On Sunday, the Southern Colorado Pit Bull Advocates hosted the 2nd Annual National Pit Bull Awareness Day Bully Walk, an effort to raise awareness of responsible pit bull ownership and to discourage breed-specific legislation in the Pikes Peak region.
The event drew more than 150 people and their canine companions to University Village Shopping Center. Most of them were pit bull owners. Attendees proudly showed off their pups, many colorfully clad in bright collars and Halloween costumes.
John and Jackie Knight own 2-year-old Khaleesi and 9-month-old Pi, and said after participating in Sunday's walk, they will join every year.
"I've been around pit bulls all my life, but Khaleesi and Pi are the first two I've ever raised, and they're the sweetest dogs I've ever owned," John Knight said.
"I've noticed people walk a little ways away from us when I'm out with them, or they're hesitant at first, but they're (the dogs) just big, gentle babies."
Not everyone feels that way.
For John Castle, 79, a horrifying incident shaped his attitude toward pit bulls and motivated him to work toward legislation to ban pit bulls in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
Castle was attacked by a pit bull in September 2012. It left him with serious injuries to his leg and his hand.
"This was the most terrifying experience of my life," he said.
Castle plans to address the City Council in the next few weeks to persuade members to pass legislation that will ban pit bulls from Colorado Springs. Castle said if he can help stop one person from being the victim of an attack, all the pain and effort will have been worth it.
Vicki Gramm, organizer with Pit Bull Advocates, said the breed's fiercely loyal nature is exactly the reason they are exploited for dog-fighting rings and consequently vilified by the public.
"Pit bulls will do anything to please and obey their owners, so when they fight it's not because they're inherently vicious, but because they're following orders," Gramm said.
In the end, said Pit Bull Advocates co-founder Ruth Means, it's really about responsible ownership. "These dogs - and really all breeds - need socialization, proper care and training, health and well-being checkups. There's lots of aspects of responsible pet ownership, and if we all fulfill them, there will be considerably less negative incidents involving any dog."