Pit bull owners speak up for the breed in Monterey

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In his own furry head, Jack fancies himself a lapdog. The 6-month-old pit bull already weighs 60 pounds, and every ounce is affection, said his owner, Tiffany Canchola of Soledad.

“If I’m sitting on the sofa, watching TV, he’ll jump right into my lap, like a Chihuahua,” she said. “He seems to think he’s really tiny, but he’s a big baby. He’s like one of my kids.

“People have a misperception about pit bulls. They think they’re big and scary, and they’ve heard stories that they’re vicious, but I don’t think that’s true at all,” Canchola said. “When Jack sees me, all he wants to do is give me a big hug and kiss. He wants you to notice him: ‘Hey, I’m here … time to pet me!’ I think it’s all about how a dog is brought up.”

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The reputation of pit bulls as a dangerously aggressive breed was the notion dozens of locals tried to dispel Saturday at Window on the Bay Park in Monterey, where they convened with their pets to celebrate National Pit Bull Awareness Day.

The four-hour festival included a two-mile, all-breed dog walk along the Recreation Trail, a canine costume contest, a dog-agility course and informative displays from supporters and sponsors.

Evidence that Jack is, in fact, child-friendly came when Canchola’s 4-year-old son, Anthony, noticed his shoelace was hanging loose and literally used the dog as a footstool while his mother retied his


“He loves the kids,” Canchola said. “When they come home from school, Jack can’t wait to greet them, play with them, give them kisses. If he could talk, he’d probably be saying, ‘Hey, I missed you! Where have you been?’”

Pit bulls regularly make news for violent attacks on people and animals. But owners Saturday defended the breed, saying aggression only emerges if a dog has been deprived of attention or affection, or if they are specifically trained to be guard dogs or fighters — the fate of many pit bulls.

“We had a German shepherd/pit bull mix, and we got him as a puppy, before he could even open his eyes,” said Kathrine Gebhart, a Cleveland native stationed at the Presidio of Monterey with the Air Force. “He really thought he was one of the kids and was just the sweetest dog ever. He never showed any aggression, even toward our other animals: cats, bunnies, chickens … he was great with all of them.”

Those opinions were backed by a pair of Salinas animal groomers who specialize in so-called “difficult breeds” and “problem dogs.”

“We groom a lot of dogs that have been rejected by places like Petco, PetSmart, because they regarded them as too crazy, including a lot of pit bulls,” said Heather Hughes of Jurassic Pets, who lives with a 6-month-old pit bull/mastiff mix. “We do training and obedience, and the vast majority of dogs that come to our grooming salon are just fine.”

The key, Hughes said, lies in treating the animals well from the outset, connecting with them, calming them while dealing with them in a firm but non-threatening manner.

“We try to make sure they’re happy and feel love, and can leave wagging their tails,” she said. “We always have a little get-together before we start grooming the dog. We talk to the dog. We like to sing and dance with the dog. We give them treats. We want them to understand that the salon is a friendly place, not a place where they need to feel scared.”

Hughes said that while pit bulls might look more intimidating than other breeds, they actually aren’t.

“If any dog grows up mean, it’s the fault of the owner. They didn’t train the dog properly,” she said. “I’ve never met a dog that I thought was born aggressive.”

Fellow groomer Tami Kaiser, who said she was raised with pit bulls on a 5-acre farm in Indiana, agreed that the upbringing of the dog determines the animal’s nature.

“It’s not the dog, it’s the way they’re socialized, and it all starts as a puppy,” Kaiser said. “People aren’t socializing their puppies correctly, raising them the way they need to be. A lot of people just aren’t responsible pet owners. Dogs have feelings, just like we do.”

Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344 or dtaylor@montereyherald.com.

See our website for a video and a slide sow of Saturday’s National Pit Bull Awareness Day event in Monterey.

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