SALT LAKE COUNTY -- Salt Lake County Animal Services wants to reduce the number of pit bulls euthanized every year and needs the help of the pet-loving public.
As a breed, pit bull terriers have a public image problem. They are also euthanized at a higher rate than other dogs.
However, workers at Salt Lake County Animal Services believe they can turn that around. They say, given a chance, training, love and attention, pit bulls play and obey as well as any pups.
"People need to understand the dogs. They need to understand all dog issues. Many of the things we see aren't just pit bull issues, they're issues we see in all breeds," said Shawni Larrabee, director of Salt Lake County Animal Services.
Still, a disproportionate number of pit bulls end up at the shelter: 22 percent of the dogs brought in are pit bulls, and 76 percent of all adoptable dogs that must be euthanized are pit bulls.
The stigma of the fighting dog is tough to shake, but Halle, one of the rescued Michael Vick dogs rehabilitated at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, is proof that it can be done.
"Most of them can be turned around, and it's more than just training. It's about respect and building a relationship," said Ed Fritz, of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.
The new Bully Breed program is structured around the premise that most pet problems, at the root, are owner issues. It encourages owners to attend "canine good citizen" classes with their dogs.
For a pit bull named Ty, training is the tool for a relationship.
"They have been, at one time in our culture, a really family, loyal dog. They're the babysitters. That message has gotten lost," Fritz said.
Shelter workers say spaying and neutering, rather than more breeding, is critical to reducing the population of unwanted dogs.
"We also need to really change people's thought process when they consider getting a pet. We would like them to consider adoption first," Larrabee said.
The shelter does not adopt out dogs that are too aggressive. It does a careful personality assessment to make sure the dog is ready to become part of a family.