I recently met with a few shelters that are interested in decreasing their length of stay and increasing adoptions of a particular at-risk population—adult pit bulls. As the conversations developed, I learned that there were some barriers placed in the way of adoption—from policies that prohibited first-time dog owners and families with children from adopting pit bulls to special applications, special hold times, higher adoption fees and even required home visits.
Pit bulls are staying in shelters longer
Many of the dogs at shelters are pit bulls. Interestingly, in a few cities for which we have reviewed data, pit bulls may be less than one-quarter of total intake, but are often at least half of the dogs in the shelter. While that might not make sense at first glance, when you think that other dogs have a lower length of stay (be it through adoptions or transfers), pit bulls are staying longer, making up more of the total population in the shelter at any one time.
The reasons for these barriers range from perceived safety concerns to concerns that the adopted pit bull will be used as a bait dog or similar. Regarding the safety of the dog: Assuming a shelter has the tools and skills to recognize and understand the safety of an individual dog, why would we be more concerned about the safety of one breed over another?
Why have stricter policies for pitties?
On the subject of those coming to adopt a pit bull: While anything is possible, why would someone interested in a bait dog come to your shelter in the first place, as opposed to taking a dog off the street or from a yard? And, if they do, why would they choose a pit over any other large breed dog you might have in your care? We all want the best home for every dog, from pit bull to terrier mix. And by opening our hearts to trust and our mouths in conversation, and by opening our cages to the adopters who come to our doors, we are more likely to be successful.
"Assuming you have the tools and skills to recognize and understand the safety of an individual dog, why would we be more concerned about the safety of one breed over another?"
These dogs are already at risk of staying longer in your shelter simply because of lack of education about breed bias and an undeserved bad reputation. And now we throw barriers between adopters and the dogs?! It is a recipe for disaster. And the disaster is happening, as pit bulls are almost always the breed most at risk of euthanasia in our shelters. Many of you know I am against policy-based adoptions—and my heart sinks when I think of those pit bulls who could have gone home if the barriers were removed.
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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