Tips for Responsible Pit Bull Ownership

Owning a dog is a huge responsibility. Every dog deserves an owner that is dedicated to responsibly raising them. Owning a dog is a lot more than just providing them with food, shelter, and the occasional vet visit. A responsible dog owner must provide their pet with the tools to succeed and the opportunity to be a good dog.

Raising a pit bull is pretty much the same as raising any other breed. Just like any breed, if raised well, a pit bull can be an excellent and well-behaved dog. The only real difference between raising a pit bull and raising any other breed, is that pit bull owners should try to go the extra mile. There are a lot of people out there who will look to criticize pit bulls at any opportunity. When you own a pit bull the stakes are raised. If a chihuahua bites someone, it’s not a huge deal, but if a pit bull bites someone it will have more publicity and bigger consequences.

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when raising your pit bull:

  • Spaying and neutering- As Bob Barker famously said, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.” This is the most important and responsible thing that any owner can do for their pet. Getting your pet spayed or neutered not only helps control pet overpopulation, but has several other benefits as well. This simple and inexpensive procedure will help improve your dog’s health, reduce their urge to roam or escape, and help prevent them from acting aggressively or developing aggressive habits.
  • Exercise- Pit bulls are extremely active dogs and need to be exercised everyday. Whether you take your dog for a walk or play fetch in the backyard, they  require over 30-minutes of exercise a day. If a pit bull does not get enough exercise, they can become anxious and develop the sudden urge to run around the house and destroy any pair of shoes they can find. Overall a well exercised dog, no matter what breed, is a lot more enjoyable to be around.
  • Keep your dog on a leash!– Don’t be that one person in the neighborhood who lets their dogs roam around without a leash. Whenever your dog is in a non-fenced area, they need to have a leash on. You may think that you have the sweetest dog in the world, but it still needs a leash. Letting your dog roam free is just asking for trouble and causes a lot of stress for fellow dogs and dog owners.
  • Know your dog’s signs and body language– When something is wrong, your dog’s body language will normally alert you. The best way to help prevent potential conflicts with other dogs is to know your dog’s body language. Here is a very helpful and well illustrated chart that depicts signs of anxiety in dogs.
  • Obedience training– Obedience training is very important for young pups. Every owner should be able to control their dog and every dog should have a basic understanding of how to socialize and behave.
  • Don’t just supervise your dog; be observant– Never leave your dog alone with young children or other dogs. Dog fights can happen with any breed and in order to prevent them from happening you have to be supervising your dog. However, just being physically present isn’t enough. It is important to be aware of signs of aggression and be observant enough to act before something bad happens.
  • Socialization- Socialization is very important for young pups. Early socialization can help a dog adapt to new and unfamiliar environments. Socializing your dog and introducing them to new experiences can eliminate a lot a future stress and anxiety in your dog. However, it is also important to not rush your dog and to introduce them to new experiences at a healthy pace. You don’t want to socialize your dog at a pace they are uncomfortable with, but at the same time you don’t want to avoid socialization. It is important to find a balance between the two.
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Q&A with Lilo’s Promise Co-founder Jennifer Conners

Lilo's Promise Animal Rescue's logo (courtesy of Lilo's)

Lilo’s Promise Animal Rescue’s logo (courtesy of Lilo’s)

This week I spoke with Lilo’s Promise co-founder Jennifer Conners. Jenn along with Anita Anastasi founded Lilo’s Promise in 2006. The rescue focuses on providing at-risk pit bulls with a safe place to stay until they are adopted into loving homes.

Personally, Lilo’s Promise is very important to me because my family adopted our pit bull Hope from them. If Lilo’s didn’t exist, I never would have met my dog Hope and I’m not sure if she would have gotten the opportunity to find a family. Everyday when I walk through my front door and she greets me with a giant smile, a tail wag, and a toy; I have Lilo’s to thank.

The work that Jenn and Anita do is very important. They take a breed that is unjustifiably vilified and they give these dogs the second chance that they deserve.

