About a dozen dog owners rallied in uptown Saint John, N.B., on Saturday in defence of pit bulls.
Heidi Curtis, who helps run a Facebook group called Pitbulls: Truth and Justice, also organized the event in Kings Square.
She owns two American pit bull terrier mixes. Both are rescues. She says she is discriminated against because of the types of dogs she owns.
“I get lots of looks,” Curtis said. “I get people picking up their dogs or their children and going over to the other side of the road. I’ve had somebody spit on my dog on a trail while he was biking by, and he yelled out at us that I shouldn’t own that type of dog.”
Curtis was inspired to create the Facebook group, which has more than 1,300 members, following the death of a 38-year-old woman in Nova Scotia earlier this month.
On June 9, police say the woman was taking her pit bull for an early morning walk when it attacked and killed her. The dog was purposely struck and killed by a vehicle a short time later.
Curtis said she was hopeful the rally would help educate the public about pit bulls and that they can be safe, loyal, happy animals.
In the early minutes of the rally, a man, dressed in black, walked past the group and yelled, “I disapprove of what you’re doing!”
Curtis said that type of reaction is not uncommon, but she said it reinforces her choice of pets.
“Both of my dogs sleep under the covers with me every night,” Curtis said. “They follow me everywhere. I am their leader. They have a funny personality, too. I think the only vicious thing about a pit bull-type dog would be their farts.”
Curtis said dogs are not inherently dangerous, but they can become that way if not trained properly. She said it’s owners who should be blamed when incidents involving dogs occur, not the dogs themselves.
She said she’s fearful incidents like the one in Nova Scotia will prompt legislation to ban pit bulls.
Several municipalities across Canada have bans in place, as does the entire province of Ontario.
Ontario’s ban, which came into effect in 2005, requires owners to muzzle, leash and sterilize their pit bulls, and it outlawed the breeding and importing of them. The ban followed several highly publicized attacks by the dogs on humans in the Toronto area.
But Caroline Bird, a dog obedience trainer for 13 years, said pit bulls get a bad reputation because of their physique.
“Whereas the smaller dogs tend to get away with a lot more than a big dog would,” Bird said. “It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it was a Maltese or something like that. But pit bulls are big, muscly. They look scary. People believe what they’ve been told, rightly or wrongly.”
“We want to live like normal dog owners and just not explain ourselves every time we say we own a pit bull-type dog,” Curtis said. “It’s just a dog.”
Curtis said she will continue to advocate for the dogs and hopes her Facebook group goes nationwide.