Pit Bulls: Born to Be Wild?--Part I

Just hearing the words pit bull can send some people running for cover. They're very muscular dogs and can sometimes be aggressive. When they attack, they have a vicious bite.

But are all pit bulls bad? Just about everyone has an opinion on pit bulls; you either love them or hate them. But either way, both sides are equally passionate.

Depending on whom you ask, pit bulls are either powerful predators or a loyal family pet.

"A hard growl, hard bark, like it was seriously after something, ears back," is how Ron Lee, an attack victim's father, described the dog.

"It's really hard to make a pit bull bite a person," said Stephanie Webb, who owns one.

Pit bull opponents point to incidents like an attack two weeks ago in Effingham County and Chatham County cases where dozens of pit bulls live penned in one yard. But dog supporters say the breed shouldn't be judged on the actions of a few dogs caused by the abuse or misuse by owners.

"All dogs can born with that tendency to bite," said Tracy Adams with Effingham County Animal Control. "Most of the time animals are friendly."

The question remains, are pit bulls a breed gone bad or animals raised for the wrong reasons? People raise them for everything from fighting and protection to family pets and companionship. So are pit bull attacks a result of nature or nurture?

All day at work, veterinary tech Stephanie Webb treats dogs of all sizes. But on her own time, she raises pit bulls, dogs she calls the most misunderstood breed in the world.

"Everybody thinks of them as monsters when in reality never in the breed's history has it been acceptable for them to be man-aggressive," she said.

Acceptable or not, it happens. Police had to use every restraint when they raided a fighting ring a few years ago and a yard of pit bulls caused complaints earlier this month. Cases like these were enough for some Atlanta lawmakers to suggest a statewide ban on pit bulls.

"I can get quite irate on that because these dogs are my babies and I don't care," said Webb. "Nobody is going to...they're like my children. Nobody's going to make me get rid of them."

She says problems come from neglect or training the dog to be vicious or fierce. Some animal control workers agree the dog is what you make it.

"It is all in the way they're socialized," said animal control worker Tracy Adams. "They need to be socialized with people and other animals. If you put them on a chain their whole life, they get aggressive, same thing with caging them."

Adams says the difference is pit bull's muscular build and strong jaw. But Webb says she's seen few fierce pit bulls in the hundreds she's treated.

But just three weeks ago, Brandon Lee, 6, was bitten by a pit bull as his father worked on a nearby home. "When he got around the back, the dog came out at him attacked him, jumped on him," said his father, Ron Lee.

Brandon suffered bites on his leg and stomach, minor wounds considering the strength of Romeo, the accused pit bull. Ron says the dog had surprised him earlier in the day. "From the minute I walked up, it was aggressive, no room for nothing. It was a high aggression. I couldn't talk to it, calm it down. Nothing."

When we met Romeo at the Effingham Animal Control office, he was less than glad to see us. But was his growl his background or bloodline talking?

The debate intensified earlier this year when a few lawmakers from Atlanta suggested the breed be banned statewide. While the bill didn't get far in Georgia, other states are at least considering a ban and both sides agree the fight isn't over yet.

Coming up tonight on THE News at 11, we'll hear from victims in two pit bull attacks and where they stand on a ban. The answers might surprise you.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com