In this Q&A Jenn and I discuss the history of Lilo’s Promise, her love of pit bulls, and what motivates her to keep fighting for this extraordinary breed.

(picture courtesy of Jennifer Conners)

(picture courtesy of Jennifer Conners)

Q. How did you come up with the name Lilo’s Promise?

A. Lilo was a dog that was in the shelter that my friend and I were volunteering at before we started Lilo’s. Lilo was a big brindle pit that had gotten very sick. She was young and spent a lot of time at the vet’s office. My friend Anita and I would go and spend a lot of time at the vet’s office with her, so she wouldn’t be alone. That’s where Anita and I really bonded and discovered that we both had a love for this breed. Lilo had gotten better for a short time and was adopted by one of the vet techs at the hospital, but suddenly passed away. She was only 2-years-old. So when Anita and I started Lilo’s we decided to name it after her. We made a promise that we would do all we could for pit bulls that needed our help.

Q. Why did you choose to rescue pit bulls?

A. I had been working with shelter dogs for at least 14 or 15 years and I just fell in love with the breed. There were a lot more pit bulls than other dogs in the shelter and for so many reasons I just fell in love with them. That was it, I just realized that this breed was so misunderstood. They just had so much to offer and really needed help.

Q. Why do you feel like pit bulls are so misunderstood?

A. I think it’s just because of ignorance. People just aren’t very familiar with the breed. I think the media also plays a huge role in people’s misconceptions of pit bulls. If you hear about a dog biting someone on the news, people always assume it is a pit bull. Then if it is a pit bull, the media plays it up. If another breed hurts somebody and makes it on the news, it is really not that big of a deal. If a lab or a chihuahua hurts someone, it is less likely to make the news because it is not as exciting. I think the media just puts this fear of pit bulls in people’s heads.

Q. How important is it to hold the owners accountable rather than the dog itself?

A. Most dogs are great dogs. All the responsibility falls on the owner, no matter what the breed is. It is really important for an owner to put in the obedience training, the time, the commitment, and the socialization. It is also very important for new owners to spay and neuter their dogs. All those factors play huge role.

Q. What types of background checks do you do on possible pit bull owners?

A. We have them fill out an application and a pretty extensive questionnaire to give us a good background on them. We ask questions like: What pets they’ve had in the past? What pets they currently have? What are their lifestyles like? Then we ask for references. We ask for veterinarian information. Then once we do all of that background checking, we do an extensive phone interview. Then if it sounds like they are a good match for the dog, we have them come out and spend as much time as they like with that dog. If we feel that there is a connection between the person and the dog, we do a home visit and see if it will be a good environment for the dog. I also think one thing that makes us stand out from other places, is that we are always there for our adopters 24/7 after the adoption. We still keep in touch with our adopters and are still much invested in the dogs that we took into our rescue.

Q. How do you choose which dogs you are going to rescue and which dogs you aren’t?

A. Normally it’s just by seeing posts on social media. Sometimes we get emails or messages from people working in other shelters that will say ‘hey, we have a dog that’s really great, but they don’t have much time left’ and if we have room, we go in there and get the dog.

Q. What is the hardest part about rescuing pit bulls?

A. Our biggest challenge is money. I think that when you take in a lot of different breeds, you tend to get more support. However we are very breed specific and I think that some people out there have a bias against our breed. The biggest obstacle that we face on a daily basis is money, because we need to raise money in order to save more lives.

Q. Do you remember the first dog that Lilo’s ever rescued?

A. I can’t remember who exactly was our first dog was. When we first started, there was a group of four or five of them that we took at once. We were volunteering at another shelter before we started our rescue and those dogs had been at that rescue for years.

