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Pitbull owners and advocates speak out about breed reputation

Pitbull owners and advocates are speaking out about the breed’s reputation after a recent dog bite incident in Lethbridge that left a child and a teenager injured. A petition to have pit bulls restricted in the city has created discussion around the dogs on social media, with both people expressing opinions for and against them.

“I think when you are looking to blame a dog for an incident, it’s more so needing to look at that specific dog, rather than putting a label on it and blaming the dogs that fall into that label,” said Natalie Kent, a volunteer at Prairie Pet Rescue.

This idea is shared by Chantelle Mackney, a professional dog trainer and founder of the Southern Alberta rescue, Justice for Bullies. She said she believes a lot of misconceptions around pit bulls comes from the way news reports dog bite incidents and she believes education is a very important piece when it comes to responsible dog ownership.

“Breed is not an accurate predictor of the individual behaviour,” she says. “Almost every single case known to Canada could have been prevented. We know that there are quite a few different factors that are involved in dog bites.” These include lack of supervision and a familiar relationship between the dogs and victims, she says.

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Mackney says municipalities should have programs and bylaws to promote responsible dog ownership, but she does not support breed specific legislation (BSL). The petition, started by Sayma Refat, the mother of the child victim in the recent attack, calls for breed specific legislation.

BACKGROUND: LPS advise of loose dog that bit a child

“I want City of Lethbridge, Alberta to restrict pitbull terriers in residential area, and add 2500 dollars as penalty to owner if any dog ​​injures a person. Pitbull should be given to those owners who follow dog bylaws of Lethbridge. Pitbull terrier should only be used as service dog in police force, army, and security forces. Many developed countries of the world (have) banned pit bull terriers,” the petition reads. There should be BSL in Lethbridge. City of Lethbridge should not give pit bulls to anyone who has a criminal record of violence and addiction.

Allison Howlett owned a pitbull in Lethbridge named Jack, who she says was aggressive when she first got him. She says she gets angry seeing people spread hate about the breed and she put in a lot of work to train him. She says he was a great dog and one of the most important pair of training was to learn his behaviors from him and how to deal with them.

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“You need to train that dog. You need to take that time and effort so all these people who are getting bullies because it’s a bully are ruining it for people who have bullies that actually put the effort and the love and the training and the time and commitment into these dogs,” she says

Howlett says she believes backyard breeders and lack of education contribute to the hate the breed often gets. She says she does not believe pitbulls are for everyone and it is important to understand the work needed to raise a good dog.

“Unfortunately with a lot of dogs from rescues, we are not getting the background. They are coming from unknown backgrounds, but when you are obtaining a dog from a breeder there should be a lot of information provided to those families about the temperament,” Mackney says.

Howlett says owners need to understand the importance of stimulating their dogs and not letting them get bored, which is often when they can act up. “All they want is love and affection from you so when you train your dog, that’s the love part and when you reward your dog for doing that trick, that does so much.”

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She says her daughter taught Jack many tricks to keep him stimulated and that attention is an important part of training. “People need to be educated properly. People should not just be able to go to (a rescue) and grab a freaking dog and that is one of our problems,” she says. “I don’t think Lethbridge is ever going to put across a pitbull ban, I really don’t. We are hardcore pitbull lovers. You see them everywhere” Howlett says.

She says when her current dogs pass she hopes to foster and help put the work into making good dogs who are ready to be adopted.

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