Som Lisaius KOLD News 13 Reporter
Does this make you uncomfortable? A Hundred pound plus pit bulls, less than a jaw's-length a way from disaster? That, Tara and Keith Graves say is the perception, but sloppy kisses and bear hugs is the reality.
Pi bull breeder Keth Graves says, "They have a high tolerance for kids, a high tolerance for people. You can make any type of dog mean...it's all about the person."
They're arguably the most public canines around but more often than not, headlines pit bulls make suggest anything but man's best friend. The term pit bull is loosely associated with three different terrier breeds and confused with at least 25 more.
Over the last ten years, pop culture has deemed pit bulls as dangerous if not more so than German shepherds of the 1970s, Doberman pinchers of the 80s and Rottweillers of the early 90s. But according to the experts, there's little data, if any, that supports the claim that pit bulls are more dangerous than other breeds.
Marsh Myers Director of Education for the Humane Society Of Southern Arizona says, "The interesting thing about pit bulls, I always think back to the old adage which is; when I do something right nobody remembers, when I do something wrong, nobody forgets."
Marsh says, for whatever reason, pit bulls have been singled out by the media when it comes to human attacks.
Like any other dog, Myers says, pit bulls can become aggressive and can cause significant harm, even death, but considering reported bites alone, you might be surprised where pit bulls stand on the list.
Myers says, "If you look at the national statistics, they tend to be towards the middle in terms of a biting animal. Some biting animals that we wouldn't necessarily think are biting dogs are high. Cocker Spaniels are a good example. That's a family dog, right. But yet they bite and they bite a lot."
Only difference is cocker spaniel bites seldom turn tragic.
Emily Rivera described the day she could have lost her two year old son. The Rivera family was at an east-side park playing with their own puppy when an unleashed pit bull attacked little Gabriel from behind.
Emily says, pointing behind her son's head, "I saw it right back here, behind his neck. Right there to right there. The dog also had him from right here, his teeth behind his whole head."
Gabriel’s father says, "My son was just doing his own business. He was probably about twenty, thirty feet away and all of a sudden, the pit bull just came up from behind him and just jumped on him."
Emily says, "At first I thought he was playing because dogs will knock little kids over, but then I saw his mouth go around his head. I mean it went from one side to the other. It started mauling him...and he started screaming."
Fortunately, the Rivera’s were able to pull the dog off Gabriel before it was too late. He suffered multiple lacerations and a tear to his ear But why the attack in the first place? Some say it's the result of an aggressive owner who may have taught the dog to attack but considering this pit bull was only 8 weeks old.
Emily Rivera isn't so sure. She says, "I think that most of it is innate and they can also be trained...but obviously this puppy needs to be trained not to attack--so that says a lot about the breed itself."
Tara Graves says, "It’s the owner's responsibility, it's the owner's fault that the animal wasn't with the owner--not on a leash."
Tara and Keith Graves have been breeding pit bulls about six years and with at least a dozen litters over that time they have quite a family.
"They're just like our kids," says Tara.
The Graves say they're perfectly comfortable with the dogs literally sharing a bed with their daughter, never once, has one even growled at four year old Shayla.
"They're just like children and the environment affects them,” says Tara. “They have to have love and attention to show that. They show what they have given to them and that's a lot of love."
By the same token, Tara and Keith realize there are people out there who neglect pit bulls and others, who actually encourage them to fight. For decades, that's precisely what these dogs did and in some cases, still do.
Unfortunately, illegal dog fighting remains a reality right here in southern Arizona but does that mean there's still a population of potentially dangerous pit bulls in our community today? Probably so, but the same can be said of virtually every other breed too.
Myers says, "As with any other dog you have to look at them on an individualized basis. You have to look at a whole bunch of things: what kind of breeding did they have, what kind of training did they have and what's their socialization and temperament like? And then you also have to decide whether or not you are going to be taking this very high energy, very strong, but also potentially very loving and very loyal dog into your home and care for it for the rest of its life."
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