After owning pit bulls for more than a decade, Julie Hammon has developed a simple philosophy.
“A golden retriever is the dog I always knew I wanted,” she said. “A pit bull is the dog I never knew I wanted, but I can’t live without now. I think they’re great dogs.”
But many people see pit bulls in a different light.
Recent dog attacks in Lodi, French Camp and Stockton have put pit bulls in the spotlight. They’ve added to the breed’s reputation as dangerous, aggressive and even deadly. Some cities have taken precautionary measures against the breed by instituting mandatory spay and neuter laws or even banning pit bulls altogether.
Pit bull advocates say the problem isn’t with the breed, but rather, in many cases, with the owners. The battle isn’t with the dog. It’s to find responsible homes.
“There are aggressive dogs out there, but I do believe it’s because of the way they’re treated,” Hammon said. “There are people who are specifically doing horrible things to them to make them into these fighting machines.”
Hammon, her husband and their two young children rescued Mickey, a 1-year-old pit bull, from the Lodi Animal Shelter in 2012. He’s the third pit bull Hammon has adopted in the last 13 years.
Mickey’s days are often spent riding in the family car, accompanying Hammon to work and playing with her 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.
Hammon has never had reservations about letting Mickey socialize with her kids.
“You never leave a dog unsupervised with small kids,” Hammon said. “But that’s going to apply to my golden retriever as well as my pit bull. But when my kids are outside playing, (Mickey) will play with them.”
Hammon has never had issues with her pit bulls being aggressive, and that has everything to do with the way they’re raised, she said.
Janet Song, secretary and treasurer of California Pit Bull Rescue in Oakland, believes pit bulls aren’t more instinctually aggressive than other breeds. She agrees that the issues are with the owners and the way pit bulls are raised.
“They’re dogs, so they have dog behaviors,” she said. “They do things that every dog will do. Part of the reason people choose these dogs is because people can do bad things to them and they won’t turn on you.”
California Pit Bull Rescue adopts pit bulls that have been abandoned or donated, and from there they spay and neuter the dog, provide behavioral training and search for responsible owners and homes.
“Our goal is to make sure they don’t end up on the news, and make sure they’re set up for success,” Song said. “Pit bulls are the dogs that need help the most.”
While Song believes pit bulls aren’t inherently dangerous, some cities think differently.
While California law prohibits a ban on breeds, San Francisco implemented a mandatory spay-neuter law for pit bulls in 2005 after a 12-year-old boy was mauled to death. Following two high-profile attacks in Denver, that city outlawed pit bulls outright, and effectively seized and euthanized thousands of dogs.
Nicole Carera, who works at a local animal rescue shelter, said the problem involves owners who adopt pit bulls for the wrong reasons.
“A lot of people are buying them to be guard dogs,” she said. “Dogs need to be socialized, and it’s more vital for pit bulls because of their size and strength. But if you keep a pit bull chained in the backyard alone, it’s not going to be fond of people.”
Carera owns three pit bulls, one of which sleeps in the same bed as her 1-year-old son. She said the majority of calls she receives involve pit bulls that have been found or abandoned. Pit bulls are one of the most commonly bred and overpopulated breeds, she said, so they’re often dumped and forced to fend for themselves.
“Being abandoned causes fear and aggression,” she said. “They don’t know what’s going on. It’s the same for any dog.”
The most common dogs in the Lodi Animal Shelter are Chihuahuas and pit bulls, Animal Control Supervisor Jennifer Bender said. Both dogs are equally prone to attack, whether other animals or humans. However, pit bull attacks are more frequently reported because of their strength and the damage they cause, Bender said.
“Any breed out there is going to have a tendency to attack,” Bender said. “It’s just that pit bulls are a lot stronger, and they cause more injuries than little dogs that are running loose.”
Hammon takes the same precautions with Mickey as she does with her golden retriever. But she’s never been concerned about a random act of aggression.
She’s only focused on providing the proper care.
“I just love this dog,” Hammon said. “(Mickey) was going to be euthanized, and if he knew that, he’d feel lucky to have us. But really, we’re lucky to have him.”
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.