Aren't pit bull terriers dangerous? After talking to Jose Martinez and John LiButti, the president and the vice president of the Tri-State Pit Bull Club, which is based in Union City and has members in West New York, North Bergen and Hoboken, one wouldn't think so. "It is not the dogs that are dangerous," said Martinez, who owns more than five pit bulls. "It is the way that the dogs are raised that make them dangerous." LiButti, who has raised his more than 50 dogs around his three kids, adds, "I've worked with over 300 pit bull terriers without one incident of dog violence." The club, a non-profit organization that has affiliate chapters in New York and Connecticut, sets out to promote the image of the American Pit Bull Terrier as a safe pet. Martinez explained last week, "About 90 percent of the cases that you hear about, where a pit bull is violent, do not involve pure pit bulls." To promote a positive image for the dog, the club's 210 members have participated in many charity events and have trained their dogs to compete in dog shows. Recently, the club presented County Freeholder Brian Stack with a plaque in appreciation for his efforts in promoting responsible pet ownership. Martinez said that Stack has helped the club a lot since they began in 1986. "We need more responsible pet owners like Jose and the members of this club," said Stack in his office after receiving his plaque. "It is so important." Taking action
Sometimes, promoting the image of the pit bull isn't easy. About four months ago, the club took action against a ban against the breed in North Caldwell, N.J. According to Martinez, The Dangerous Dog Act, which targeted the pit bull, stated that no citizen could bring a new one into the town. It further stated that residents already owning a pit bull had to get special insurance, a muzzle for the dog and a seven-digit identification number tattooed on the dog's body. "Legally, you can not discriminate against one specific dog," said LiButti. The club members demonstrated outside of North Caldwell City Hall and called in local media groups. "The media pressure and the demonstration pressure got the law back into a council meeting, and it was overturned," said Martinez. After the state allowed municipalities to regulate against dangerous animals about five years ago, West New York passed a similar ordinance, and the club voiced its opinion there as well, but the ordinance still remains. West New York Town Administrator Richard Turner remembered the incident, saying, "Their message was that it is not the pets; it is the owner." Helping others
Each member of the club owns at least one dog, so altogether, the club owns over 200 pit bulls. The number currently includes two therapy dogs trained in obedience and therapy by K-9 International in California, which has trained about eight dogs for the club since 1986. "Being a therapy dog means that the dogs are able to gently be on top of a person," explained Martinez. The therapy dogs accompany the members of the club who give presentations in schools, teaching students how to become responsible pet owners. The dogs are also brought into many senior citizen homes, cancer wards and homeless shelters. LiButti has had first-hand experience using therapy dogs. After a motorcycle accident 13 years ago left him with a prosthetic leg and unable to use of his left arm, he said that his dogs helped him move on. "The dogs gave me a lot of encouragement," said LiButti. "They helped me go on." Martinez added, "These dogs lift people's spirits by spending time with them." The shows the dogs participate in have two categories: the confirmation show, where, LiButti explained, the points are broken down on the general appearance and the overall temperament of the dog, and the weight pulling category, where the dogs are made to pull a cart loaded with weights about 15 feet. "It is similar to what is done with huskies," said LiButti. The dogs are then given points for each show entered and earn more points for shows that they win. After reaching 100 points, the dog is named a champion. Those seeking information on the group should call Martinez at 865-1912. The group meets once a month.