Many people had never heard of the dog breed called the American Bully until the tragic death of a four-year-old girl from Houma in March.
There are still many questions about what happened that day and now new questions about this large American bully breed in general.
Menacing or misunderstood?
When Deferome Branch takes his dogs out in public he gets "the look" and sometimes of fear. “Some people are afraid,” he said, “some people want to know what it is and some just love them."
Branch is a breeder of the American Bully, a massive new breed that’s been around for 20 years but is just becoming more mainstream.
As found on the American Bully Kennel Club website, there are five varieties of the bully from the standard to the extreme and the XL. Te bully is a cross between the American Pit Bull Terrier for athleticism and the American Staffordshire Terrier for size.
Penny, a nine-month-old puppy, is an 85-pound bully extreme. Seven-year-old Dollar is a 100-pound XL and Louisiana's first bully breed national champion.
Branch, who has seven dogs in Louisiana and Texas, says the breed is misunderstood. "The American Bully needs to be defined or the public needs to be more or less educated about it, because it’s not a pit bull."
"These dogs are never meant to have aggression at all,” said Branch.
Branch and others produced an hour-long DVD as an introduction to the breed and the top blood lines. He claims the bully is not a fighting dog and is bred for size and show through a process called "selective breeding" -- the goal is to weed out any aggressiveness.
Take a litter of six puppies, after three or four months, two show signs of aggression, four don’t. The four move on with the breed, the other two do not.
“The puppies that are aggressive you either bring them to a shelter or animal control or even adopt them out,” said Branch.
Finding a home is the best scenario, but many end up in shelters across the country like the Jefferson Parish Animal Control Shelter, where there is no extra space and where their life expectancy can be short lived.
“If we're euthanizing four million dogs and cats,” said Robin Beaulieu, director of the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter, “shouldn't we be even more selective about breeding? Do we really want to be breeding new dog breeds?”
4-year-old Houma girl killed by American Bully
In March, many learned about the American Bully in a tragic way, when four-year-old Mia Derouen was killed in a Houma apartment by 130-pound Niko.
Police called the animal "monster" and still today there are many unanswered questions about Niko and what happened.
Branch knows of the dog and says there are questions about his bloodline. "It appears to have come from a line of dogs that had a little aggression behind it, and maybe, who knows what happened?"
Branch and Bealieu agree that the responsibility lies first with the owner for obedience, training and socialization.
Beaulieu says more than 90 percent of the attacks on humans by all breeds are committed by unspayed and unneurtered dogs and there are no guarantees. "You can't expect without proper socialization and without proper management-- that they're not going to be aggressive."
Several Louisiana cities and parishes have either enacted pit bull restrictions or are considering them, and the American Bully would fall into that category.
Branch says that isn't the bully's biggest problem, but one that many dog breeds have been overbreeding. American Bully puppies can go from $1,500 to $4,000-$5,000, and Branch says rogue breeders looking for the biggest dog possible and the almighty dollar are bringing in new breeds to the equation, and a new breed can bring back the aggression.
“They keep overbreeding these dogs,” Branch said, “they're going to come out with a, I don't know what, but it’s going to be a problem.”
Banch wants to see the Bully Kennel Club regulate the breed and allow a female only two litters, that’s what he does.
He says there are many ways for people to find out about the American Bully. He judges events and shows across the country two or three times a month. He has hosted the Louisiana Bully Classic in Gonzales for six years running. Saturday, there's an ABKC show in Pensacola, another in Mandeville in August.
Branch wants people to see what he sees. “I just know it was a big beautiful pretty dog, and the temperament was unbelievable.”
Others see it differently, and say the breed needs to be restricted. It can be polarizing, but dog ownership is subjective, and what works for one does not always work for another.
The American Bully breed is not recognized by the American Kennel Club, but as of July 2013, it is now recognized by the United Kennel Club out of Michigan.