Local News

Putting Pitbull Perceptions In the Doghouse

Examining Stereotypes Surrounding Pitbulls

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - There's one breed of dog that faces more adversity than the rest these days - pitbulls. News Channel Five looked into the stereotype surrounding the breed to figure out why pitbulls have a bad reputation, and whether or not it's justified.

Bill Davis is the owner of Grand Valley Pit Crew, a rescue and sanctuary for the 20 pitbulls living at his house. "Love the daylights out of these dogs," said Davis.

One of the dogs at Grand Valley Pit Crew is a dog named Marina. "She was brought from a dog fighting ring when she was younger and we brought her here, and now she's the sweetest dog that you could have ever wanted," said Jessica Owens, a neighbor who helps Davis at Grand Valley Pit Crew.

All of the dogs at Grand Valley Pit Crew are considered pitbulls, which account for a wide variety of dogs. "Staffordshire Bull Terrier is commonly called a pitbull, Bull Terriers are commonly called a pitbull type dog, American Bulldogs fall into the bully breeds. However, some of the larger breeds can also fall into those such as Mastiffs. So, the bully breeds encompass a number of different types of dogs," said Doug Frye, the manager of Mesa County Animal Services.

Bob Davis said his 14 year old dog was once attacked by a pitbull. "Was choking him out, trying to kill him, so I kicked the dog twice, and people say that pitbulls won't let go, well they do, when they're going to bite you... Bit my finger, and then ate the part of the finger, it was about $4,000, about three months of recovery," said Davis. However, he said the dog is not to blame, but perhaps the owner that did not have it on a leash.

Denise Lashmett can relate to Davis' experience, because her dog was attacked by three pitbulls. She was volunteering one day, and came into contact with another pitbull. "Oh my god, it's a pitbull, it's the scariest dog in the world. And I looked at her, and she was more afraid of me than I was of her. And her name was Hera. And I reached in and got her out, and she was the sweetest dog and it just changed my whole perception of pitbulls," said Lashmett, who is a volunteer at Mesa County Animal Services.

Frye said there have been no fatal attacks in the last 10 years in Mesa County, from any breed of dog. However, there has been an increase in the amount of pitbulls seen in shelters. "Two or three years ago, pitbull mixes became the most predominant breed coming into the shelter," said Frye.

Anna Stout, the executive director at Roice-Hurst Humane Society, said the negative assumptions about pitbulls have been passed from dog to dog throughout history. "With any stereotype, it comes from certain incidents being spun into generalizations about the breed. At one point, Rottweilers, Dobermans, German Shepherds, were considered the really aggressive dogs, and now pitbulls are the ones carrying that rep," said Stout.

Stout said there are several myths regarding the dogs, one being that they are inherently aggressive, another being that they have a locking jaw, and they have the strongest bite. Stout said these are simply not true, but the myths do perpetuate the stereotype and result in more pitbulls in shelters.

Mesa County Animal Services had 1,842 dogs go through the shelter, and 105 puppies in 2016. They behavior test every dog in the shelter. "Some of the nicest dogs that we've behavior tested have been pitbull mixes. Again, it's all in how they're socialized, how they're brought up," said Frye.

Lance Ferguson is a dog trainer, and he said there are specific tactics to use for active dogs like pitbulls. "I would say for pitbulls, a lot of human interaction with the playing, don't just take them in the backyard and let them play, go play with them. Go do things, pitbulls love walks, they are a dog that we want to socialize with the community, walk and things like that, that's what makes them a better breed of dogs. That's what makes them show their true character rather than the character that some people see," said Ferguson, a trainer with Karma Dog Training.

Despite any stereotypes about pitbulls, Davis and Owens will continue to care for their 20 pups. "They make me so happy, they cheer me up everyday and they always put a smile on my face," said Owens.

If you would like to contribute to the mission of Grand Valley Pit Crew, donations can be sent to 1288 Gilpin Street in Loma. They can also be received by visiting J&M Aquatics on North Avenue, where food and shirts are available for purchase. Their paypal is grandvalleypitcrew.com. They said any and all donations are welcomed and greatly appreciated!

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