As pit bull attacks continue to make media headlines, large numbers of the breed account for an overwhelming majority of dogs which enter U.S. animal shelters and never leave.
In a two-part series, Patch will investigate the facts and misconceptions surrounding the breed, and an ongoing program that is working to ready unwanted and abused pit bulls in the Town of North Hempstead for successful adoption.
Are pit bulls as dangerous as they are made out to be or are they getting a bad rap?
There is an absolute misconception, says one local expert.
"Statistically [pit bulls] are not the breed of dog that has the most dog bites," says Susan Hassett, the director of the Town of North Hempstead Animal Shelter. "That's usually one of the smaller breeds."
Bites by smaller dogs like the cocker spaniel or lhasa apso are more common, Hassett says, but larger K-9's like pit bulls, German shephard's or Rottweilers usually get the headlines because more damage is caused when attacks occur — and more fear.
And Chihuahua or poodle attack will rarely draw much attention.
The strength difference between a 60-pound pit bull terrier and a smaller dog is the most significant factor when it comes to the danger perception — not necessarily the frequency.
Not long ago ago, pit bulls had a gentler reputation. Some were used as nanny dogs used by people to watch ther kids, according to Hassett. These days, pit bulls are frequently falling into the hands of the wrong type of owners for dog fighting.
"If those people were getting beagles and training beagles to fight, we wouldn't be hearing about it," said Hassett.
Remember Peetie of the TV show the "Little Rascals," or the RCA dog? Both were popular pit bulls that helped drive popularity, but along the way the breed's reputation changed in the public eye.
With pit bull attacks now consistently getting top headlines and high profile cases like that of NFL football star Michael Vick hurting the pit bull image, the dogs have attracted a tough reputation which has hurt adoption chances.
Pit bulls are now the dominant dogs at most pounds, but just a few decades ago it was different, according to Hassert, who has worked at the North Hempstead shelter for 35 years.
"If you walked in the shelter, every dog was a black and brown shephard mix with stand-up ears. After that, lab mixes," says Hasset, reflecting on the dog population when she began working at the shelter.
Now battling a bad reputation, large numbers of pit bulls are unfortunately finding it more difficult than other breeds to make their way out of shelters and into loving homes.
"We get all kinds of dogs in our shelter and they get adopted, these dogs are just tougher to get out," says Hassett.
On Monday, part two looks at the Progressive Pit Bull Program in North Hempstead which is working to give pit bulls a better chance at adoption.