My friend was running along the old train tracks in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood a few weeks ago when an unleashed medium-large dog came running up to her (she thought it was a pitbull but as some dogs look like pitbulls but aren’t and I didn’t see the dog, I can’t say for sure). However, pitbull or not, what is clear that having an unleashed, unknown dog running at you can be both scary and unnerving, and I say this as a huge dog lover and the owner of three dogs myself.As someone who places strong emphasis on safety and security, both for myself and for my dogs, I always walk my dogs on a leash (as required by law), and for the past couple of years due to my dogs’ tendencies to eat anything and everything and the increasing amounts of rubbish on the streets of Jerusalem, I also walk them with muzzles. Unfortunately, this can (somewhat understandably) elicit trepidation among those unfamiliar with dogs who think that it is because my dogs bite and the muzzles are to protect people, which then necessitates me saying what has become somewhat of a mantra in recent years, “the muzzles are to protect the dogs, regrettably, and that in this instance the people, not the dogs, are the problem.”Although I love dogs and am obviously not scared of them, I have to admit that it also greatly perturbs me to see dogs wandering around, either with their owners or alone, off-leash, and this is for a variety of reasons. Firstly, no matter how well-trained you think your dog is, unless he was in Oketz (the IDF canine unit), the vast majority of dogs are not sufficiently well-trained not to be motivated to chase the cat, hedgehog or bicycle, or run up to another dog that they see during a walk to check them out. It is both highly irritating and dangerous when I am walking my dogs on a leash for an unleashed dog to all of a sudden run up to them – irritating because dogs on a leash and those not on a leash are not on the same footing; the dogs on a leash are not free to run and examine the other dog so it creates tension, excitement and frustration for the dog on a leash. It is also dangerous because they could get run over – I have had several dogs run across the road to my dogs and it is a miracle that they weren’t hit by a car – and if my dogs weren’t on a leash, they would have needed multiples of a cat’s nine lives for every time they saw a cat, dog or skateboard that excited them. In addition, while the majority of dogs are friendly both to humans and other dogs, this is not always the case, and there is no way of knowing from afar whether the dog running up to my dogs is friendly or whether he is likely to be aggressive towards them.As for the dog which my friend encountered on her run, while it may indeed not have been a pitbull, pitbulls do get a bad rap today, and are the most demonized of dog breeds. Just as it is both unfair and incorrect to make stereotypes about one segment of society and the majority of people are not aggressive or dangerous, the same is true of the majority of dogs, pitbulls included. Dogs, like people, should be judged on their individual behavior and not lumped together with often erroneous misconceptions about a whole segment of society or a dog breed. It is common sense to be cautious around any dog that you don’t know and approach it slowly, regardless of the breed. I know several pitbulls which are the gentlest and most loving of dogs who wouldn’t hurt a fly, whereas Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s late dog Kaia, not a pitbull, is known to have bitten at least three people, among them at least one Knesset member.It is sad that there is so much vilification towards pitbulls today, and it is somewhat surprising as approximately 100 years ago, since the American pitbull terrier was recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC), pitbulls were often considered to be “nanny dogs” and were very much family dogs because of their friendly and loyal nature. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states that pitbulls were “once considered especially non-aggressive to people.” The UKC’s website recommends against using them as guard dogs “since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers.”SO HOW did pitbulls acquire such a bad reputation within a century? As stated above, in the early part of the 20th century, pitbulls were the ideal dog to adopt to protect your family as they were strong and loyal and loved children, and they were the most popular dog in England and the US. Ironically and sadly, it is these positive attributes which began to attract the pitbull to “criminal elements” who victimized this breed of dog and ruined their reputation. While the pitbull is indeed strong, it is also loyal and courageous and its main goal is to please its owner. Unfortunately, the positive traits of loyalty and desire to please also began to appeal to the wrong kind of people, some of whom were involved in nefarious activities such as drug-dealing or dog-fighting, and they trained their pitbulls to attack and be aggressive towards anyone who approached their owner or property. The American Veterinary Medicine Association states that “controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous.” The American Temperament Test Society carries out tests on thousands of dogs each year of all breeds to check for skittishness and aggression, and their ability to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening humans. As of May 2011, 30,000 dogs had been tested with 83% passing, while 86% of pitbulls passed the test and were shown to be the second most tolerant breed tested, preceded only by golden retrievers. The little chihuahua was found to be the least tolerant and as any veterinarian will tell you, small dogs bite far more than big dogs as they feel more threatened and that they have to defend themselves.While the pitbulls seem to be the scapegoat of the 21st century, with at least 6,000 being put to death every day in the US due to this bad reputation, far more than any other breed, prior to pitbulls being portrayed as the most aggressive breed it was the Rottweiler (which I was taught to fear while growing up) and prior to that the Dobermann and the German shepherd. According to the ASPCA, over-reporting and false reporting where dog attacks were said to have been carried out by pitbulls but in some cases were carried out by labradors or Siberian huskies have also added to misconceptions about the breed. Of course, we have all heard of terrible instances where dogs have attacked or killed people and while obviously I am not condoning any attack, whether by dogs or people, upbringing, socialization and nurture play a much greater part in dogs’ temperaments than their breed. While there are rare exceptions where a pleasant, calm and well-brought up dog has tragically bitten for no valid reason, studies show that the majority of dog bite-related attacks involve dogs that were brought up by owners who failed to socialize them and provide them with positive human interaction, and in some cases even neglected and/or abused them. Dogs, like humans, are products of their environment and how they are brought up. Modern-day examples of pitbulls that have made a positive difference include Weela, who helped save 32 people, 29 horses and other animals during widespread flooding in California in 1993, D-Boy, who took three bullets to save his family from an intruder with a gun, and Lilly, who lost a leg after being struck by a train after pulling her unconscious owner from the train tracks. There are many wonderful experiences and pleasures to be had through owning a dog, the creature known as man’s best friend and in Hebrew the word for dog is kelev (similar to kalev - “like the heart.” Raising dogs can be one of the most satisfying and pleasing experiences, which is good for your health, both in terms of the additional physical exercises through having to walk the dog at least twice a day and thereby meeting people. Studies have also shown that people with animals have fewer visits to doctors and lower blood pressure. However, it is important to recognize that not everyone feels that dogs are wonderful, and you should be considerate to in keeping your dog on a leash.If you would like to adopt a dog, Jerusalem Loves Animals holds adoption days every Friday at the Black Horse Park on King George Avenue between 12:30 and 3 p.m. Check out their Facebook page or contact Hedva on 054-945-4225. The JSPCA also has dogs for adoption which can be seen at their shelter by contacting Chaya on 054-770-0221 or checking out their Facebook page.