Pit Bull Attack: It's About Responsible Pet Ownership

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RENO, NV - In kennel after kennel at the Nevada Human Society, pit bulls look expectantly at visitors, their tails wagging.

They hardly look like the public menace they're often depicted.

And they have their passionate fans and advocates eager to rise to their defense. We heard from many of them in the past day with testimonials and pictures of dogs happily integrated into local families.

Given the breed's popularity, it's likely most of us know someone with a pit bull.

It should be noted their history includes breeding at one time, not only for animal aggressiveness, but also docile reliability around people.

And, yes, what is commonly called a pit bull today may be one of several different breeds or mixes.

Still there is that reputation and, despite what some have charged, the media haven't invented it. There are data to back it up.

And incidents like an attack Saturday in which two pit bulls tore through three fences, entered a home through a doggie door and killed three other dogs, reinforce that reputation.

The question is: who has earned that reputation: the dogs or some irresponsible owners?

A dog of any breed kept isolated and untrained is a problem waiting to happen.

"Don't look at the breed," says Bobby Smith, who as field supervisor for Washoe County Animal Services, has investigated many cases of aggressive, destructive dogs.

"We want to look at responsible pet ownership. You need to be able to take care of your animal no matter what breed it is."

Even the owner of the three dogs killed Saturday says the discussion shouldn't be about the breed or the two pit bulls that invaded her home.

"I sympathize for those pit bulls," says the woman we've identified only as Jennifer. "I really think that this isn't about pit bulls. It's about being a responsible owner."

Which leads us back to those guys waiting for a new home at the Nevada Humane Society.

They've been through a strict behavioral examination designed to uncover problems with aggressiveness.

A family adopting them would have every expectation of welcoming a loving newcomer to their family.

Incidents like Saturday's attack unfortunately may make that less likely.

"The bad press that sometimes accompanies pit bulls is a challenge," admits Humane Society CEO Kevin Ryan, "but it's nature versus nurture. It's about setting your dog up for success."

If those dogs languish in his kennels for want of the breed's reputation it would be tragic and unfair.

On its website, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals dispels many of the myths about pit bulls, but it also notes that the dogs' appearance and reputation unfortunately sometimes attract an owner looking to project a macho, aggressive image.

Getting a pit bull may foster that tough image intentionally or by neglect, and irresponsible breeders cater to that desire, making the problem even worse.

These dogs in their distant past were often not well served by those who bred and owned them.

Unfortunately, all too often, that misuse and abuse continues today.