For saving them. And more often, for destroying them.
It’s no secret I am a pittie lover and advocate. I am extremely proud of my Maggie and brag about her every chance I get. When you look at Maggie, there is no getting around the fact that she is a “pit bull”; some combination of American Pit Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Terrier most likely. And I love it! Maggie will never find herself anywhere other than living the good life in my home. She will never, ever see the inside of a shelter. But what about all the dogs out there that aren’t as lucky?
Before I go any further, let me be clear about something: I am a firm believer in full disclosure and honesty in the rescue world. You are helping no one by lying about a dog’s health, temperament, or breed, just for the sake of getting it adopted. Why? Because often times dogs that are adopted out under false pretenses find themselves returned to the rescue or shelter. Now you have to do all that work again: securing a foster home, marketing the dog, helping it through what likely are new or amplified behavioral issues as a product of being bounced around, and if it goes back to a shelter, you’re probably looking at immediate euthanasia since owner surrenders rarely stand a chance.
I recently spent some time at a small, rural shelter, just south of Jacksonville. I was there with a wonderful friend, but the experience still wasn’t the best. Why? Because with one exception, every single dog I walked and played with (and I think all of the ones she did as well) were labeled as a “pit bull” and nothing else. Some were so clearly not pit bulls that it would have been funny, if the label hadn’t meant their chances of making it out alive were significantly decreased. I’m not saying these dogs couldn’t have some “pit bull” in them, they probably did! But, and it’s a big but, by labeling them as just “pit bulls” most people going to the shelter interested in adopting wouldn’t even take the time to meet any of these dogs. It’s sad, but especially in areas like where this shelter is located, people are still caught up in the bad media hype surrounding the breed, even though we know better. There is no shame in a dog being a pit bull type, but my point is, by labeling them as just that and not even acknowledging other breeds that could be present, you significantly decrease their chances of meeting potential adopters that could be a perfect fit.
It’s scary that people with no training, and often times some misconceptions of their own about different breeds, are allowed to slap a label on a dog with no more than a glance in their direction. This decision that they spend maybe 10 seconds making, frequently seals that dogs fate. And I’m not just talking the breed they label them as, I’m also talking about the dreaded “aggressive” label. These shelter workers usually don’t even interact with dogs any more than walking past their kennel before deciding if a dog may or may not be aggressive. If you have any experience with dogs you know that they are sensitive creatures. The feel fear, confusion, frustration, and much more. And these feelings can manifest in very different ways in different dogs. While one dog might cower at the back of his kennel another may run to the front and bark or growl. To a person that doesn’t understand or care, they might view this as aggression and slap that label on the dog without giving it a second thought. And that dog has probably just been given a death sentence.
This beast of an issue will take a long time to correct. The point of this post is to hopefully open some eyes. Please, don’t take a label at a shelter as fact. If you are considering adopting, take the time to meet every dog, despite how they might be labeled. You never know, that dog barking her head off might just be the sweetest, most mellow dog once she is out of her scary, loud, stressful kennel and in an open space. You won’t know until you take the time to meet her yourself. And anyone lucky enough to own a pit bull type dog, is lucky enough, period.
All of the dogs in this post are urgently looking for a forever home before their time runs out. If you are interested in adopting any of them, please let me know!