Training and experience help owners raise friendly dogs

Recent pit bull attacks in the Calgary area have left the breed with a bad reputation.

Despite the negative coverage surrounding the attacks, rescue foundations aim to change perceptions about pit bulls by taking in the breed along with educating the public.

Recent attacks

Various incidents in the city involving pit bulls have given the breed a bad reputation.

One of these occurrences was in Dec. 2012, and resulted in the death of a Pomeranian. The incident occurred near an off-leash park in the Ogden/Lynnview area, when three off-leash dogs, including the Pomeranian, approached three on-leash pit bulls.

The owner of the pit bulls faces three charges of possessing unlicensed dogs and additional charges against the dogs:

  • Causing death to an animal
  • Causing damage to an animal
  • Biting, barking or chasing another animal

The owner of the off-leash dogs also faces two charges of possessing unlicensed dogs along with additional charges:

  • One count of biting, barking or chasing another animal
  • Two counts of dog at large

A behavioural assessment by the city’s Animal and Bylaw Services determined the three pit bulls were not a threat to public safety and the dogs were returned to their owner.

Another attack occurred on Jan. 2 in the northeast area of Whitehorn and left an individual requiring medical attention. The two pit bulls involved in the attack had separate owners that face numerous charges:

  • A dog biting a person
  • A dog attacking a person
  • A dog at large

In Ontario, the Public Safety Related to Dogs Statute Law Amendment Act places stronger penalties on the owners of dogs deemed a danger to the public, and currently has a ban on the pit bull breed.

Pit bulls that resided in the province before the act was passed can remain as long as the owners comply with restrictions that have been put in place, including keeping the dogs leashed and muzzled in public.

Giving pit bulls a second chance

Pawsitive Match Rescue Foundation is a pet rescue organization based in Calgary that focuses on rescuing dogs from high-risk situations in North America.

“We rescue all kinds of dogs because our policy is all dogs deserve a second chance,” says Tracy Babiak, the president of the foundation. And that includes pit bulls.

Babiak adds that Pawsitive Match has a no-kill policy.

When placing a dog with a new owner, the foundation evaluates the needs of the prospective owner’s home.

It looks at factors such as previous dog experience, housing or accommodation, and family situation to decide which dogs would be a good fit for the home, Babiak says.

Tia Lenz, president of Pit Bulls for Life, rescued her pit bull, Flower, who was found abused. Now Flower spends time making friends with other animals needing rehabilitation.

Photo courtesy of Tia Lenz When placing a pit bull in a new home, she says experience is especially important.

She says that generally, bigger breeds of dogs are placed with fosters that have more experience to ensure that they can handle the needs of the dogs.

Despite the recent negative coverage of pit bulls, she says, “Luckily there hasn’t been a lot of attitude change, there’s always the people that don’t like pit bulls, and there’s always the people that love them.”

Pit bull puppies in particular, she says, get adopted out quite rapidly.

Advocating for understanding

Tia Lenz, president of Pit Bulls for Life, another rescue foundation, is an advocate for the breed.

Pit Bulls for Life is currently based out of Edmonton, but has affiliates and foster homes located in Calgary. It rescues pit bulls from Alberta, but also focuses on rescuing the breed from areas that have bans towards the animals such as Ontario.

Lenz began fostering pit bulls for the foundation in 2007 and became president of the foundation in 2009. She says has worked with animals all her life, and currently works at a veterinary clinic in Edmonton.

Lenz says that she has had experience with the pit bull breed in the past.

“I met my first two pit bulls when I was about fifteen. They used to be boarded at a facility I worked at. There was an incident…and unfortunately the dogs did attack another dog,” she says.

She says the incident inspired her to learn more about the dogs. Lenz currently owns two rescued female pit bulls.

One of her dogs is 5-year-old Flower. She was found abandoned and suffering from a severe infection, which caused the loss of her breast tissue, leg and part of her tail.

Lenz says that Flower helps care for some of the animals at the clinic she works for.

“She’s very, very social with dogs and cats and helps me rehabilitate the fosters I take in. For the amount of abuse she went through, she’s pulled through quite nicely.”

Lenz fostered her second pit bull, Willow, prior to adopting.

Along with rescuing the breed, Pit Bulls for Life works on rehabilitating them, taking care of their medical needs and spreading awareness about pit bulls.

Lenz says that along with advocating the breed, the organization also offers training for the public on how to care for them and teach them.

She says that despite the coverage of recent pit bulls attacks that the adoption rate of pit bulls has not been affected.

“Most people that are familiar with the breed and educate themselves about the breed understand that it’s not the dog, it’s the owner.

She says, “They’ll put the time and effort into obedience training them…and get them to the point where they can totally be perfect dogs for the public.”

ksaretsky@cjournal.ca

Read a reporter’s firsthand account of owning pit bulls.

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