Society

Florida Animal Shelter Stops Breed ID of Adoptable Dogs to Avoid Pit Bull Stigma

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Orange County Animal Services in Florida has announced a policy of describing dogs merely by color and gender and letting potential adopters decide the breed.

The reason, officials say, is that without DNA testing it is impossible to accurately determine the breed of the dog, and some dogs may have mistakenly been identified as pit bull mixes.

So the shelter is no longer packed with pit bulls and their mixes, although the same dogs occupy the kennels and wait for new homes. But — officially at least — the county has stopped formally identifying dogs by breed, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The bottom-line purpose of this policy change is to drive up adoptions from the shelter by avoiding the often-inaccurate science of assigning breeds, they say.

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Others say that the consequence could also be that adopters will decide to go to breeders in order to be assured they are not getting a pit bull.

The other possibility is that, if they do get a pit bull mix and find they cannot keep it, animal advocates fear that the animal may end up advertised on Craigslist.com or given to someone who may use it for dog fighting.

Proponents of the new policy say that a kennel card that lists the animal as a pit bull or mix can be a death sentence.

"It's causing the death of a lot of animals that are thought to be dangerous," said Deborah J. Turner, who chairs the county's Animal Services Advisory Board, told the Orlando Sentinel.

However, veteran animal advocate Lisa Blanck says some rescue groups, potential adopters, and people like herself, who personally push shelter adoptions, often use breeds to help make matches to new owners, and the change, while well-intended, could backfire.

The shelter indicated that dog adopters are now responsible if they take home a dog that their landlord or their insurance company believes is a pit bull.

Blanck told the Sentinel that the difficulties for adopters are compounded by another policy change: The shelter has also stopped making routine residency checks on potential pet adopters to see if certain breeds or sizes are prohibited where they live.

The latest changes come during budget increases, in which $500,000 is being added to the Animal Services’ $6-million budget, and policy changes in the wake of Hershey's death. That 2-year-old pooch, described by county officials as a "pit bull," was accidentally euthanized last year. A review of all shelter operations, which manage about 20,000 animals per year, followed the public outcry.

Other changes include adopting a color-coded collar scheme to avoid accidental euthanizations, adding another veterinarian to the staff, and opening the shelter doors seven days a week.

The push to drop breed identifications and create more "open adoptions" are taking hold in other shelters around the country, some advocates say.

Part of that drive flows from the argument that breed and appearance don't always determine behavior, said Stacey Coleman, executive director of Animal Farm Foundation, a New York group that claims to merely be seeking "equal treatment and opportunity for 'pit bull' dogs."

"Even if you know a dog's breed, it isn't necessarily going to tell you its behavior," Coleman said.

Do you agree?

Source: Orlando Sentinel