PERKIOMENVILLE, Pa. (WLVT) — American pit bull breeds have received a bum rap over the years, but they were once the nation's wartime mascot.
For National Pit Bull Awareness month, Tracie Graham, who heads up the Montgomery County SPCA's Perkiomenville branch, is encouraging people to give the breed a chance.
"They’re super loyal, trainable and smart," Graham told PBS39. "Pit bull is kind of a slang term that describes muscular, block-headed, bully breed dogs."
According to Love-A-Bull.org, the canines represented bravery and loyalty in American wartime advertising throughout WWI and WWII. Graham says pit bull breeds are known to be friendly and loving. She says how a dog is bred and raised plays a big role in the personality it develops.
"I think one of the biggest misconceptions about pit bulls is that they’re an aggressive breed," she said. "These dogs were bred back in the 1800s to bait bulls. Unfortunately, that transgressed into people using them for dog fighting."
In 2007, a large light was cast on the cruel use of pit bulls in dog fighting, when a 51-dog operation run by former NFL star Michael Vick was broken up.
"Dog fighting is one of the unspoken blood sports, and there is a huge underground network of professional as well as street dog fighting," explained Graham.
The Montgomery County SPCA says American pit bull varieties are the most common dogs found at its shelters.
"Sometimes they're brought in at a young age by owners who got them as puppies, and they don't know how to properly care for them as they grow. These are dogs that need lots of exercise. We also get a number of stray pits, who are found wandering in the street."
Finding the right owner, she says, is key.
"They need a firm, but fair handler," Graham advised.
Some famous pit bull owners include Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Fred Astaire and Helen Keller.
"These dogs need to go to dog-savvy homes, with people that understand their characteristics, and that can provide a safe and secure environment," said Graham.