Helen Keller claims they’re one of the best therapy dogs.
Jon Stewart has two – and they watch over his young children.
But these aren’t the stories you hear when you hear about pit bulls.
“I think it all started back in 1987,” says Ken Foster, author of numerous books on dogs, “[when] Sports Illustrated ran a snarling photo [of a pit bull] with a caption ‘BEWARE OF THIS DOG.'”
If you believe rumors, pit bulls have brains that are too big for their heads and jaws that operate like sharks’. Only criminals and gangsters own them; and don’t even think about getting one — they’re known for turning on their masters.
I think Cesar Milan put it best: “In the ’70s, they blamed Dobermans, in the ’80s, they blamed German Shepherds, in the ’90s, they blamed Rottweilers. Now, they blame the Pit Bull.”
These misconceptions are what led Ken Foster to start the Sula Foundation, an organization that provides affordable vaccinations, free spaying and neutering, and basic education and obedience training for pit bulls.
Ken Foster does good in New Orleans by educating pit bulls -- and their owners.Foster recently raised a hefty sum to help Spartacus (the gorgeous white dog that slept on my lap while we talked), whose leg had been blown off by a shotgun blast. The funds didn’t just pay for the operation that saved Spartacus’s life; they also covered his stay at a local “resort” for dogs, where he could rest, recover, and get used to life on three legs.
Foster says he gets somewhere between 12-20 calls a day to come pick up a pit bull. “Every year in New Orleans, over 2,000 are euthanized,” he explains. “That’s a little more than five a day.”
I ask why the rate is so high, and the answer is complicated.
“People breed them poorly and don’t have the means to take care of them. People move and don’t want to take the dog with them,” he says. “Or, lately, a lot of people are into this ‘moving to New Orleans’ thing for a year to work on their art, adopting a pit bull, ‘cause that’s what everyone does here and then a year later are like, ‘I’m moving back home now, so can you take my dog?’”
Foster air-chokes that imaginary person and laughs a bit, but you can tell it’s an issue – one of many.
“In a place like New Orleans, stigma is a big thing,” he says. “People have preconceived notions of what someone, or something, is supposed to be like and they subsequently get judged based solely on that.”
And as I get viciously attacked by an army of wet kisses and a powerful violent tail, I kind of start to see where he’s coming from.
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