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Pits In The Park, Sunday.

The 2nd annual Pits In The Park, celebrating all things pit bull, Sunday at Freimann Square.

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Pit bulls and their humans march in a parade downtown at the second annual Pits In The Park in Freimann Square on Sunday.

For 2nd year, pit bull lovers unite

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Kay Beard of Anderson plays around with her pit bull Thelma at the second Pits In The Park on Sunday in Freimann Square.

On any other day, a large, gray pit bull wearing a sparkling green tutu would stand out, but during the second annual Pits in the Park event Sunday – 2-year-old Thelma Sparklepants was just one of the girls, dolled up for a celebration.

“It was a gift from LaMae Designs for passing her dog therapy class,” Kay Beard, owner of eight pit bulls said. “She likes to wear clothes. She has sweaters, crochet collars – she has a whole wardrobe.”

Beard, a volunteer at the Animal Protection League of Anderson, came to Freimann Square to support the Fort Wayne Pit Bull Coalition’s annual event that brings together pit bull owners for live music, food and a secure, social space for their pit bulls. Dog vendors, shelters, and rescue missions provided resources and supplies for a dog breed that is often misunderstood.

DeBolt said that the mission of the Fort Wayne Pit Bull Coalition is to improve the conditions for pit bulls through education, public awareness and by providing resources. The organization offers an open membership for pet owners.

“The stereotypes are that they’re aggressive, or they like to kill people or animals,” DeBolt, the owner of two foster pit bulls, said. “But it’s not about the breed, it’s about the owner and how well the owner takes care of their dogs.”

Beard said she took in Thelma as a foster dog after she was rescued as a stray in a high-risk drug area in Anderson. As a professional therapist, Beard uses four of her pit bulls to assist her pet therapy. Thelma recently finished an eight-week course in April to be certified to work with Beard providing comfort to clients managing addiction, post-traumatic disorder, bipolar symptoms and depression. Thelma will begin working with Beard this month.

“They’re the only breed I’ll use as therapy dogs,” Beard said. “I’ve tried other breeds, but I need a dog that can handle a 40-hour work week. Other dogs can have emotional breakdowns and get a little neurotic, but this breed has a lot of stamina.”

DeBolt said that interaction with humans and other dogs can help adjust a pit bull’s temperament. DeBolt said Sunday’s event allows owners to bring their pit bulls into an open area to help their pet acclimate to other dogs and owners. The organization set up a communal “watering hole” for the dogs, and handed out yellow ribbons in an effort to promote “The Yellow Dog Project,” which asks that owners attach a yellow ribbon on their dog’s leash to signify that their dog may need some space.

“Socialization is very important. Some people leave their animals chained out in their backyard, and that dog doesn’t get to socialize. So when they do go out in public, then your chances of having an aggressive dog is much higher.”

Judy Archer-Dick and Margery Latchaw, trainers and canine behavior consultants for My Best Friend Dog Training, said that every dog is an individual, but most pit bulls are friendly. The two agree it takes a lot of training and reinforcement.

“Owners should understand that they have a very powerful dog that has an unfair reputation,” Margery Latchaw said. “You almost need to have a mindset that you’re going to train this dog better than all other dogs so that people continue to get a better impression of them.”

Robyn Miller, the Foster coordinator for Second Chance Animal Rescue said that her center is one of the few centers in the city that offer a pit bull-only center. Miller said the pit bulls they rescue may show more aggressive traits from being abused, abandoned or used in dogfighting. When Miller took in Pita, a 10-year-old pit bull rescued from a dog fighting ring, she said that she learned that this breed can be rehabilitated if the trainer is patient and willing.

“They are very hard to adopt out because of their reputation, and it’s not fair,” Miller said. “If you train any breed properly, they’ll be what you want them to be.”