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Pit Bulls: Will More Adoptions End Shelter Killings?

“Egregious misrepresentation aside, the offense for which the humane community is most culpable is promoting pit bulls in a manner which provides free advertising to the pit bull breeding industry,” ANIMAL PEOPLE Editor Merritt Clifton opines in his compelling and courageous editorial, More adoptions will not end shelter killing of pit bulls, in the October 2011 issue of ANIMAL PEOPLE (News for people who care about animals).

Following are excerpts from his argument for a reality check on what is really happening to pit bulls and why. Clifton’s comments are presented here for the most part in paragraphs, in order to avoid extracting phrases out of context that might distort his original intent. But this is a mere fragment of his fascinating and well-documented editorial. He writes:

“Each year from a third to 45% of the total U.S. pit bull population enters an animal shelter, a phenomenon never seen with any other dog breed. “Of critical importance to realize is that there are very few accidental pit bull births. Because nothing resembling a pit bull occurs in nature, it is necessary to practice line breeding, mating pit bull to pit bull or a very close mix, to continue to have them. “Almost every pit bull who contributes to the surplus is a product of deliberate breeding, sometimes by a dogfighter, but most often just someone engaging in speculative backyard breeding, capitalizing on a perceived vogue for pit bulls created at least in part by the aggressive advertising of shelters and individual rescuers who hope to rehome more pit bulls instead of having to kill them from lack of other options.”

Clifton provides politically incorrect, powerful straight talk to the world of humane activists and organizations, most of whom seem to have forgotten--or maybe never knew—why the current pit bull dilemma exists and that their assertions as “experts,” in an effort to divert public awareness from the genetic nature of pit bulls, is allowing dog fighters and pit bull breeders to continue their exploitive, cruel activities with impunity, causing the suffering and deaths of thousands of animals the rescuers and advocates purport to protect.

This is an article that should be read by anyone involved in, or with an interest in, pit bull protection or anyone who has been a victim of attack. Too much current propaganda has little or no basis in fact and is contrived to further the interests of those who profit from the breed or apologists who use glib euphemisms and rote to justify unacceptable or dangerous behavior. Co-dependency between shelter pit-bull promotions and breeders?

Here’s how Merritt Clifton describes the co-dependency between shelter/rescue promotion efforts and pit bull breeders:

“The ever-increasing numbers of fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks increase public apprehension of adopting an adult pit bull of unknown history, but the public tends to believe that pit bulls can make great pets if "raised right" from puppyhood .However, shelters typically don't have puppies these days. Pit bull puppies are in effect in the commodities speculation market, until they grow up and are dumped in shelters. So, persuaded by advertising meant to promote adoptions to acquire a pit bull, Joe and Josephine Q. Public buy a pit bull puppy from a backyard breeder. “About one of those puppies in three will come to a shelter within less than two years.”

Or is it possible that many of these “rescues” are actually fronts for dog-fighting operations and/or breeders, who literally “have a dog in this fight”and mainly in this market? Could some pit bull rescues actually be breeders or dog fighters in disguise? Clifton’s editorial quotes a bold and passionate presentation by ANIMAL PEOPLE President Kim Bartlett at the Conference on Homeless Animal Management and Policy in Hartford, Connecticut in 2002. He adds that, if she had been heeded, it is possible pit bull overpopulation would not be an issue today and “…animal shelters since then might have killed between eight and nine million fewer pit bulls.” Here are excerpts from Bartlett’s statement (full text in the ANIMAL PEOPLE article):

"I believe that pit bulls have a more negative reputation than most members of the breed deserve. I am not endorsing any arbitrary killing of dogs simply because they are of a particular breed, but I favor a ban on breeding of all pit bull-type dogs… “I think it is unethical to breed any dogs, or cats, so long as they are being killed by the million for population control…Since pit bulls clearly can be more dangerous to humans and other animals, and are more difficult to handle than most other dogs, and--most importantly--since they attract 'owners' who may want to exploit and abuse them, then for the dogs' own good, preventing further breeding should be a priority for the animal rights cause. "I have an uneasy feeling that a lot of people claiming to be pit bull rescuers are actually pit bull breeders and even dogfighters in disguise. Otherwise why would they oppose breeding bans that would not affect dogs already born? “People who rescue feral cats want to see an end to their breeding. People who rescue exotic animals such as parrots, lions and tigers, and potbellied pigs would like to see breed bans on those species. Why not the so-called pit bull rescuers?” "Public policy on animal welfare issues should not be set by breeders and fanciers, and certainly not by dogfighters who pose as breeders and even pretend to be rescuers. “When so-called pitbull lovers and rescuers use language like 'it is the right of Americans to buy [or breed] whatever kind of dog they want,' then they are quite obviously not animal rights advocates."

