Labeling, For Lives.

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?

Puppies

These adorable brothers were so cute but with their long lanky legs and coats, and silly underbites, but I think “pit bull” is pretty far from an accurate descriptor for them.

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.

Puppy

I agree that this fella looks to have some “pit bull” in him, but his looong, lanky legs and slim build definitely lead me to believe he is more Lab than anything.

 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.

Puppy

This goofy bundle of love had “hound” written all over her if you ask me.

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.

Chocolate Lab

This gorgeous girl is a Chocolate Lab, through and through. She is stunningly beautiful in person. I was so shocked to read “pit bull” and NOTHING else on her kennel card!

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!            

10 thoughts on “Labeling, For Lives.

  1. Love this & it is SO true! I find the same thing at the Tallahassee shelter, and I get SO frustrated! Like the one I love that’s there, Pace. Maybe he has some pit in him (which only makes him even more awesome), but he is definitely Australian cattle dog. At least they have that added on his card, but the first thing people see is “pit bull.” They don’t give him a chance to see what an awesome dog he is. Not to mention, there is very little room on the card for visitors notes, like mine which was a rave review for him. This is definitely a major issue, and I think the more people that know about it & talk about it, the better!

    • I agree, it’s just so sad because most people probably assume that the shelter workers are experts and don’t even know to question their judgement. We gotta just keep trying to spread the word!

  2. I love this post so much. It covers a topic we discussed in depth during my time at the Animal Farm Foundation internship. Did you know that there have been scientific studies done in regards to breed-labeling in shelters? One of the most notable utilized 20 mutts and 900 canine-industry professionals. Ironically, after genetic tests were compared to the labels of hundreds of mixed-breed dogs, they were incorrect more than 60% of the time! Even more interesting, 75% of the time, the individuals involved in deciding the labels could not even agree on what breed to label. This is because unlike humans, a dogs’ physical appearance is controlled by only a very small number of genomes. Because of that, dogs who are identical very well may have no genetic relation whatsoever! This is just as important for other breeds as it is for pit bulls. Oftentimes the general public makes assumptions about a dog based on their supposed breeding. For example, they assume all labs are good with children. So they come into the shelter, ask for a lab, and make no mention of their behavioral expectations. They get the dog home and it is inappropriate around their child, because they assumed that a lab would require less supervision than other breeds. Because of that, AFF advocates that we discuss more with our adopters about what they are looking for in a dogs physical appearance and behavior, than breed. Thanks for sharing such an important topic. If you or other readers are interested in learning more about this subject, check out some of these links from AFF: http://animalfarmfoundation.org/pages/Labels-Language

    • Wow, those really are interesting stats! And I completely agree, it’s not just pit bulls that this can be dangerous for, for the exact reason you described in your example. Dogs are individuals. Period. They should be treated as such!

  3. The chocolate lab’s face shape reminds me SO much of Eddie. While he was listed as a lab, if someone asked what he was mixed with our guess was Am Staff or Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Crossroads doesn’t label dogs exclusively as pit bulls very often. They often have 3-4 breeds listed for one litter and note that they don’t know the breed for certain, but are guessing based on appearance. We had one foster who was labeled boxer/staffordshire, one labeled lab who I definitely think had some lab in her, but she didn’t look terribly much like one and we suspect some pit there too. The pups from Rusty’s litter were labeled australian shepherd, beagle, basset, and probably 3 other things.

  4. Such a good point! Example, we had a dog at the shelter I volunteer with, Peach, who was an absolutely lovely dog. When she was housed with us, she was listed as an “American Staffordshire Terrier/Beagle mix”. After she was sent to rescue, she was listed by the rescue as a “Beagle/American Staffordshire Terrier” mix. Wouldn’t you know it, after spending like 5 months with us she was adopted in two weeks with them! Hm…makes me think that maybe when I upload dogs to Petfinder I should list their pittie heritage (if any, because let’s be serious, we can’t really know anyway) in the secondary breed spot instead. Our shelter does have a disclaimer at the bottom of our kennel cards and on PF that says basically, we can’t know the breed of the dog for sure, etc. etc. but I wonder how many people actually read that? My thought is probably not many 😉 Great post, and comes at a great time too, I’m on an anti-breed stereotype kick on my blog this week as well!

    • Wow, that is such an interesting example! I would love if we could just do away with labeling dogs by a breed all together, because I truly believe they are all individuals, but that will never happen. I agree that lots of times dogs share similar characteristics with other dogs of the same breed….but they are still all individuals! I’m heading over to see what you’ve got to say about this as well 😉 And I think it would be a lovely little experiment to test out placing pit bull in the second slot, just to see what happened 🙂

  5. I love my pit bulls. It’s funny that they are both “pit bulls” even though they are very obviously different breeds — one American Pit Bull Terrier and one Staffordshire Bull Terrier. I have a good friend who works at a vet in town, and when we brought the first pittie in to be spayed she put her in their computer as “terrier mix.” So that we wouldn’t face breed discrimination. And don’t tell — but as far as my insurance company is concerned I still have my old dogs, who we listed as a Basenji Mix (he was half German Shepard, another breed that gets tagged sometimes) and a Sheltie mix (she was part Chow, another non-insurable breed).

    I’m still pulling for legislation to ban unneutered dogs instead of any specific breed. I know that will upset a lot of breeders, but there might be less than one million dogs euthanized each year. And statistically, most dog bite fatalities are from unneutered male dogs.

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