AUGUSTA – Jessica Dolce talked up the advantages of pit bull breeds to a room of true believers Saturday.

Each time she spoke of how loving, friendly and loyal the dogs are, the audience of about 50 people nodded their heads in agreement.

These people were bullish on pit bull breeds and prepared to learn more about how to advocate against public misconceptions.

It was a session of Pit Bull 101, an educational outreach program provided by Dolce at the Kennebec Valley Humane Society.

Dolce, who works with the advocacy group Southern Maine Pit Bulls, started a slide presentation by asking how many people owned pit bulls, and at least half the people in the room raised their hands.

Then she offered a history lesson, telling how World War I patriotic posters featured the American pit bull terrier, including Sgt. Stubby, a decorated veteran.

She showed the pit bull terrier logos of Buster Brown shoes and RCA, and even the Little Rascals’ dog Petey.

“How did America’s sweetheart become public enemy No. 1?” Dolce asked. “The culprits are irresponsible owners, criminals and irresponsible media.”

According to an essay on Southern Maine Pit Bulls’ website,, “Unfortunately for pit bulls, they became the fad dog for criminals in the 1980s and their positive image was tarnished by the actions of their abusers.”

Dolce told the dog owners they must help turn the tide from public fear to public knowledge.

“Let the dog be the example,” she said, encouraging spaying, neutering, short leashes, proper training, and spending time playing and cuddling with the dogs. She recommended people get adolescent or adult dogs from a shelter — like the Augusta shelter or the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook — that evaluates a dog’s temperament.

There were no dogs at the seminar, but muffled barking from the animals upstairs occasionally punctuated Dolce’s remarks.

Charles Jacques of West Gardiner, who attended the seminar partly for his employer, The Kennel Shop, a small Maine pet store chain, said his pit bull terrier Charge helped save a child who had wandered into traffic near his former home in Minneapolis.

“The thing that impressed me was that it took 20 minutes to convince the sheriff’s deputy not to haul him off,” Jacques said. He said that luckily a neighbor who witnessed the incident told the deputy about the heroic dog.

Justin Ireland of Waldoboro spoke of the pain his family endured when they were forced to give up their pit bull terrier because the landlord did not allow “sporting dogs” in rental properties.

“We felt much safer when out kids were playing outside with the dog,” he said. “It’s almost like a built-in baby sitter.”

Hillary Roberts, executive director of the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, told attendees she would welcome more volunteers at the shelter, especially those who would like to walk the animals.

“We always have pit-bull type dogs here,” she said.