police and, in turn, news media, may have jumped the gun — perhaps a little too eager to place  blame on a dog because of his breed, which is, of course, nothing new.

While pit bulls have taken their place as Public Enemy No. 1, Rottweilers have long been victim to the same kind of negative stereotyping. Zeus, maybe, is just the latest.

Subsequent reports, like this one in the Cleveland Plain Dealer eventually gave the family’s suspicions given some ink — namely that 9-year-old Zeus, rather than being the stone cold killer police and the news media were portraying him as, may have merely been trying to rescue his owner after she collapsed in the yard.

The Cuyahoga County coroner’s office has yet to rule on the cause of Baker’s death, but her family believes she had another stroke or heart attack when she went into her yard to bring her dog inside late Saturday, and that Zeus tried to pull her to safety after she collapsed.

It wasn’t until 3 a.m. Sunday that a next-door neighbor called the family to tell them Zeus was in the Baker’s front yard barking. The dog had gone through a hole in the back fence. After letting the dog in, Baker’s husband found his wife at the bottom of the back steps.

Cleveland Heights police said Baker had severe arm and shoulder injuries and bite marks. While police intitially suspected Baker was “mauled” by her own dog, Baker’s family insists the bite marks aren’t from an attack, but from Zeus’ attempts to rescue his master.

“[Zeus] only locked onto her shoulder trying to bring her in,” said Baker’s son, Rinaldo. “My mom weighed about 200 pounds. The dog just grabbed her and tried to help her out. She had no clothes on or he could have grabbed that. There were no marks on her face, nowhere else.”

“That was her dog,” Rinaldo Baker said. “If we were to go upstairs that dog would run past us and go upstairs to be with us. But if my mom were to go upstairs, knowing how she can barely walk, Zeus would sit and wait for her to go up first and then he would go up. That’s a good dog.”

Zeus is being held at Pepperidge Kennels in Bedford pending the results of the autopsy. The Baker family wants him back.

“If Zeus wasn’t out there we wouldn’t have known till later on that something was wrong because he was the one who alerted somebody,” Carter said. “If he had ways of getting somebody to notice earlier, things may have been different than what they are now, but he did the best he could as a dog.”

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