Blamed for more attacks than any other breed in the country, the pit bull has a bad reputation as a dangerous breed, but two little girls in Corona del Mar consider their pit bull Kissi, just one of the girls.
Kissi, an 11-month-old American Staffordshire terrier, is arguably one of the daintiest pit bulls one will ever meet, but her owner Tonya Nicholson is committed to training her to be well-behaved. Kissi spends her days running in and out of her Poinsettia Avenue home alongside Nicholson's girls, 7-year-old Tess and 4-year-old Tate, with a pink, bedazzled collar and painted red nails, but that doesn't stop some people from being afraid of her.
According to Pit Bull Attacks.org, the breed was responsible for 726 attacks reported in news articles in 2009. Much of the bad rep pit bulls have, stems from incidents like one in Newport Beach when police shot two pit bulls after they attacked a woman and her son at the Marriott Newport Coast Villas in June.
"Contrary to what people think, Kissi is really calm and well-behaved," Tonya Nicholson, Kissi's owner, told Patch. "But she's really had to overcome the stigma of pit bulls. She has to be twice as well-behaved as any other dog because she is a 'pit bull'."
In an attempt to make sure her pit bull Kissi gets a fair chance to make a good first impression, Tonya Nicholson has enlisted the help of Newport Beach dog trainer Vladislav Roytapel.
"We are training her to respect human authority, to stay down near the floor unless she is called up for a pat or a treat and things of that nature," Roytapel said. "I believe in training dogs properly to prevent any problems from arising."
Roytapel has his work cut out for him with Kissi, not because she is aggressive but more so because Kissi has a special bond with Nicholson's little girls.
"I love when she jumps on our bed and snuggles with us," Tess said.
Roytapel says although Kissi has proven to be one of the girls' favorite playmates, she needs to be taught her place in the family.
"She is low on the totem poll in the family and that's what we need to make sure she always understands," Roytapel said.
And although Kissi isn't known to be a troublemaker in the neighborhood, she does have to follow stricter rules when the Nicholson girls have company.
"When people come over, I will put a muzzle on her to help them feel more comfortable," Tonya Nicholson explained. "But its not because of her behavior. She doesn't chew things up or snap at people. It's for their piece of mind."
Nicholson says she hopes introducing the community to Kissi one neighbor at a time will help people understand the pit bulls themselves shouldn't be typecast.
"Be afraid of how the owners' train these dogs, not of the breed as a whole," Nicholson said.