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Pit bull advocacy group seeks to change laws, perception

Barbara Getman, a certified trainer, works with a pit bull named Apollo at Cuse Pit Crew's free dog training session at St. Lucy's on Syracuse's Near West Side. The sessions are part of the advocacy group's mission to "refuel the human-animal connection" and rehabilitate the image of the pit bull and other bully breeds, as well as to lobby for better care of the dogs and stronger penalties for those who abuse or neglect them.

Barbara Getman, a certified trainer, works with a pit bull named Apollo at Cuse Pit Crew's free dog training session at St. Lucy's on Syracuse's Near West Side. The sessions are part of the advocacy group's mission to "refuel the human-animal connection" and rehabilitate the image of the pit bull and other bully breeds, as well as to lobby for better care of the dogs and stronger penalties for those who abuse or neglect them. Photo by Sarah Hall.

— Higgins said the change would be a fitting tribute to Grace.

“We believe that Grace will be the vehicle for change in New York state,” she said. “We cannot allow other animals to suffer at the hands of their owners. The Central New York community can come together to make a change for these animals. They need a voice, and we can be that for them.”

At press time, the petition had 1,176 signatures.

To view the petition, visit Change.org/petitions/new-york-state-senator-david-j-valesky-sponsor-legislation-to-strengthen-nys-law-for-neglected-companion-animals.

The petition is one of a number of efforts Cuse Pit Crew is undertaking in order to improve life for pit bulls. The organization’s mission is to “refuel the human-animal connection in the city of Syracuse through community outreach and educational programming, while advocating for pit bulls and other misunderstood breeds.”

Cases like Grace’s prompted Higgins, a Liverpool High School graduate and North Syracuse resident, to found Cuse Pit Crew in 2011. The group falls under the umbrella of the Animal Alliance of Greater Syracuse.

“I worked at a shelter where I saw the pit bulls were being euthanized because there weren’t enough homes for them, or people had the wrong idea of what a pit bull was,” she said. “Personally, I just felt very bad for them, working in the shelter. Obviously, other shelter dogs need to be adopted, as well, of course. It’s just that these dogs are overlooked in shelters because of the general idea of what people see them as, these mean, vicious dogs.”

However, Higgins said pit bulls have a very good temperament naturally.

“In fact, pit bulls have always been known as family dogs,” she said. “At the turn of the century, they were the nanny dogs. They would watch the kids. That’s still their temperament. What ended up happening is that some bad people figured out that they’re really strong dogs, and they’re very loyal dogs, and those two traits worked against them. They figured out, ‘I can train these dogs to fight, and I can make money off them, because they’re going to listen to me when I tell them to fight.’”

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