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Dog safety expert: The truth about pit bulls

There's a  lot of misinformation about pit bulls, expert says
There's a lot of misinformation about pit bulls, expert saysGetty images

Jennifer Shryock, a certified dog behavior consultant, makes a career out of teaching parents how to keep their children safe from dog bites.

So it's a bit ironic that she is the proud owner of a pit bull, a dog with a fearsome reputation. She trusted her four children around the dog, named Windsor. "I couldn't have a better dog," she says today.

Shryock believes the three breeds known collectively as pit bulls are the victims of misinformation and bias, including in Denver, where a pit bull ban has resulted in hundreds of the animals being seized and euthanized.

"I think its horrible," she says.

The Denver City Council has stood firm on its breed-specific legislation, saying the community supports it.

Shryock opposes it, and her reasoning is familiar to pit bull owners:

Over time, various breeds of dog have been demonized, she said. She doesn't know why that started with pit bulls, which she described as "the ( current) flavor for targeting."

In a conversation with a reporter, speculation arose: Perhaps it was when pit bulls started showing up as the favorite dog of gang members. Maybe it grew when the media entered a phase of 24-7 coverage; once something gets into the information stream, it spreads quickly. Dog fighting presented a savage image, but since the notorious Michael Vick case there has been a new emphasis on rehabilitating, not blaming, fighting dogs.

The truth about pit bulls is quite differnent than widely believed, Shryock said of the breed once known as "nanny dogs" because they watched over children as their parents worked. The American Temperament Test Society gave the pit bull an 85.3 percent passing grade - higher than other “family friendly” dogs such as the golden retriever.

She is critical of the way pit bulls are identified visually, which is the policy in Denver. "They want to judge an animal by how it looks," she said, "and that can be a (faulty) death sentence. Even if they were identified by DNA tests, that is still not a reason to discriminate against pit bulls, she said.

Shryock believes the picture of pit bulls as demon dogs is bound to end as another dog eventually takes it's place. She cites her German Sheperd, which was once the favored villain.

Meanwhile, her main mission is teaching parents how to keep their kids safe. She is the founder of Family Paws Parent Education (http://familypaws.com), a North Carolina group that has two international programs, Dogs & Storks® and the Dog & Baby Connection™, which "support new parents with dogs nurture safe and harmonious relationships among all family members, human and canine".

"We need to get more education to parents, evens before their children are born," Shryock says. "There are lots of warning signs from dogs; we need to educate parents about them."

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