First there was Janie with the sad eyes.
Next came Bella, the ball of energy.
Then Echo, a gentle giant who loves kisses.
All pit bulls.
And, for Corey and Randy Rosado, all sources of love over the past three years.
"We just fell in love with the breed," Corey Rosado said recently sitting in her Lake Magdalene home with a 40-pound pit bull named Echo lying by her feet.
Rosado and her husband, Randy, are foster parents for local dog rescue organizations and often care for pit bull terriers that have been mistreated or abandoned. They sometimes keep the dogs as their own pets, hoping to debunk what they consider a "bad rap" for pit bulls.
"The pit bull problems we hear about on the news are not about the dog," said Corey Rosado, 32. "It's about the owners."
A pit bull mix in New Port Richey made the news in April after mauling a 7-day-old boy to death as the baby slept next to his mother. The dog was euthanized.
In March, a 80-pound pit bull mix mauled its Spring Hill owner. In October of last year, a 35-pound white pit bull mix attacked the 4-year-old grandson of its Zephyrhills owner, shattering the bones in the youngster's left leg.
The history prompted state Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, to sponsor legislation that would have given local governments power to ban certain breeds. The bill was later amended to eliminate the breed ban but give local governments more control when dealing with a potentially dangerous dog, including requiring muzzles in public.
The Rosados were among local pit bull lovers to protest the legislation, which did not become law.
Still, Hill believes he took the right step. "If a dog acts violently, local government should be able to take action," he said this week from his Jacksonville office. "That includes impounding them or whatever else they need to do."
Hill said he wasn't trying to single out pit bulls, but maintains the breed's violent reputation is hard to shake.
"If you look at and research any of these dogs that attack, a pit bull is at the top of the list," Hill said. "I'm just trying to make sure another child doesn't die."
Sherry Silk, executive director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, says pit bulls are among the most popular breeds to own. Unfortunately, that means a large number are eventually abandoned. The breed accounts for about 40 percent of the dogs at the Hillsborough County Animal Services shelter.
Staffers for the Humane Society search the county's shelter twice a week to pick dogs that might be good candidates for adoption, but would be euthanized if left at the shelter.
Once dogs are at the society's N Armenia Avenue shelter, their average length of stay is 30 days. For a pit bull, it's sometimes twice as long, Silk said. The Humane Society only euthanizes in cases of sick or overly aggressive animals; not for space reasons.
As a result, Silk has to limit the number of pit bulls she takes.
"If I have a bunch of pits or pit mixes, people will go somewhere else," Silk said. "It's a very challenging problem."
It's also a lack of awareness, said Ashlie Burke, who founded Pit Stop Bully's Rescue, a nonprofit organization in Plant City, four years ago. Burke, who also protested Hill's bill, works with foster pet owners like the Rosados to help rehabilitate pit bulls so they can find permanent homes.
Foster parents are trained to work with pit bulls who may have been mistreated. They provide behavioral training and compassion to help the dog become socialized.
Pit bulls are athletically built. Because of their large head and jaw, their bite is powerful and can be hard to release. Burke and Silk maintain that the breed, while physically dominant, is no different from other dogs. The responsibility rests with the owners. If not treated properly, the breed can become violent.
"I've dealt with pit bull dogs that are pussycats," said Burke, who has seven pit bulls or pit mixes of her own. "It's all in what you want to do with them."
Pit bulls are natural people-pleasers, which can be their best and worst attribute, Burke said. For instance, if a pit bull is trained to fight, it will do so to make the owner happy. But they can also be trained to be loving family members, Burke maintains.
Last year Burke found homes for about 100 pit bulls, she said. Potential foster parents and owners must go through an application process that includes evaluating the entire family and other pets in the home.
"When we adopt out, we want it to be permanent," Burke said.
In 2008, after adopting their cocker spaniel Roxie, the Rosados decided to add another pet to the mix.
Corey Rosado, a fifth-grade math and science teacher at Deer Park Elementary, was hesitant. But Janie, a pit bull who had been beaten and abandoned, changed that.
"I realized she was a sweet and loving dog, despite all the hardships she faced," Rosado said.
About 10 months ago, Janie was hit by a car and died. Within months, the couple welcomed a foster pit bull named Bella. After another family adopted Bella, the Rosados adopted Echo.
"We just wanted to help," Randy Rosado said. "I want people to see these dogs aren't as bad as everyone thinks."
Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.