Bred for vi­o­lence?

Sup­port­ers say pit bulls have been given a bad rap in the me­dia

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenny Thompson

The me­dia cov­er­age of ac­cused Michael Vick’s dog fight­ing ring and of vi­cious dogs man­gling small chil­dren has in­creased the num­ber of calls the New­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice re­ceives re­port­ing ca­nine be­hav­ior.

Sher­iff Joe Nichols said he was shocked to dis­cover the NCSO has fielded 764 calls re­lat­ing to dogs since Jan. 1 of this year. That’s an av­er­age of three calls a day.

Cer­tain breeds such as pit bulls, Ger­man shep­herds, chows and other large breed dogs are at the cen­ter of the Vick and var­i­ous at­tack sto­ries, but Nichols said the NCSO has no way to track cer-

“I thought they were wild, crazy dogs un­til I un­der­stood them. I found out they are very in­tel­li­gent dogs — they’re just high en­ergy dogs.”

tain breeds in the calls they an­swer.

“ If you asked us, we could find out in the com­puter how many left- handed fe­males had a wreck at a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­sec­tion at 3: 15,” Nichols said, “ but we don’t have in­for­ma­tion about spe­cific breeds of dogs in­volved in in­ci­dent calls.”

He ex­plained that un­less an­i­mal cru­elty or an at­tack has oc­curred, dis­patch will for­ward calls about dogs to New­ton County An­i­mal Con­trol.

— Gary Gschwind Owner, Rock­dale Ken­nels

“ Par­tic­u­larly now, we get com­plaints about pit bulls run­ning loose even if they’re friendly,” said Teri Key- Hoo­son, di­rec­tor of NCAC.

She said if NCAC of­fi­cers pick up a dog they deem vi­cious be­cause it chased or bit some­one or an­other an­i­mal, the shel­ter will house the an­i­mal for three work­ing days to al­low the owner to claim it.

If an owner does come to claim a vi­cious dog, he or she must com­ply with an or­di­nance re­quir­ing the dog to be housed in a pen with sides, top and bot­tom or the owner will face crim­i­nal charges.

Key- Hoo­son said cer­tain breeds of dogs are not in­her­ently more dan­ger­ous than oth­ers, but some large dogs have the po­ten­tial to do greater dam­age if they at­tack.

“Any­thing with teeth can bite,” Key- Hoo­son said.

Nichols ex­plained how in his pa­trol ex­pe­ri­ence, large dogs were usu­ally not the ones to worry about.

“ It’s been a while since I’ve been out on the road,” Nichols said, “ but in my ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve been bit­ten more by small dogs than I have by big dogs.”

Gary Gschwind, owner of Rock­dale Ken­nels on Ga. High­way 20 in Cony­ers, has had his share of bites in the 27 years he has op­er­ated the ken­nel but agreed with Nichols that smaller dogs such as cocker spaniels are more de­fen­sive and bite more than large breeds.

“ Those are the guys you have to watch out for,” Gschwind said.

Both Key- Hoo­son and Gschwind agree that dogs are not born dan­ger­ous, but their own­ers or en­vi­ron­ments can con­di­tion them to be fe­ro­cious.

Even dogs bred to fight other dogs are usu­ally still friendly to­ward hu­mans, ac­cord­ing to Gschwind but are more likely to at­tack since that’s all they know.

Dogs crated ex­ces­sively or chained also have a greater po­ten­tial to at­tack be­cause they feel threat­ened or de­fen­sive while in cap­tiv­ity. Gschwind also ex­plained dogs that need lots of ex­er­cise but who are not al­lowed to be ac­tive can cause prob­lems with their so­cial be­hav­ior.

Par­ents or guardians should never leave small chil­dren unat­tended with any dog that is not familiar with the child and should ed­u­cate their chil­dren about what may hap­pen if they approach an unfamiliar dog or pet one in­ap­pro­pri­ately.

Gschwind sug­gests only adopt­ing pets if you can give them what they need such as ad­e­quate phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, ap­pro­pri­ate space and plenty of at­ten­tion and af­fec­tion.

He said all dog own­ers — of breeds large and small — should at­tend a ba­sic obe­di­ence pro­gram with their dogs, be­cause own­ers need to al­ways be in con­trol of their an­i­mals.

Sev­eral years ago, Gschwind had his first en­counter with a pit bull when he adopted Bruiser — a stout, 90- pound black and white pit bull and Stafford­shire bull ter­rier mix.

“ I thought they were wild, crazy dogs un­til I un­der­stood them,” Gschwind said. “ I found out they are very in­tel­li­gent dogs — they’re just high en­ergy dogs.”

Bruiser be­came Gschwind’s star Schutzhund dog. Schutzhund mean’s “ pro­tec­tion dog” in Ger­man, and they are trained for po­lice work, search and res­cue mis­sions or sim­ply sport. The ba­sic idea is for the dog to fear noth­ing and obey their train­ers im­pec­ca­bly.

“ He was a dy­na­mite dog,” Gschwind said. “ You could do any­thing with this dog — dress him up or put him in a com­pe­ti­tion or have preschool­ers all around him.”

He ex­plained how pit bulls were bred in the 19th cen­tury to kill mice, rats and other pests in homes and busi­nesses. As men­ac­ing as they look and sound, Gschwind said their out­ward ap­pear­ance is very de­ceiv­ing.

“ Most of the pits that come in here are sweet, good dogs,” Gschwind said. “ They’re very lov­ing to­ward peo­ple.”

Gschwind said some dogs may act ag­gres­sively to­ward other an­i­mals, but ag­gres­sion to­ward hu­mans usu­ally stems from abuse, train­ing or en­vi­ron­ment.

“ It comes down to the owner,” Gschwind said. “ Ev­ery­body’s re­spon­si­ble for the dogs they own.”

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Man’s best friend: Rock­dale Ken­nels owner and New­ton County res­i­dent Gary Gschwind spends qual­ity time rol­lick­ing with his 85- pound pit bull Amos Tues­day af­ter­noon at the Cony­ers ken­nel.

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