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Residents have mixed feelings on pit bull breed
Advocates say bad owners are the problem
0429pitbull
Dea Butler and wife Valencia watch Diamond, their 2-year-old pit bull, sniff around in their backyard Friday in Gainesville. The Butlers are longtime pit bull supporters. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times

Your thoughts on pit bulls

The Times asked readers for their
opinions of pit bulls. Here are some responses:

‘Pits bulls are dangerous dogs – period! They should be banned in every county of Georgia. I know too many people who have been attacked by these vicious animals, including one lady who knew the dog and it nearly ripped off her face. I carry pepper spray when running and use it on any dog who comes at me, especially pit bulls. I get tired of pet owners saying, “My dog won’t hurt you.” The pet owner may know that, but I don’t. I’m really tired of children being maimed by pit bulls. Quit pandering to these animal lovers and do the right thing.’
R.K. Biggs, Gainesville

‘I don’t think they should be outlawed. I have a red-nosed terrier pit and she is the sweetest thing. When we got her she was nothing but skin and bones. The people that had her prior to us mistreated her. Since we had her for the year she has gained many pounds and she now knows that she is in a family that loves her. She is great with my kids and my husband and I. ... They do have a mean side but that is only if you make them that way. And there are a lot of people out there that want pits for the wrong reasons. Star, my pit, is a very lovable and protective animal especially with my children.’
Laura Head

‘I live in Hall County. A neighbor has three pit bulls on chains (one in the front, one in the side and one in the back). These vicious dogs are never taken off their chains, and I have never seen anyone petting them at all. ... My greatest fear (and a frequent nightmare) is that one of these terrible dogs will get off the chain and run right over to my yard, attacking my 4- and 6-year-old children. ... I wish that there was a ban on these dogs; there is absolutely no reason that there shouldn’t be. I would sign a petition in a minute.’
Shay Grant

‘Others say the breed has a predisposition to violence and the dogs are not fit to be pets. ... I am a 51-year-old female, middle class citizen of Hall County who has been in the same profession for 34 years; I am also the owner of two pit bulls. I say this to say that many times people associate this breed of dog with gang members that use them for fighting purposes. Sadly, this breed does fall into the hands of many ignorant people that fight them and give them the bad reputation that they often do not deserve. I think the appropriate question would be, what breed of dog is not dangerous or cannot be made vicious. I believe any breed will bite if they have been mistreated or attack if trained to do so.’
Lisa Garmon, Gainesville

‘There is no way I would ever have this breed as a pet. My granddaughter has two who were rescued. One of them is sick and she has a 2-year-old. In my opinion that’s a disaster waiting to happen. This breed and its behavior has earned its reputation. Outlaw them!’
Patricia Warden

‘... I think pit bulls are inherently dangerous. They’ve been bred for over a hundred years to be aggressive, unpredictable and savage and that is exactly what they are. There are too many instances of pit bulls that were raised correctly, socialized and all those other things that still attack unprovoked and cause serious if not fatal damage. Pit bulls should be regulated the way other dangerous animals are for the sake of public safety.’
Rebecca Furr

‘My Bella is part pit part border collie and all baby. My Buddha Bella is such a baby she is afraid of water. The only thing she is going to do is lick you to death. But that’s how we raised her to be. She lives in a loving environment so she knows nothing but love. Any dog can attack or be mean, it depends on how the parents raise them.’
Debbie Howard

‘I personally have two pit bull mixed breeds (and one other dog). ... the one that is mostly pit bull is the most loving of the three with all people. She is a fun loving, gentle dog who I doubt would ever hurt anyone. You can’t judge a dog by it’s breed just because it has a little muscle. When I was younger, the breed to fear was a Doberman shepherd. The media hyped them as being mean, trained-to-kill-type dogs. These days, it is the pit bull. Yes, they are both muscular breeds, and for the dog-fighting-type person it makes them ideal. To get them to the point of fighting, they abuse them to the point that they ruin the animal. Much like a mother who abuses her children who go on to abuse their children. It’s in how they are raised.
Melissa Lannom

The already shaky reputation of the pit bull breed took a turn for the worse this month in Gainesville.

On April 19, a 9-year-old Gainesville girl was flown to a hospital in Atlanta after a newly adopted pit bull bit her arms in a McEver Vineyards apartment. Adrinna Adkins was protecting a cat the dog was chasing when it bit into her.

By the next day, Adrinna was in stable condition, but doctors had worries an artery in her arm may be damaged. As of Wednesday, she was no longer listed at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

Just days before that attack, a woman went before Gainesville City Council calling for a citywide ban on the pit bull breed. In her plea, Jean Brannon told the story of her grandson who she said was mauled by a pit bull in Cartersville recently when running with his cross country team. Physical and emotional injuries remain, she said.

Brannon has since written the governor and spoken to state Rep. Carl Rogers on the issue, with Rogers promising to put the issue of dangerous dogs, specifically pit bulls, before the state legislature.

“We’ve got to do something to be protective of (potential) victims, especially children, before they become victims,” he said.

The topic of banning or restricting pit bulls is as emotional and divisive as it is complicated.