Q. What is one story or case in particular that motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?

A. There are tons of stories. Our special needs dogs, like Hope, are very important to us. They might need a little more work and a little more effort, but we love them. However, one dog in particular that stands out is a dog named Delsea. Delsea came from a really sad situation and had a hard time bonding with people. He had lived with his family where the mother and father both passed away within six months of each other and the kids had to go live with their grandparents. So what happened was that they tied him up outside and the teenage boy would ride his bicycle over their twice a day to visit his dog. The kids were heartbroken they lost their parents, the dog was heartbroken that he lost everyone and was just sitting out on this chain in the yard. Eventually it came to my attention that the dog was out there and needed a safe place to go. I think that if he went to a shelter he probably wouldn’t have made it out, because he just didn’t trust people.  So I took him. He was with us for a year. During that time, I gained his trust and got him to enjoy human contact again. Then he got a fantastic and beautiful home.

Q. From your personal experience, how would you describe pit bulls?

A. Awesome! They are just a really fun, happy, and lovable breed. It usually doesn’t matter what they have been through, they just want to be loved and want to love you. They are such people dogs. They are extremely bright, athletic, and it sounds odd to say but they have a great sense of humor. They just want to have fun. They are all about the love and the fun and are really an enjoyable breed. They’re clowns.

You can follow Lilo’s Promise on twitter @lilospromise

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The Vilification of Pit Bulls

It will probably come as a surprise to most people, but pit bulls were once widely considered the perfect household pet. In the early 1900’s, pit bulls were viewed as the All-American dog. They were featured on WWI propaganda posters, advertisements, and were even portrayed as a sidekick in the popular children’s television show, The Little Rascals. Pit bulls were owned by prominent American figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, George Patton, Thomas Edison, and Helen Keller. The breed was beloved by Americans and in a way became a symbol of the country.

Through the years the way people perceive pit bulls has drastically changed. The once beloved household companion has now been antagonized and made out to be some kind of monster.

So what exactly has happened? Over the past 100 years have pit bulls drastically changed? Has the All-American dog transformed into some vicious beast over night? How has the once beloved pit bull become so feared and vilified?

The truth is that pit bulls haven’t changed at all over the past 100 years. Pit bulls, just like any other breed, still have the ability to be a family friendly and loving dog. The difference between the pit bull of the early 1900’s and today’s pit bull is that the way the public views them has drastically changed.

The vilification of pit bulls didn’t really start until the 1980’s when the media began to label the breed as violent killers. The most famous of these articles was a 1987 Sports Illustrated article.

The issue with all these articles were that the main focus of the stories were the “killer dogs”, rather than the sick owners who fought and tortured these dogs. Through these articles, the once All-American dogs were turned into these mythical blood-thirsty beasts. All these articles did was drum up an irrational fear towards pit bulls and help put these dogs in the hands of bad owners. Due to the pit bulls reputation it instantly became the perfect breed for dog fighters, gang members, drug dealers, and people who want to look tough.

Pit bulls didn’t freely and subconsciously choose to be involved in dog fighting and crime. A group of pit bulls didn’t just get together and assemble a dog fighting ring in somebodies backyard. In the wrong hands, any dog can be dangerous. The problem isn’t dangerous breeds or dangerous dogs, the issue is dangerous owners. In fact, research done by Karen Delise of the National Canine Research Council suggests that an overwhelming amount of dog bites occur do to poor ownership or care.

“My study of dog bite-related fatalities occurring over the past five decades has identified the poor ownership/management practices involved in the overwhelming majority of these incidents: owners obtaining dogs, and maintaining them as resident dogs outside of regular, positive human interaction, often for negative functions (i.e. guarding/protection, fighting, intimidation/status); owners failing to humanely contain, control and maintain their dogs (chained dogs, loose roaming dogs, cases of abuse/neglect); owners failing to knowledgably supervise interaction between children and dogs; and owners failing spay or neuter dogs” -Karen Delise (National Canine Research Council)

It’s unfortunate, but the pit bull breed is very attractive to bad owners. However the good news is that there are also a lot of great pit bull owners and great pit bulls that live normal and peaceful lives with their families. It’s time to deal with bad owners rather than pointing the finger at an entire breed of dogs.

