Roger Pearson said he has had bull breed dogs all his life and is used to questions like, "How can you let your daughter be around that dangerous dog?"
"I said, 'He protects her,'" he said, referring to the pit bull he had when his daughter, Ibiza, was born. "He laid under her crib every night."
Sunday afternoon, Mancha, Pearson's pit-dogo Argentino mastiff mix, was snuggling with 12-year-old Ibiza in Thoroughbred Park after the second annual Bully Breed Awareness Walk in downtown Lexington. The event, presented by PAWS: Promoting Animal Welfare and Services, a student-run organization from the University of Kentucky's Center for Community Outreach, is designed to raise awareness of breeds such as pit bulls and bulldogs, which organizers said are often mischaracterized as dangerous.
The event attracted 278 human and 149 canine participants, according to the organizers.
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"A big part of it is just people seeing the dogs and seeing how they act," event organizer Jessica Bellamy said. "People coming by can see the dogs aren't fighting, nobody's being bitten, and they're having a lot of fun."
In many cases they are having fun with kids.
Shortly before 3 p.m. Sunday, Meagan Shetler was being led down Main Street by her pit bull Soba, who was wearing a tutu for the occasion, with her daughters — twins Anne and Catherine, 7, and Macey, 6 — in tow.
"She's great with the girls," said Shetler, who also attended last year's inaugural walk. "They can do anything, and she'll play with them."
Shetler was one of several participants to point out that pit bulls once were known as "nanny dogs" they were so good with children. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says pit bulls were "once considered especially non-aggressive to people." But the use of pit bulls in dog fighting has given them a bad reputation as public menaces, leading to "breed-specific legislation" that in some places bans certain breeds, and a surplus of certain breeds in animal shelters.
At Woodford Humane Society, education coordinator Beth Oleson said one pit bull was in the shelter just short of four years before it found a home.
"Breed bias is something we struggle with," she said.
Bellamy said there is no breed-specific legislation in Kentucky, but she would like some legislators to attend next year's walk so they could see that bully breed dogs don't live up to the name.
Annetta Smead's second pit bull, Lacy, is a rehabilitated victim of fighting and owner abuse in a case that made local news in Cincinnati. On Sunday, Lacy was quietly trotting down Vine Street with Titus, Smead's other pit bull. Smead got Titus first, after her husband died.
"My sister would call every night and say, 'He's going to eat your face,'" Smead said of Titus.
But "they're just born dogs," she said. "People turn them bad."