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SPCA Class Looks To Change Image Of Pit Bulls

njohnson@tampatrib.com
Published:   |   Updated: March 22, 2013 at 01:33 PM
LARGO -

Lola is a 4-year-old pit bull who gets a bit excited around other dogs but mostly just whines and wags her tail. At 10, Stella is a pit bull mix eager for attention. Liberty, a 4-year-old pit bull found wandering Interstate 275 last year, tends to bring on the barking when other dogs get too close.

But today, they were at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Tampa Bay's Largo center to prove they were not the snarling, steel-jawed stereotype of their breed.

The dogs were joined by 11 others seeking a certification they are social animals with good manners and behavior. Those who passed the test receive a canine good citizen certification issued by the American Kennel Club.

Though not limited to pit bulls -- there were boxers and Labrador retrievers at the event -- the project focuses on the breed.

"This is targeted for pit bulls and mixes due to the negative media pit bulls receive," said Donna Bainter, behavior manager for the SPCA.

This is the third year the organization has issued the certificates to dogs that pass the series of challenges. The tests are given about twice a month.

The SPCA runs the program with the Animal Farm Foundation. Based in New York, the foundation tries to change the perception of pit bulls and donates $150 to the SPCA for every dog that passes.

Pit bulls didn't always have the bad reputation that now saddles the breed. Petey, the dog from the 1930s "Our Gang" film shorts, was a pit bull.

"When the wrong people get a hold of them, it shows how quickly that can change," Bainter said.
The tests for the certificate focused on how the dog got along with other people and dogs and how well it minded simple directions.

If the dog towed the owner during the normal walking portion, the dog failed. Jumping on a stranger accounted for disqualification, as did lunging when being walked past another dog.

It is difficult for a dog without some obedience training to pass, Bainter said.

Lola had training two years ago, but since owner Leslie Pagan moved, her dog has had less interaction with several dogs at once. She didn't pass the test, but Pagan said today was more intended to see how Lola got along with other dogs.

Stella had training as a puppy but owner Ashlie Fisher of Safety Harbor still seemed a bit surprised when Stella received a passing grade.

Liberty, who gave birth to eight puppies less than 24 hours after being rescued from I-275, passed without the benefit of an obedience class, surprising owners Lorraine and Bob Gendron of Largo. They intended to enroll her in an obedience class if Liberty flunked.

"It's too bad they get a bad rap. It's all in the way they're brought up," Lorraine Gendron said.


Contact reporter Neil Johnson at (813) 259-7731.

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