Some members in the community express a keen fear of the muscular breed they call naturally vicious and unpredictable. Some owners have tendencies to neglect the dogs, they say, making their behavior worse.

Meanwhile, self-described responsible pit bull owners say the breed is unfairly maligned and — as with any dog — bad pit bulls are the result of bad owners, not bad genes.

Dea Butler, who said he used to be afraid of the breed, now has a 2-year-old pit named Diamond.

“She’s playful, quiet, reserved and very family oriented,” said Butler, adding that she treats his three children “like they were hers.”

Hall County resident Lisa Garmon, responding to a question posed to readers by The Times, wrote, “Sadly, this breed does fall into the hands of many ignorant people that fight them and give them the bad reputation that they often do not deserve. I believe any breed will bite if they have been mistreated or attack if trained to do so.”

For others though, the existence of such irresponsible owners and their dogs is enough to create a threatening atmosphere in their neighborhoods.

Times’ reader Shay Grant wrote that one of her neighbors has three pit bulls chained around a nearby house. Their intimidating presence is a constant worry, she wrote in an email supporting a ban on the breed.

“My greatest fear — and a frequent nightmare — is that one of these terrible dogs will get off the chain and run right over to my yard, attacking my 4- and 6-year-old children,” she wrote.

For Brannon, that nightmare was real and has spurred her into action.

The attack on her grandson was unprovoked, she said. While the boy was running in a residential neighborhood with his team in Cartersville, the dog escaped, chased him down and pulled him to the ground.

After sustaining deep wounds on his legs, Brannon said he needed a lot of stitches and was temporarily on crutches. Furthermore, she reports, the effects are lasting as he’s unable to compete in cross country for the summer and still has nightmares about the attack.

Now, Brannon is asking for elected officials to ban the pit bull breed.

Bartow County Animal Control Director Debbie Elrod reports the dog involved in a recent attack on a Cartersville boy was a Dalmatian-Great Dane mix, and not a pit bull. Brannon did not immediately respond to calls to confirm the breed of the dog.

While feedback from the community suggests she is not alone in her desire, Brannon is sensitive to the fact that pet owners are protective of their animals and her stand will likely draw criticism.

Still, she said it’s important for her to raise awareness.

“I’m sure if their grandson were mauled by a pit bull,” she said, “they wouldn’t want to have anything to do with them either.”

Legislation aimed at banning specific breeds has been tried in the past with varying degrees of success. Miami-Dade County in Florida passed a pit bull ban more than 20 years ago.

The Douglasville City Council also considered a ban in 2010 but ultimately voted it down after strong opposition from pit bull owners.

In 2005, legislation was introduced in the Georgia General Assembly to ban pit bulls, but it never passed.

State legislators have tried to address public safety with dangerous dogs in other ways, too. This spring, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law aimed at strengthening penalties against the owners of dogs that attack.

That law has not been signed by the governor yet.

One local elected official said he is poised to take that a step further.

“What I promised Ms. Brannon,” Rogers said, “is we would certainly look at trying to ban the breed.”

The representative said he believes pit bull attacks are happening enough to draw the state legislature to act.

Before doing so, Rogers said he’ll bring in experts on animals and breeding, as well as victims of pit bull attacks, to talk about the problem and garner possible solutions.

One of those people that Rogers said he would bring to the table is Rick Aiken, president of the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia.

Aiken said dangerous dogs are an issue in the community, and there is a need to find ways to ensure public safety.

Pit bulls have been bred to be protective animals, he said, that will “bite and hold” things they see as threats.
“When they go after something, they will stay on it,” Aiken said. “Whereas a collie will bite something and run.”

Still, Aiken said, there’s plenty of evidence that well-trained pit bulls are not dangerous.

About 10 pit bulls come into the humane society’s clinic each week for wellness shots.

“We never have any problems with them,” he said. “As far as good pit bulls, we do see them.”

Aiken said he doesn’t think a breed-specific ban is the best way to handle the concerns.

He points out there have been shifts in popular opinion about which dogs are dangerous. In decades past, Aiken said, public fear has shifted from German shepherds to Rottweilers, and now, to pit bulls.

Instead, the key to any good dog is socialization, he said, both with other animals and other people.

That, of course, can be hard to legislate.

But with many animal experts saying bad behavior in dogs can be amplified by chaining and by not having the animal neutered or spayed, Aiken said he thinks an approach that tackles those risk factors is a good start.

Rogers, for his part, is expecting efforts to ban pit bulls to draw the ire of segments of the animal rights community, as well as owners of the breed.

“Whether we can ban a particular breed, I don’t know,” Rogers said. “I know it’s time to bring everyone together.”

As far as a local ban, it’s looking unlikely for now.

Gainesville  Councilwoman Ruth Bruner told The Times that the issue would be explored, but she would not be in favor of banning a certain breed. She explained that Gainesville already has good leash laws in place.

“I think it would be better not to go down that slippery slope,” she said.

Councilman George Wangemann, who said he shares the fear of pit bulls and avoids getting near them on his walks around town, said he isn’t ready to support a pit bull ban.

A previous version of this story included inaccurate information about the breed of the dog involved in the Cartersville incident.

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