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
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
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. …