The Softer Side of Pit Bulls

A reviled breed gets a makeover

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Jeff Minton for TIME

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The old stigma was behind the Washington, D.C., Humane Society's policy of putting to sleep any dog it identified as a pit, which accounted for the majority of the dogs in its shelter, says CEO Lisa LaFontaine. She ended the rule when she took over in 2008 and says adoptions have since doubled, while returns have fallen to below 5%.

Larkin has seen a similar change in Los Angeles. "Our adoptions have gone through the roof in the past year," she says. "We have a waiting list." At PAWS, a large shelter in Chicago, adoptions of pits and pit mixes are up 600% since 2007, more than double the increase in adoptions for all dogs, according to founder Paula Fasseas. The dogs are especially popular among single women. "They appreciate having the dogs with them," she says, "because pit bulls are perceived as dangerous."

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