Pit bulls: dangerous dogs or perfect pets?

Pit bull is term used to describe multiple breeds including the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier

STATEWIDE (WGME) - The I-Team investigates the dog debate: are some dogs like pit bulls more dangerous than others and more likely to viciously attack?

This is an emotional topic; every time we do a story about a pit bull attack, it triggers a passionate conversation.

Some people say pit bulls are by nature dangerous dogs. Others say the question alone is offensive.

Chelsea Braley, founder of Maine Pit Bull Advocates, says her pit bull Colby is just like any other dog.

He performs for treats, plays in the park, and he's her best friend.

"I don't know how else to say it. I love him" she said.

She also fiercely defends him and dogs like him: pit bulls. It's a term broadly used to describe multiple breeds including the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

"They all have this label as a dangerous dog. He's just a dog. It doesn't matter what you call him," Braley said.

Father Jeff Borchardt, who runs the non-profit Daxton’s Friends, says pit bulls earned that dangerous dog label.

His 14-month-old son Dax was killed by two pit bulls in Wisconsin.

"His whole body was mangled. It looked like a hand grenade went off underneath him," he said.

The day after his son's funeral, he set out to try to explain what he couldn't understand.

"These dogs never showed any signs of aggression before. They were great dogs up until the day they weren't," he said.

He said it's a common pattern in pit bull attacks across the country, including several here in Maine.

"There's too many cases of these dogs snapping like this. I would say they're inherently dangerous," he said.

This is where pit bull advocates and opponents butt heads on pit bull-type dogs.

"They're sweet and gentle; they're no different than any other dog. It's a lot about training humans not as much sometimes about the dog," said Finish Forward Dogs trainer Jon McCabe.

McCabe and owner Shannan Hall say pit bulls are tenacious and determined but are no more likely to be aggressive than any other dog.

Someone missed something in this dog's world that created this scenario. A dog can only go so far, just like a person, you can only be pushed so far before you react," Hall said.

A 20-year study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found about a third of deadly dog bites came from pit bull-type dogs.

The CDC concluded "fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed specific problem."

The CDC also said because no one's counting the number of dogs of each breed there's "no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill."

Several factors affect a dog's likelihood to bite, according to the CDC, including heredity, early experience, socialization and training, quality of ownership, and victim behavior.

"Any dog can bite -- bottom line," said pediatric plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Golinko of Arkansas Children's Hospital.

But Dr. Golinko says bites and attacks by pit bulls are different.

"They inflict more injury," he said.

He studied more than 1,6000 dog bite injuries.

His new study made available to the I-Team found "pit bulls were implicated in half of all surgeries performed" and pit bulls are "2.5 times as likely to bite in multiple anatomic locations as compared to other breeds."

"In other words if you have a chiuaha or a labrador they would just bite in one location and then let go on the leg for example, but a pit bull would bite the leg, head and neck, hand," Golinko explained.

He says with rare exceptions, children and pit bulls don't mix well.

"I would definitely think twice about bringing a strong muscular pit bull type dog into the family. There's a lot of other breeds you could have," Golinko said.

McCabe says he strongly disagrees.

"I think they're great family dogs. I've had great success with all of them. I would never choose a different breed," McCabe said.

Our research found 36 states and more than 1,000 cities have breed specific legislation.

Some require mandatory sterilization of pit bulls others ban them altogether.

Maine has a law that doesn't allow any city or town to have breed specific legislation.

CBS 13 hosted a roundtable discussion about the issues surrounding pit bulls in our studios:

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