SIERRA VISTA — When 3-year-old Jackson Schaffer met Spud at the Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center in January, it was love at first sight.

“We went to see the puppies that they had, and (Spud) kind of just crawled right up to Jackson and sat in his lap,” said Jackson’s mother, Jamie Schaffer, a receptionist and technician at Jackson Veterinary Services in Sierra Vista. “So they picked each other.”

Spud — so named for his resemblance to a small, brown potato when he was a small puppy — is now a 62-pound dog, and is a sweet, easy-going companion for Jackson and his little brother, Oliver.

Spud is also a pit bull: one of the most polarizing and talked-about breeds in the country.

If You Go:

What: ‘Merry Pitmas’ Bully Breed Seminar and Forum

Where: Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center

When: Sunday, 2 p.m.

Cost: Free, but people are encouraged to RSVP to merrypitmas@gmail.com

More information: Contact merryptimas@gmail.com

While Spud found a responsible, forever home with the Schaffers, many pit bulls aren’t so lucky.

Nationwide, they are the the type of dogs most likely to be euthanized at shelters, according to the ASPCA. Misconceptions about the breed contribute to the high presence in shelters in Arizona and elsewhere across the country, which is why the Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center in Sierra Vista is offering a free, educational seminar about the dogs this week.

It is the fourth year that the shelter — which currently has 11 pit bulls and mixes available for adoption — has hosted the “Merry Pitmas” event, where a variety of local experts, including a veterinarian, a groomer, and dog trainers, will be on hand to answer questions, said Arleen Garcia, animal control supervisor at the care center.

“The purpose is for any person that is curious about pit bulls, or isn’t comfortable with pit bulls to come to the seminar and can either ask questions, listen to stories, and take in all the information,” said Garcia. “There’s a trainer available to clarify myths.”

Vanessa Felker, co-owner of Sit Means Sit Dog Training, will be one of the folks on hand to help answer questions about the breed.

The event is an way for anyone, whether they are interested in owning pit bulls or not, to learn about the dogs, she said.

“We go over the training components and responsible ownership, so how to live and be around pit bulls because even if you don’t own pit bulls, there’s probably one in your community,” said Felker. “It’s about having a community understanding, so it’s open to owners of pitties, and neighbors who want to learn more about them.”

Proper knowledge is an important part of being a responsible pit bull owner, said Hereford resident James Lundstrom, who considers himself an ambassador for the breed. While he would encourage people to consider adopting a pit bull, he said, learning about them beforehand is essential.

“I really wish people would do a little bit of research, and especially do the research as to the history of pit bulls,” he said. “When you get a dog from any shelter, you just have to take (the dog’s history) into consideration, and not just jump into it because the dog’s cute.”

Lundstrom recently adopted Pixie — a deaf pit bull mix — from the Nancy J. Brua Animal Care center. The dog had been adopted out and returned multiple times before finding her forever home with his family, he said.

“They’re great family dogs. Pixie would be my fourth pit bull,” he said.

An experienced owner, Lundstrom says it is his job not to “set his dogs up for failure.” For example, he makes sure not to startle deaf Pixie when she is sleeping, and has separate play pens on his property for some of his dogs. “They’re great dogs; it just requires someone to do some research and just knowing how to handle them properly.”

Giving people the knowledge they need to set their pet up for success is one of the goals of the seminar, said Felker. Some of the issues addressed will include housing restrictions and licensing requirements, as well as some basic safe training and handling.

“We’re a world where we’re trying to be unbiased, but we do it to dogs, and it’s just not fair. It’s not fair to stereotype a breed just because of the media hype,” she said. “And not all dogs are bad, just like not all people are bad — you’ve got a few bad apples out there, but it’s doesn’t mean we’re all at fault.

“With a lot of love, a little training and patience, you’ll probably get one of the best dogs you’ve ever had.”

Jamie Schaffer said Spud is the best dog they could have chosen for their family.

“People think they’re just aggressive breeds, just born that way, but it’s really about how they’re raised,” she said, as Spud tumbled around the living room floor with her two young children. While some dogs can be “standoffish,” and need extra work, said Schaffer, Spud was consistently trained and socialized since the first day the family brought him home.

“He would rather play in the water and get a belly rub than anything.”

If even one person comes away from the educational seminar seeing how wonderful dogs like Spud and Pixie can be, Felker will consider it a success, she said.

“It just starts with one person and it comes with a domino effect,” she said. “Because they are great, and we can work together as a community to change this stigma of this group of dogs.”

Pit bull facts

The pit bull isn’t a breed, but a type of dog that includes “bully” breeds and mixes such as the American Staffordshire terrier, the American bulldog, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and the American pit bull terrier.

Pit bulls were first bred in Great Britain in the 1800s, where they were used for “pit” fighting against bulls, bears and other dogs

U.S. Army posters during World War I and World War II used the pit bull as the American mascot.

Pit bulls were known as “nanny dogs” by some during the 19th century due to their family loyalty.

Pit bulls’ jaws don’t lock, contrary to popular belief. In fact, a study from National Geographic found that pit bulls’ bite force came in behind German shepherds and Rottweilers.

Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Edison and Mark Twain are among famous people who had pit bulls as pets.

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