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After Wilton Incident, Pit Bull Advocates Prep for Backlash

One trainer who works in NYC shelters fears "pit bulls" will be labelled unpredictable and the incident will become fodder for those already biased against the breed.

Bully Breed Rescue's Heidi Lueders and Beau. Credit: Leslie Yager
Bully Breed Rescue's Heidi Lueders and Beau. Credit: Leslie Yager
Written by Leslie Yager
Two days after Anne Murray, 65, was mauled by her twin 26-year-old sons' 2-year-old pit bull type dog in Wilton, experts familiar with the breed are bracing themselves.

Danicia Ambron who assesses dogs in New York City for the Humane Society of the United States Pet Surrender Prevention Program said she can't imagine what would make a dog snap like the one in Wilton. 

"I work with pit bulls every single day at a city general admission shelter. I see them tied up, on chains, strayed, milk leaking out of them, breeding dogs...not well raised or properly socialized. But this dog attack doesn't sound like any dog I've ever experienced," Ambron said. "I've seen dogs who have been mistreated and have never seen something like this. I suspect something major. Advanced Lyme Disease or rabies."

Ambron often does assessments after dog fighting raids, but said, "The whole point and what makes it lucrative is the owners know dogs won't turn on them. If they did it would be an epidemic. Those people know they're not going to be bitten."

"I've assessed dogs considered menaces to society and they didn't come close to this," Ambron said. "This is off the charts. To have such a reaction to a human. My concern is now the word 'unpredictable' will be tossed around and that's not fair."

Kayte Mulligan Zowine of Project Prescious Rescue, which has placed abut 130 dogs in the past 14 months mostly in Fairfield County, said her phone has not stopped ringing since Monday.

"My email is stuffed. Our Facebook is full of questions and comments," said Zowine, who is also a vet technician. "Everyone with a pit bull is paranoid their dogs will be taken away. They want reassurance. They want answers."

"I'd like to know was the dog in Wilton neutered. Was he vaccinated? How was he treated? Was there violence? Were there previous signs of aggression? Was someone messing with the dog?" asked Zowine. "Was there a medical issue? If there is a change in behavior in a dog, there is always a reason."

Zowine said she has been bitten by several chihuahuas over the years, but her worst bite was from a cat. "So what? Are we going to ban all cats?" she asked.

Heidi Lueders, a dog trainer and rescuer with New Canaan-based Bully Breed Rescue said she has worked with hundreds of what she calls bully breeds in the past eight years.

"First of all, 'pit bull' is like a genre of dog that includes American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, The American Pit Bull Terrier and others. Unfortunately, anything that resembles a pit bull gets the label, and it's a stigma," Lueders said. "It's basically racism against dogs."

Abron made a similar observation. "I don't even know what is this breed? All the dogs I see have different leg lengths, different head shapes, different tails and fur lengths, yet they all get called pit bull and are condemned."

Asked why a dog might turn so suddenly against his owner, Lueders said, "There are always some warning signs of aggression before a dog attacks. Some people don't pick up on signals, but they're there. A responsible owner who sees a sign of aggression in any type of dog would work with a trainer immediately to correct the behavior."

"But dogs don't just snap like the dog in Wilton," insisted Lueders. "There has got to be something that led up to this," she said of the incident in Wilton on Monday. "I'd love to see a photo of the dog and know how it was treated. These dogs are not genetically different from any other breed. Unfortunately they are used as status symbols and they are overbred."

"I have handled hundreds of pit bulls and I have all my fingers and all my toes," said Leuders. "I have never been attacked by a pit bull. Before we place any dog they are temperament tested. For at least a month, I poke them. I prod them. I take food out of their mouths. I know they are sound before they are placed. It doesn't do anyone justice to place an aggressive dog."

Watch Wilton Patch for updates on this developing story.

Related articles:
Bully Breed Rescue Fights for Misunderstood Breed
Life After Dog Fighting: Project Precious Rescue
Taking a Second Look at Mt. Vernon Shelter

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