Pit Bulls Can't Shake Bad Rap

Article excerpt

Being cooped up in a pound isn't fun for any dog, but Corky the pit bull seems especially cranky this afternoon. When the assistant director of the San Diego County Department of Animal Services walks by, the chocolate-brown Corky locks his gaze with hers and refuses to let go.

"He's staring me down," says Dawn Danielson, a veteran animal control specialist, as the dog's body stiffens and his pupils dilate. "That's a bad stare, not a good trait in any dog."

No wonder Corky has been on the shelter's adoption list for weeks, awaiting a new owner, while the smallest and cutest pooches zip out the door in a matter of days. But at least Corky has company: On this day, 24 of the 108 dogs at the county shelter's main facility are pit bulls or pit-bull mixes.

Some, like Corky, look like they've been trained for trouble. But many of the others bound to the front of their cages to see visitors, wagging their tails furiously as they lick fingers poked through the bars.

"We don't like to paint with a broad brush," Ms. Danielson says. "Not all pit bulls are bad, and not all pit bulls are good. They're individuals, like all dogs."

Nonetheless, aggressive postures like Corky's define the pit bull in the minds of many Americans, one result of well-publicized attacks that make the animal seem "more demon than dog," says Julia Szabo, a New York City pit-bull advocate.

While activists like Ms. Szabo try to rehabilitate their favorite dog's image, hundreds of pit bulls continue to languish in animal shelters. And now lawmakers in Georgia and a Canadian province are vowing to clamp down on pit bulls.

Lawmakers in Georgia are sponsoring a bill that would, with minor exceptions, ban the selling and breeding of pit bulls. Similar legislation is up for consideration in the Canadian province of Ontario.

No one knows exactly how many pit bulls live in the United States, nor is it clear whether the number of abandoned animals has gone up or down. However, the pit bull population "explosion" shows no sign of waning, animal advocates say, especially in cities where the dogs are common sights in urban neighborhoods.

"If you walk through almost any animal shelter, you're going to see anywhere from 25 percent to more than 60 percent of the dog population comprised of pit bulls," says Eric Sakach, director of the West Coast regional office of the Humane Society of the United States.

Considering their heritage, it's no surprise that pit bulls have a reputation for aggressiveness. Pit bulls trace their history to the early 19th century, when they were used in bull-baiting. Contrary to popular belief, they're not a breed, but instead a type of dog that encompasses several kinds of terriers. …