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Five Misconceptions About Pitbulls

It’s not hard to do a quick scan of the internet and find articles such as this one . With absolutely ZERO evidence present, this article comes to the conclusion that pitbulls are not only the most dangerous breed, but have been known to “attack children, the elderly, their owners – anyone that happens to be in their path.”

This is absolutely insane!

How did pitbulls get such a bad rap in society? There must be a good reason for all this hate. There must be some indisputable scientific evidence to support these claims… **crickets**

Here are some common misconceptions about pitbulls that are just flat out incorrect:

  1. Pitbulls are the most aggressive breed: This statement is incorrect. Scientific research has proven that pit bulls are not the most aggressive breed. Surprisingly, smaller dogs are actually proven to be more vicious than larger breeds, such as pitbulls. A study by The American Veterinary Medical Association claims that ” a survey of general veterinary clientele in Canada identified Lhasa Apso, Springer spaniel and Shih Tsu as more likely to bite.”
  2. Pitbulls are inherently dangerous: There is no real scientific study to support this claim. In fact according to the American Temperament Test Society, pitbulls have a fairly good temperament. Out of  870 American pitbull terriers tested, 86.8% of them passed the test. Pitbulls did better than 142 breeds and scored 3.8% higher than the overall average for dogs tested.
  3. Bite statistics is reliable evidence that pitbulls are “vicious”: Commonly the number one source used by people who are anti-pitbull, are the bite statistics. Yes, pitbulls statistically are the leader in dog bites. However, one could make the argument that these statistics are flawed, because the way people label pitbulls is flawed. Many people believe that the term “pitbull” refers to one specific breed, but it does not. The term “pitbull” refers to several different breeds. There are even more “bully breeds” that aren’t even part of the pitbull family, but get grouped in with the breed. Of course the number of pitbull bites will be high. If a dog bites someone and looks similar to a pitbull, then it will be labeled a pitbull attack. Genetic tests are the only way to correctly identify a breed. The human eye is not a reliable source when it comes to labeling dog breeds.
  4. Pitbulls that were trained to be fighting dogs can’t be rehabilitated: This is completely false. Just look at the Michael Vick dogs. Many of the Michael Vick dogs that were brutally abused and forced to fight have gone on to live happy and peaceful lives with their new families.
  5. Pitbulls having locking jaws: This claim is 100% false. No dog breed has locking jaws. Not pitbulls. Not any breed. There is zero scientific or medical evidence to support this claim. In fact, pitbulls don’t even have the strongest bite pressure per square inch compared to other breeds.

As you can see, a lot of the common stereotypes that surround pitbulls are false. I believe that a huge reason for the negative stigma surrounding pitbulls is the lack of correct information that people have available to them. All people ever hear about is negative stories about pitbulls biting people, and because these stories people just assume the worst about pitbulls. However if you keep an open mind and look at the facts, you will see that pitbulls are just like any other dogs. With a good owner, any dog can thrive and be a “good dog”.

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Meet Hope

This gallery contains 12 photos.

My family adopted our deaf pitbull Hope on December 8th 2011 from Lilos Promise. As a baby she was brutally abused by her previous owners and lived under a deck for the first few weeks of her life. Since then … Continue reading

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My name is Matt and I am a journalism student at Rowan University. I love animals and have had a dog since I was 5 years old. When my lab died when I was in high school, my family decided to rescue a pitbull named Hope. At first I was a little naive and skeptical about the idea of adopting a pitbull, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although there are many negative stereotypes that surround pitbulls, I have known them to be nothing but kind and loving.

My main goal is to present people with a different side of pitbulls, because unfortunately they get a very bad rap. A lot of people blindly assume that they are bad dogs, and that assumption is incorrect. In this blog, I want to break down these stereotypes and find the truth about pitbulls.

Another goal of mine is to explore the many stories of pitbulls that are up for adoption in local South Jersey animal rescues. A lot of the stories that surround these animals are very sad, but also inspiring. In this blog, I hope to share some of their stories and possibly help them get adopted.

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