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Hard being a pit bull's PR agent

By Mark Hinson

Ken Foster sure has a tough job. He's a writer who defends pit bulls - the most demonized pet in America, if you don't count Britney Spears' kept man, Kevin "K-Fed" Federline.

"I think the problem with pit bulls is not the dogs but the irresponsible owners," Foster said from his home in New Orleans. "Pit bulls don't make good guard dogs because they want to be around people. They love people. If you have a pit bull as a guard dog, they will probably leave with the thief."

He's absolutely right. When I was a teenager growing up in Marianna, my family had a pit bull named Pug who would've gladly climbed in a car driven by a peckish Jeffrey Dahmer as long as Pug got to sit in the front seat and hang his medicine ball of a head out the passenger window. Ah, but more about Pug later.

Earlier this year, Foster, 42, published a popular memoir called "The Dogs Who Found Me: What I Have Learned From Pets Who Were Left Behind." The book, part of which takes place in Tallahassee when the author lived here in 2002 through 2004, documents Foster's life with rescued canines. They include three pit bulls named Valentino, Brando and Sula, the sweet-faced pit who graces the cover of the memoir.

"Everywhere I went (on a recent book tour), pit bull owners came up and remarked about that cover shot," Foster said. "They'd never seen a book with a pit bull on the cover of anything. . . . Whenever pit bulls are pictured, it's usually in a different context."

True. Mug shots of pit bulls are typically splashed in the newspapers beneath screaming headlines like: "Devil dog mauls Eastern Seaboard, passes bad checks, leaves unmade bed." The breed has a serious image problem. They're considered thugs. Bullies. Bad drunks. Why else would there be a high-alcohol cocktail with the catchy name of Pit Bull on Crack?

"You mention American pit bull today and it has a negative connotation - they're vicious attack dogs or they're owned by gang leaders," Foster said. "But it hasn't always been that way. They were used during World War I on posters as a symbol of patriotism. They were used to sell white bread. Buster Brown's dog was a pit bull. The dog on 'The Little Rascals' was a pit bull."

Huh? Petey? The cutie with the painted circle around his eye? When did Petey give in to the Dark Side of the Force?

"I'm trying to pinpoint a moment in history when the tide turned," said Foster, who is working on a book about "the social history" of pit bulls tentatively titled "Sweet and Vicious." "I want to find out exactly when the image changed. I'd love to find the Patient Zero of pit bulls."

Hmmm, wonder if it could be Pug? My father got fed up with Pug because he picked fights with our two Dobermans. The vet bills to sew up the Dobies skyrocketed. Pug was sent to live with a horseman who used dogs to hunt wild hogs in the Sand Hills.

On the first outing with his new owner, the hunter ordered Pug to "catch." He should have been more specific. Pug jumped up, caught the horse by the nose, dropped it like a wrestler and sent the rider flying.

After the hunting expedition, Pug was sent to live out his days with an elderly lady in south Gadsden County. The two adored each other until death did them part.

"Well, they were bred to catch bulls," Foster said after hearing Pug's tale. "Since the book has been out, people always come up and tell me stories about pit bulls. I'm usually waiting to hear some horror story, but I like it when they have a happy ending."

Foster will read from "Dogs Who Found Me" and a new short story when he returns to Tallahassee as a visiting writer at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Warehouse, 706 W. Gaines St. It's free.

http://www.tallahas see.com/apps/ pbcs.dll/ article?AID= /20060924/ COLUMNIST08/ 609240309/ 1005/ENT
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