The main goal of the monthly Columbia Bully Walk is to give pit bull advocates a reason to get together and get exercise with their dogs.
A secondary benefit — to change minds of people who are scared of the breed — took on special emphasis during Sunday’s Bully Walk, just days after two city council members discussed possible city restrictions on the pit bull breed. Cameron Runyan and Sam Davis, at a committee meeting, broached the subject of the city placing special requirements on pit bull owners.
“I’m actually glad it came out early in the process,” said John Willmon, a Cayce resident who has three pit bulls and started the Columbia Bully Walk last January. “I’d love to get them out and let them see all of these dogs together.”
The crowd at the monthly walks has ranged from 15 to 50, Willmon said. All dogs must be on short leashes. Aggressive dogs aren’t welcome. The group has walked across the USC campus, through Five Points, around Finlay Park and on the Cayce-West Columbia Riverwalk.
Some people they meet are cautious, but Willmon never has sensed real fright. People are more likely to walk up and ask to pet one of the dogs.
“They’re mostly curious about what we’re doing,” Willmon said. “I was really surprised the number of people who when I took my dogs some place would say, ‘Oh I love them.’
“You do get some people who are shocked (at his dogs’ friendly nature). The most dangerous thing is that whip of a tail.”
That sentiment goes against dog bite statistics that fuel the pit bull’s reputation as dangerous dogs with nasty temperaments. They are the breed of choice for illegal dog fighting operations because of their strength and determination. One study in Vet Med Today in 2000 found one-third of human dog bite-related fatalities over a 12-year period involved pit bulls.
But many pit bull owners say their pets are gentle and well-behaved, and the breed is unfairly painted with a broad brush. “Punish the deed not the breed,” was Willmon’s message to Runyan and Davis.
After a story in The State mentioned the potential for placing some restrictions on pit bulls, Runyan discovered the passion on both sides. He received emails from dog bite victim groups thanking him, and from pit bull advocates telling him how unfair it would be to single out one breed.
Any dog of any breed has the potential to bite humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The key to reducing the potential for aggressiveness, the CDC says, is to properly socialize and train a dog. Willmon feels the Bully Walks help prove that point with pit bulls.
The CDC also recommends having dogs spayed or neutered to reduce aggressiveness. Runyan says that’s where he wants the city to make a stand. Currently, the city requires all pets to be registered, with a $5 registration fee for dogs who are spayed or neutered and a $25 fee for unaltered dogs. Runyan wants to boost the fee for unaltered pit bulls, thus encouraging pit bull owners to have their pets spayed or neutered. (Altered pit bulls would be treated like any other breed, with a $5 registration fee.)
He would use revenue from the higher registration fees to offer free spay/neuter clinics.
Runyan feels the city has a good reason for such a breed-specific policy. City animal shelter officials told him that while only seven percent of dogs euthanized last year were pure pit bulls, more than 40 percent were pit bull mixes. Because of their reputation for aggressiveness, they are much less likely to be adopted, and thus more likely to be euthanized.
“If you’re a pit bull fan, you ought to be a fan of this,” Runyan said. “If they end up in the shelter, they’re going to be put down.”