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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Gainesville groups and pet owners confront pit bull misconceptions

How pit bull type breeds get a bad rep and what you can do about it

Oreo, a pitbull up for adoption at the Humane Society of North Central Florida, lies in the shade outside a play pen on Friday, March 18.
Oreo, a pitbull up for adoption at the Humane Society of North Central Florida, lies in the shade outside a play pen on Friday, March 18.

Allison Martineau was surrounded by the affection of pit bull breeds at an early age. Now, the memory of the true nature of pit bulls motivates the 28-year-old substance abuse lead technician to foster the misunderstood dog type.

“They love you like no other,” Martineau said. “Every dog has the ability to be a blessing.” 

Martineau provides housing for several mixed breeds that have learned to get along with each other over time. At first, having mixed breeds in the same living space was challenging. In time, her foster dogs have not only become friends by her side, but friends with one another.

With an array of headlines about pit bull maimings and attacks, many people find it hard to empathize with the dog breeds. Gainesville organizations and dog lovers have made it their mission to show the mixed breed is more friend than foe.

Blanca E. Carbia, co-founder of Plenty of Pit Bulls, a volunteer-run non-profit organization, demystifies the stigma against the breed. 

Plenty of Pit Bulls’ mission is to rescue and rehabilitate at-risk pit bull breeds from overcrowded shelters in seven counties in the surrounding area and provide them with permanent housing. The non-profit also provides training, medical care and promotion for local pit bulls through tools like Facebook groups and weekly adoption events.

Pit bulls aren’t as simple as they seem. Pit bull is an umbrella term for multiple muscular dogs with square heads — not just one species.

It’s common to misidentify a dog breed with similar features as a pit bull breed, which results in pit bull breed prejudice, Carbia said.

As a breed commonly associated with dog fighting, it’s common for people to assume that pit bull breeds are vicious in nature.

Pit bull breeds excel in the areas of intelligence, trainability and affection, according to the American Kennel Club.

Among other factors, what largely determines the behavior and temperament of pit bull breeds is how they’re treated by their owners.

Getting quality foster owners is a priority for Plenty of Pit Bulls. Like children, curating a great living environment molds the mixed breeds into great companions, Martineau said.

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Veema Jhagru, a 21-year-old UF Japanese and women’s studies junior, has been fostering pit bull breeds through Plenty of Pit Bulls since last year. As a college student searching for companionship in older dogs, Jhagru started fostering after learning about the overwhelming number of pit bull breeds in local shelters.

“When you expose yourself to the breed and volunteer at a shelter and really get to know how loveable these dogs can be, it’ll really change your heart,” Jhagru said. “They’re not just these demon dogs that some people make them out to be. A lot of them just need that second chance.”

One of the most damaging results of harmful pit bull stereotypes has been the ongoing issue of overpopulation in municipal animal shelters. In the Gainesville area, the majority of mixed-breed dogs are found in shelters like The Humane Society of North Central Florida, which have a limited intake of animals. 

The Humane Society provides assistance to other municipal shelters that experience overcrowding by taking in dogs themselves. Instead of being at risk of euthanization in other shelters, these dogs have a new chance at life through adoption in a suitable home.

“Like people, all animals have their own personalities,” said Margot DeConna, director of advancement at The Humane Society. 

Since the beginning of 2022, The Humane Society housed 248 mixed breeds with 188 of them being adopted, DeConna said.

The unfortunate reality experienced by shelters like The Humane Society is that pit bulls are one of the most common breeds to end up behind bars in municipal dog pounds and shelters. 

One of the best ways to eradicate this stigma is simply through being more informed about mixed breed dogs, Carbia said.

This applies to dog breeders, too, as some owners’ lack of information on correct breeding for “purebred” pit bull types sometimes result in inbreeding.

“You cannot breed indiscriminately and have a normal dog,” Carbia said. “You’re going to start having issues with weirdness; all kinds of traits you don’t want in a dog.”

For those seeking companionship with a pit bull type, volunteers encourage them to go out and experience the mixed breed for themselves at local shelters or adoption events. 

Contact Dazion at Follow him on Twitter @DazionProsser.

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