Not enough people see pit bulls for what they are -- loyal, intelligent and high-energy companions that need training and love, according to Melissa Smith, executive director of the York County SPCA.
And the endless flow of pit bulls into the SPCA's Emigsville shelter is what happens when people own the dogs for the wrong reasons, she said.
"Some people see pit bulls as a status symbol," Smith said, or a money-making venture. "The dogs are purchased for breeding, which is the last thing we need, but unfortunately there's a market for this. And some people obviously want the dogs for fighting."
That's why the York County SPCA is launching a program to help York's inner-city youths train their pit bulls and SPCA volunteer Ed Temple of Mount Wolf walks Tanner, a male pit bull. The SPCA is holding a program on Saturday, Oct. 23, to help pit bull owners. (John A. Pavoncello Photo)learn to see them as companions, she said. The program is even open to city youths who don't own dogs, because the SPCA can provide shelter pit bulls for dog-less youths.
The program kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, at Sovereign Bank Stadium, in conjunction with National Pit Bull Awareness Day. People are encouraged to take their pit bulls to the stadium, where they can receive free rabies shots and microchipping, and celebrate the pit bull breed, Smith said.
Plenty of freebies: The SPCA will also hand out free dog food to owners who need it, and people can sign up their dogs for free spaying or neutering as well as the new youth training program, she said. Pit Bull Awareness Day festivities will continue that day at the shelter from noon to 4 p.m.
The first youth-pit bull training class will be held Nov. 6 at the Princess Street Center, Smith said. The SPCA is targeting middle-school students for the program, she said, but won't exclude older kids.
"Pit bulls get a really bad rap and aren't treated the same way as other companion dogs are treated," she said. "We need to change public perception of these dogs."
Smith said she got the idea from the Humane Society of the United States' "Keep Your Pet Out of the Pit" program. "Pit" means dog-fighting pit.
"Our target group is youth, because if we can get to them early enough, we can get them to see pit bulls as companion animals, as they should be seen," she said.
Good for kids, too: Smith said the SPCA is inviting at-risk youths to join the program as well. In addition to training and socializing the dogs, the program could help bolster youths' self-esteem and sense of responsibility, she said.
The SPCA chose York City for the training because of the high concentration of pit bulls there and is partnering with the city's Recreation and Parks Bureau, which is providing usage of the Princess Street Center.
"We just think it's a wonderful program, to educate and change the views on pit bulls," bureau director Tom Landis said.
The training program will help youths teach their pit bulls basic obedience and good manners, Smith said, and eventually could be expanded to include other dog activities, such as agility training.
"The goal is really to build the bond between a young person and a dog, and to make young people see what great family dogs pit bulls can be with proper training and socialization."
The numbers: Currently, the shelter has 132 dogs, more than half of which are pit bulls, Smith said. She called that ratio normal.
Since January, the shelter has taken in 236 pit bulls, many of which came from York City, she said. The next most common breed seen at the shelter this year is the Labrador retriever, Smith said, with 80 dogs so far.
Many of the pit bulls that come to the shelter are very friendly, but some have been treated badly and not properly socialized or trained, Smith said.
High-energy dogs: "That's what we're trying to avoid," she said. "Pit bulls are very loyal, very intelligent. But having said that, a pit bull owner needs to understand their dog's tenacity and steer that trait in the right direction. They have a lot of energy and they want to please their owners."
That means plenty of exercise and direction, she said.
A pit bull's natural trait of being protective of its family has resulted in people exploiting the breed, she said.
"And that's very sad, because pit bulls will go to the ends of the earth for their owners," she said.
Author: Elizabeth Evans
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