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Pit bulls in Charlotte — status symbol or menace? 

Is it just me or are there more pit bulls in Charlotte these days? I've seen the controversial breed of dog at parks, residential areas and being walked in Uptown by men and women.

I'm not a pit bull hater; I just understand quite clearly that pits are powerful dogs that are extremely protective. What worries me is that people seem to be acquiring them as status symbols -- and that I see so many of the dogs with folks who don't seem to be able to control them.

Not too long ago, I witnessed a woman attempting to walk her pit bull in high heels in Uptown. The dog looked like it was walking her as she teetered behind it, barely able to maintain her balance or keep the animal (which wasn't wearing a muzzle) in check. I thought to myself: "Who is she trying to impress?" Clearly she wasn't thinking about the safety of the dog, neighbors or fellow pedestrians.

Whether real or imagined, pit bulls have earned a reputation for being ruthless. TV personality Rachel Ray literally cried on her talk show because of the way that pit bulls are hated. Apparently, a city had passed a ban on the dogs, and she could not understand because, she said, they are such great dogs. Ray described her pit bull Isaboo as a gentle, loving and kind dog. (According to Radaronline.com, however, Isaboo has another side. The pooch has reportedly been involved in a number of attacks on fellow dogs, ripping the ear off of one. Perhaps those bans aren't such a bad idea.)

Todd Young of Mount Holly said he had enough after his dog was recently attacked by a pit bull. He's leading the charge to get pit bulls banned from Mecklenburg County after his greyhound was attacked without provocation by a pit bull that gouged his pet's throat, feet, hind legs and ripped out a tooth.

Derrick Thomas of the University area was also recently involved in a pit bull attack. Thomas said he was getting out of his car to enter his house when a neighbor's pit appeared. The dog rushed him, but luckily he was close enough to his car to escape. The dog then attacked a woman who was walking a puppy near his driveway.

Thomas was alerted to the attack when he heard the woman screaming. She attempted to scoop the puppy up on her shoulder, but the pit was able to grab on and battled to yank it away. Thomas backed his car up and pulled the woman to safety; the pit bull, unfortunately, had the puppy in its jaws.

"I've never in my life seen anything like this," said Thomas. "The pit bull grabbed the puppy by the throat and pulled him down. He was tearing the dog up. It looked like a rag doll." Thomas said he will never forget the sound of the pit bull attacking the dog. "It sounded like he was chewing ice. He was breaking up the dog's bones. It was horrible." The pit bull's owner eventually came over and got the pit off of the puppy. The puppy survived with four broken ribs, two broken legs and puncture wounds to his throat.

Veterinarian Chris Brader, who owns a 3-year-old pit bull, has owned various types of dogs and finds that his pit bull is the most loyal, loving dog. Brader believes that pits get a bad rap because of the media and bad owners. "It's usually an owner that's not aware and doesn't teach their dog proper behavior -- which happens with any breed. It has to do with how the animal is raised. Dogs are like children. They misbehave if they are not raised properly," said Brader.

The vet contends that the breed (which isn't recognized by the American Kennel Club) is bred to protect people and its property to the end, like Rottweilers and German Shepherds. He doesn't believe in using animals as status symbols or breed-specified bans.

"Breed-specific bans or generalities have to do with people being ignorant or influenced by the media," Brader said. "The media is going to use scare tactics. If something is going wrong, they're going to play up traumatic stories as opposed to happy stories. There are many happy stories that involve pit bulls, but you don't hear about them."

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Nuisance Animal Ordinance prohibits "[h]aving an animal which disturbs the rights of or threatens the safety of a member of the general public or interferes with the ordinary use and enjoyment of his/her property."

Perhaps those walking around with pit bulls as status symbols should keep that in mind. For Young and Thomas, it isn't enough. The pit bull that attacked Young's dog was allowed to return home, while the pit involved in Thomas' attack was put down.

"I don't get why people would want an animal that can cause that kind of harm around anyone for any reason," said Thomas. "It should be a law: If your pit attacks anyone, you're going to jail and the dog is getting put down."

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