Hundreds of pit bull owners and their dogs had their day when they attended Pit Bull Awareness Day on Saturday at Warsaw Park in Ansonia.
The event was an annual get together by the Connecticut Pit Bull Project to counteract the negative stereotype the breed has, largely due, according to organizer Amia Michelina, to the way its portrayed in news articles.
Michelina, a Wallingford resident, noted that the organization’s annual event has grown each year without a single negative incident such as a dog bite or dogfight.
Another objective is to promote responsible pit bull ownership, which requires training, exercise, socializing with people and other dogs and teaching the dog to adapt to both busy and quiet places, she said.
Dozens of booths were set up by visiting dog rescue organizations and vendors of canine products and services, while various doggy activities went on to engage those who came with their dogs.
Pit bulls vied for prizes in contests, such as who could eat the most chunks of hot dog, and who was the best dog kisser, smiler and tail-wagger.
Carol Badillo of Milford thought her pit bull, Lucky, had a good chance, since she was a past winner and had gobbled up about 10 hot dog pieces.
Lucky was rescued twice, first from the Bridgeport animal shelter and brought to the Woodbridge animal shelter where Badillo found and adopted her.
“That’s why her name is Lucky,” she said.
But the prize went to Meat Ball, owned by Ashley Sakelarakis of Hamden, who says she enters him in dog shows.
“He’s usually a crowd pleaser. This is his first hot dog eating contest, though,” she said.
Across the way, Nicole Sansone of Norwalk paid one dollar at the Braveheart Animal Rescue organization to get a kiss from Kaylee, a pit bull that was up for adoption from the Lakeville, Massachusetts-based rescue group.
Braveheart volunteer Rachel Seifert had Kaylee dressed in a pink princess dress decorated with sequins. She said the Connecticut Pit Bull Project’s annual Pit Bull Awareness Day is one event her organization tries to attend each year.
“It’s a really good group of people, and usually a very well organized event,” she said.
Michelina explained that she moved the Pit Bull Awareness Day event to the Ansonia park because it had outgrown its previous locations. She was hoping to attract a pack of reporters and get some positive publicity for the breed.
Although occasionally there was barking and some dogs impetuously pulled on their leashes, the canine contingent generally behaved as well as its human companions. Everyone was friendly and shared a common cause.
At the Connecticut Pit Bull Project’s tent, Stephanie Buchanan of New Haven said the American Pit Bull Terrier breed developed from similar breeds from Great Britain. The American breed first became recognized in the early-1900s and was considered to be the all-American dog.
Although they have a bad reputation today, because street gangs use them as fighting dogs and they get blamed nearly every time a dog bites someone, the image the breed enjoyed early in the last century was completely different.
The tent featured displays about famous pit bulls of the early-20th Century, including Sgt. Stubby, the most decorated Army dog of World War One.
“People say they can’t be with kids, but there’s tons of people here with kids. It’s all myth, man,” Buchanan said.
Michele Houston of Milford had a booth to show off Jeffrey, a gray pit bull who was rescued from Manhattan Animal Care & Control on the day he was scheduled to be put down.
Today, she said, Jeffrey works as a Delta Pet Partners therapy dog and just received his AKC good citizen certification for good behavior and temperament.
“They’re dogs,” Houston said. “They sleep in our beds and they fill our hearts.”