TAMPA - The much maligned pit bull terrier can be as gentle and playful as any other dog breed. But when they suffer the all-too-common neglect or abuse, they need therapy, like any trauma victim.
"We just observe their body language, and look for loose, happy tails," said Victoria Parker, a volunteer for Hillsborough County Animal Services, as she conducted a therapeutic play date for a half-dozen dogs.
Parker and her fellow volunteers spend countless hours preparing dogs, most of them pit bulls or pit bull mixes for adoption.
Parker says it's important these dogs get comfortable with other dogs, male and female. She keeps a squirt bottle and shaker can handy to keep things civil. "All it does is get their attention."
What often gets the public's attention are dog attacks. Thirty-eight people were killed last year in the United States by dogs, half of them children under eight years old.
A Georgia mother was arrested last month after her unattended toddler was killed by the seven dogs she kept in the backyard.
Parker has five dogs of her own, but would never take chances with the safety of a child.
"My dogs have never done anything that I would be worried about , but I wouldn't put them in that situation," said Parker.
Hillsborough Animal Control responded to more than 2,000 dog bites last year. As part of Dog Bite Prevention Week, which starts May 19, the agency is promoting safety with tips on how to deal with an aggressive dog.
"Stand like a tree or lay like a log," says Marti Ryan of HCAS.
"The idea being that if you encounter an aggressive dog, stay still. Don't run. If a child runs, the dog will invariably give chase. If you're already down, cover your face or vital areas. The dog will lose interest and move on.