I have two Pit Bulls, Baxter and Aster, who are shown here playing (left). I had never met a Pit Bull until I started with rescue work. Many of the dogs who I met when they were pulled from death row were labeled Pit Bulls at the kill facility. I was puzzled by how they looked very different from each other and nothing like the photos of “pure-bred” Pit Bulls. I learned that any dog who slightly resembled a Pit Bull was at risk in that so-called shelter and in shelters across the nation.
It is outrageous to kill a dog because of his/her breed or because there seems to be a drop of a certain breed’s blood in the dog. The killing of any breed of healthy dog based on appearance cannot be justified. It is immoral.
Another outrage in many communities is called Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). It bans Pit Bulls and other dogs based on judgments about dogs’ appearance. That is also outrageous, as well as unfair, wrong-headed and ineffective in helping public safety in any way.
BSL and shelter killing of Pit Bulls is based on the idea that people identify the breed of dogs from just looking at them. That is not possible, according to many studies. For example, a veterinary school study found that: “One in three dogs lacking DNA evidence for pit bull heritage breeds were labeled pit bull type dogs by at least one shelter staff member.” (Source: Animal Farm Foundation blog) Here’s a fascinating poster showing some examples: DNA Study Poster
Julie Levy, D.V.M., Ph.D., a professor of shelter medicine, states that: “Unlike many other things people can’t quite define but ‘know when they see it,’ identification of dogs as pit bulls can trigger an array of negative consequences, from the loss of housing, to being seized by animal control, to the taking of the dog’s life.” DNA studies reveal that shelter workers often mislabel dogs as ‘pit bulls.
Many shelters don’t like to admit that they slaughter dogs based on appearance, so they say dogs are killed based on results of “temperament tests.” One example of such a test is to pull a food bowl away from a shelter dog to see his/her reaction. Another test is to dance a child-sized doll around in the room with a dog. First of all, shelters don’t have the expertise and time to conduct these tests and second, even advocates of these tests strongly advise against using them as a basis for killing dogs. A vet who studied the use of these tests in shelters states that:
“As much as we try to enrich shelter pet lives, shelters are a stressful place to be. Stress changes a pet’s behavior. Some pets will behave more aggressively when stressed, some more fearfully, and some will be quieter and more inhibited. It is important to recognize the role of stress on our behavioral evaluation results. If a dog is aggressive, is it because she is really stressed?” Behavioral Assessment in Animal Shelters, Sheila Serguson D’Arpino, DVM,DACVB
In my rescue experience, I found that dogs labeled aggressive were very different once they were out of the so-called shelter. One day I was at a kennel where a couple of dogs rescued from death row were being boarded by the rescue group. A big black dog came over to me and leaned against my leg sadly. I look at his record and he was labeled an aggressive Pit Bull who especially hated men. I took him home and he slept between my husband and me on the first night. We named him Baxter. A couple years later, we adopted Aster, who was just skin and bones. Now she’s thriving. Baxter and Aster are best buddies and play wildly as shown in the photo above. They never hurt each other. Then they rest together on their pillow. Both Baxter and Aster are Pit Bull type dogs.
During my years doing rescue, I met many adorable dogs rescued from death row who were labeled Pit Bulls, but were clearly mixes of some kind. Regardless of DNA, they were all friendly, happy dogs once they got out of that kill facility.