Tampa, Florida -- Say the words "pit bull" and you're likely to get strong emotions from those who love the breed as well as those who dislike the dogs.
Many pit bull owners say the dogs need strenuous exercise, and have them compete in a controversial event that some people say is animal cruelty.
It's called a weight pull. It is a competition where pit bull owners see how many pounds of weight their dogs can pull on a sled.
Click here for viewer submitted pics of weight pulling dogs
I never realized this stuff went on until I started to do the research on this.
Former Seminole Commissioner Dan Hester also just recently learned about the weight pulls. Hester is involved in protecting animals and has worked to pass an anti-dog tethering ordinance in Seminole, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
"To me, it is wrong," Hester says. "I'm not saying it is illegal, but I am suggesting in the 21st century, that's not the way you treat what's meant to be a companion animal."
Beth Robbins is a former animal control officer, vet tech and pit bull owner. He is opposed to the weight pull as well. Robbins says the dogs they use for weight pull and confirmation are from a fighting bloodline and they are very hard to contain.
Even those who participate in the weight pulls admit the owners sometimes do go overboard.
Eva Nobel is a judge at Tampa Weight Pulls. We told her video of some of the events show the owners are borderline screaming at their pets in order to get them to perform. Noble says, "Well, some dogs do a little bit better with more animation from their owners and some people do get a little bit excited."
Lisa Walker Hutches is on the Hillsborough Animal Advisory committee, which sets policy for the Hillsborough Animal Shelter. She not only supports weight pulls, but also runs them.
While Walker Hutches thinks there is nothing wrong with the weight pulls, not everyone agrees... particularly for someone in her position.
When we told Walker Hutches that some say people on the animal advisory board shouldn't be doing activities like this, Walker Hutches asked, "Why? I say why?"
Some are asking why would the Hillsborough Animal Shelter allow some of the dogs it has get involved with weight pull. Walker Hutches convinced the head of Animal Control to allow some dogs in the shelter to be taken out and participate in the activity.
Hillsborough Animal Control Director Ian Hallett told us, "Lisa approached me about the possibility of having weight pull at the shelter as an activity for the dogs." He goes on to explain, "I really thought if the volunteers thought this was beneficial for the dogs, I would support it."
Critics question Hallett's thinking and say he was way off base.
When we asked why he thought that was a good idea, Hallett told us, "Well, one of the things I'm really concerned about is that working breeds and sport breeds are being surrendered to animal shelters left and right around the country, and it could be prevented through more rigorous exercise."
Dan Hester disagrees, saying "Taking an animal out of Hillsborough County Shelter to a quasi-public event to demonstrate how strong that dog is... there is something wrong there with that thinking."
However, Hallett says when he allowed pit bulls to be taken from the shelter to participate in events, including weight pull, he believed the dogs enjoyed it. According to Hallett "They participated in a variety of activities including a hula hoop, musical chairs and also weight pull." He says "it was not a weight pull competition. The dogs were not into trying to outdo each other. It was all for fun."
Hallett says, "Lisa called me and said, 'I didn't mean to cause you this trouble. I just thought it would be a good exercise for the dogs.'" He admits everything changes after we started making inquires. Hallett says, "we didn't want to ruffle anybody's feathers."
While dogs impounded at Animal Control will no longer participate in weight pull, those who oppose it say they are being targeted by those who want the activity to continue.
Robbins says, "They've called me an animal rights wacko."
Hester adds, "To take a dog and put it in a competition and see how much weight it can pull and how long a distance... I think it is wrong and I don't think the community subscribes to that."
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