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May 12, 2013

Pit bulls: Bad breed or misunderstood?

Experts say perception isn't always the reality

When pit bulls make headlines it’s usually bad news.

The general public’s perception of the breed isn’t based in reality, many experts say, but it hurts the dogs that linger in animal shelters or are targeted by neighbors and local officials.

Joleen Malot sees it all the time at the Salem Animal Rescue League.

“Most people automatically tell me they don’t want a pit bull,” said Malot, operations manager at SARL. “I think people believe that they’re vicious.”

But that may be perception more than reality. While no official statistics are kept on a state or national level, many experts agree pit bulls are no more likely to bite than another breed.

“They rarely show aggressive behavior,” said Michael Fraysse, a veterinarian at Hampstead Animal Hospital. “They tend to be easygoing animals who rarely bite.”

That’s not always the case.

Last month, Oliver, a pit bull and Labrador retriever mix, bit Sarah Stewart, 6, when she tripped and fell on him in Londonderry. Oliver was quarantined for 10 days. His owner, Lisa Palmieri of Londonderry, faced fines of $100 for having a vicious dog and $25 for failing to keep his rabies vaccination current.

Oliver was released, but didn’t move back to the neighborhood.

Derry police quarantined Mystique, 2-year-old brindle pit bull a week ago after it attacked a 10-year-old boy, biting his leg and arm. Derry police Capt. Vern Thomas said no charges have been filed against the owner and it remains under investigation.

Many believe pit bulls are unfairly maligned. Salem Animal Control Officer Corie Bliss said pit bulls aren’t the top breed of dogs which she responds to for dog bites.

“It’s extremely unfair to discriminate against breeds of dogs,” Bliss said. “Even the friendliest of dogs can sometimes bite.”

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