Pit bulls dogged by notoriety

When a guest arrived at her Hazleton apartment, Roxann Garcia stayed seated in the kitchen, but her pit bull, Jasmin, went to the back door and licked the visitor’s leg.

“If anybody breaks into this house, she will lick you to death,” Garcia said of Jasmin.

Not everyone views pit bulls so kindly in Hazleton, where two incidents last week added to the breed’s notoriety.

“I feel bad for pit bulls getting a bad name,” Garcia said.

On July 2, Hazleton police shot a pit bull that charged an officer, and on Friday in Hazle Township, a pit bull that ran out an open door bit an 11-year-old boy on his arm and leg.

Garcia never owned a dog until a friend who raises pit bulls let Garcia keep Jasmin overnight.

“I fell in love with her,” Garcia said.

Now Jasmin sloshes in a wading pool on Garcia’s second-floor deck and plays with her cats.

“There’s your buddy,” Garcia said as one of the cats strolled into the kitchen.

Jasmin looked at the cat but lay down on a rug next to her water dish and fell asleep within minutes.

Around Hazleton, not every pit bull has behaved so calmly.

On July 2, Syncere, a 5-year-old pit bull, got out of a fenced yard on Hayes Street, perhaps when children opened a gate. Neighbors called police after Syncere snapped at a man.

As police walked Syncere back to her owner’s home, the dog snapped at the legs of a patrolman, who commanded the dog to go away. Instead Syncere lunged at the patrolman, and the patrolman fired one shot when the dog crashed against his chest.

The dog’s owner, Nilene Bogansky, said Syncere liked people but jumped on them playfully. Bogansky surmises that Syncere mistook the officer for her adult son and wanted to play.

“That’s the sad thing with these pit bulls. People don’t understand they’re not all mean. They’re not aggressive dogs,” Bogansky, who owned Syncere for 5 years, said.

Barbara Nahay has seen a darker side of pit bulls.

After supper on Friday, Nahay’s 11-year-old son walked across James Street from his house in Hazle Township when a pit bull latched on to him.

The boy received a bite on his left leg from knee to groin and on his left arm from elbow to wrist.

“He’s sore. Eventually he will be fine, back to being a kid again. He’s just petrified about going outside,” Nahay said.

Her son’s fear grew after the Pennsylvania Department of Health said the dog would return to the home to its owner, who lives a few houses away from the Nahays.

State Dog Warden James Spencer said the dog will be quarantined at the owner’s home for 10 days. Spencer will investigate whether the dog had a current license and up-to-date rabies vaccination. Failure to vaccinate or license a dog carries fines of $300.

State police at Hazleton also are investigating whether to charge the owner of the dog, Brian J. Fanning, 27, with violating state dog law.

State law allows any person attacked to file a complaint to register a dog as dangerous. If a judge deems a dog to be dangerous, the owner must post a $50,000 bond and secure the dog with a fence or a muzzle and chain.

Nahay, when asked if her family had run-ins with the dog prior to Friday, said: “My swing set for my children is near the fence. The dog bangs its head off the fence like it’s charging you.”

She would like authorities to euthanize the dog or remove it from the neighborhood.

Pit bulls are euthanized more than any other breed in the nation, said Patti Suarez, who helps a group in Northeastern Pennsylvania that rescues pit bulls.

The rescue group has found homes for 100 pit bulls and sponsored spaying and neutering clinics. Currently, the group has 50 pit bulls in foster homes.

New or prospective owners of pit bulls in Northeastern Pennsylvania can take a seminar that Alison Santiago calls Pit Bull Parenting 101.

“Overall, the dogs I’ve worked with are really nice and intelligent,” said Santiago of Pawsitively Motivating Dog Training in Wilkes-Barre.

Pit bull is a collective name for breeds that include the Staffordshire bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier and the American pit bull. They were bred for farm work – herding and guarding livestock and being companions to families, Santiago said.

More recently, pit bulls have helped police by sniffing out drugs and bombs and serving as search-and-rescue dogs.

Dogs that end up in the media for bad behavior, however, often haven’t been trained, socialized or managed properly.

Santiago suggests that owners control situations to reduce chances for dogs to misbehave.

That includes keeping the dogs secure with fences and leashes and segregating them from party guests.

Suarez, of Scranton, took in her first pit bull as a foster owner two years ago after helping rescue other breeds for 15 years.

“I, myself, had been skeptical. When I got to meet them, they’re actually a wonderful, wonderful breed,” she said.

Her first pit bull, Brandy, served as bait to train fighting dogs in Philadelphia and eventually died of its injuries.

Spending time with Brandy, however, convinced Suarez to continue helping pit bulls.

For the past two months, she fostered a pit bull named Georgia that had faced euthanasia in her namesake state.

“Whoever adopts her is going to be lucky because she is amazing,” Suarez said.

Georgia curls up with Suarez’s five cats and also gets along with her St. Bernard mix and her Chihuahua.

Suarez recommends that owners keep new dogs segregated for two weeks. The dogs can adjust to the smells and noises of the home before meeting the people and other pets. Because dogs are territorial, she introduces foster dogs to her own dogs at a neutral place, such as a park.

“Usually by the end of the walk, they’re buddies,” she said.

Some pit bulls, such as those trained to fight, shouldn’t be placed in foster homes with other dogs or children.

“They would require a great deal of training if they are sociable enough to be in a home setting,” Suarez said.

In 2007 after authorities indicted National Football League Quarterback Michael Vick on dog fighting charges, Best Friends Animal Society adopted 22 of his pit bulls.

A video made last year shows that some of the Vicktory Dogs, as they are called, became pets in homes with children. Others remain at Best Friends, but the video showed them playing with one another, walking on leashes and sitting with caregivers in the offices.

The website bestfriends.org contains biographies of some of the dogs, including Lucas, whose muscles and scars suggest a long history of fighting, but who nevertheless loves being around people.

In contrast, dogs that attack people, like the dog that bit the 11-year-old boy in Hazle Township, are not necessarily ones “you want in neighborhoods,” Suarez said.

She only knows of the incident from the media accounts, but wondered why the dog got loose and how it has been raised.

Pit bull breeder Patricia Montanero, meanwhile, said her son sold the pit bull to Fanning.

“That dog wouldn’t have known aggressiveness unless it was trained. It’s how you raise them and bring them up,” Montanero said.

She trains dogs before selling them.

“Treat that dog like a baby, and that dog will love you for the rest of your life,” she said.

Montanero also bred Jasmin, the dog that lazed around Garcia’s kitchen in Hazleton.

Garcia blocks the stairs of her deck so Jasmin can’t escape down the steps to the street.

Jasmin is powerful enough that Garcia seldom walks her on a leash.

She leaves that duty to David Dennis, who shares her apartment and helps raise Jasmin.

“You can see how she is. She’s very friendly,” Dennis said.

When raising Jasmin, he said he spoils her.

“She gets played with,” Dennis said when describing what he does for Jasmin. “Take her for rides. She sleeps on the bed with me. Just show her affection.”


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