Clifton provides indisputable statistics to refute apologists who ignore reality. To paraphrase, by insisting pit bulls who attack, injure or kill other pets or humans can be “retrained;” that “it’s just the owner, not the dog;” and that “pits just get a bad rap and are misunderstood” is causing—not helping. And insisting more adoptions are the solution is, in fact, a major part of the problem. “More adoptions will not end shelter killing of pit bulls.”

Merritt Clifton approaches past and current trends and catastrophic decisions by major animal- protection organizations with a real sense of compassion for the dogs brutally exploited by abusers and euthanized in disproportionate numbers in animal shelters because of blind repetition of myths perpetuating the illusion that if enough of them are just adopted out--often to an uncertain fate and with a history of errant and even dangerous behavior--eventually the influx will miraculously decrease. But reality does not support this idealism, he explains:

“The total number of dogs killed in U.S. shelters fell by more than 40% between 1986 and 1993, but the number of pit bulls killed in shelters more than doubled, to about 358,000--15% of the total.

It should be obvious by now that this is the proverbial attempt to empty the ocean with a thimble. As Clifton laments in this editorial, “There may now be more organizations focused on pit bull rescue and advocacy than rescue and advocate for all other specific breeds combined.”

Following is a random sampling of the intriguing issues Merritt Clifton presents as a credible platform for acknowledging that our current approach to the pit bull problem is not only ineffective but actually making matters worse:

Why the numbers have grown.
“About 8.4 million dogs were killed in shelters in 1986, of whom about 168,000 (2%) were pit bulls, according to the limited available breed-specific data. “ More pit bulls have been rehomed in recent years than ever before, but as most of the U.S. still has no effective brake on pit bull breeding, pit bulls in 2010 rose to 29% of shelter dog admissions and 60% of shelter dog killing. The 2010 U.S. shelter pit bull toll of 930,300 was the second highest yet.”

Why most pit bulls in shelters are adults.
“Typically they come to shelters at about 18 months of age, having already had at least three homes: their birth home, the home they were sold to, and one or more pass-along homes that took the dogs in after problems developed in the first home into which they were purchased.”

With all the free/low-cost spay/neuter programs, why is pit bull shelter population increasing?
“By 1995 more than 70% of the U.S. dog population had been sterilized. A dog who was impounded or surrendered to a shelter 25 years ago had just a 10% chance of being rehomed. Dogs in shelters today have about a 60% chance of being rehomed--unless they happen to be pit bull terriers or close mixes of pit bull, whose sterilization rate is still barely 25%. “Despite that extraordinary rate of success in pit bull placement, however, about 75% of the pit bulls and pit mixes arriving at shelters are killed, either due to dangerous behavior or simply because shelters are receiving pit bulls in ever-escalating volume. Each year from a third to 45% of the total U.S. pit bull population enters an animal shelter, a phenomenon never seen with any other dog breed.”

Is it “just the owner?”
Here are just a few of the tragic statistics Clifton provides about the realities of life for pit bulls. He explains that this is not a matter of “nature vs. nurture,” but, “…a matter of inherently problematic dogs being acquired by inherently problematic people…” “ More than 5,000 pit bulls have been seized in dog fighting raids since 2000, a mere fraction of the numbers believed to have been killed either in dogfights, in connection with training dogs to fight, or in culling dogs who lose fights or show little promise of becoming successful fighters. “About 21% of the dogs impounded in cases of severe and prolonged neglect since 2005 have been pit bulls, and also 21% of the dogs impounded in cases of violent abuse--including 49% of the dogs set on fire and 14% of the dogs raped in bestiality cases. “But pit bulls not just the victims of mayhem. Disfiguring and fatal pit bull attacks on humans have occurred during the past two years at the rate of two every three days, are an unprecedented pace. Pit bulls and close pit mixes have since 1982 accounted for 45% of all U.S. and Canadian fatalities from dog attacks on humans…”

Who’s really making the decisions?
Clifton provides an intriguing history of the major humane organizations—American Humane Association (AHA), Best Friends Animal Society, American Society for the Protection of Animals (ASPCA), The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)--in regard to proposals for mandatory spay/neuter of pit bulls and breed-specific legislation. He also discusses the results of various forms of legislation to address both the burgeoning population and concerns about dangerous dogs.

Have they helped or hindered? What are the costs of pit bulls to society?
“According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites now account for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims, a recent average of about 16,000 per year. The average payout per claim rose 37% between 2003 and 2010…. “The cumulative liability from attacks by dogs from shelters and rescues in lawsuits known to have been settled within the past year alone is in excess of the annual budgets of more than 93% of all U.S. humane organizations.

Debunking the Myths
This editorial dispels the common myths that are repeated as gospel by pit bull advocates who have never bothered to determine their validity. Clifton debates these common untruths with facts: --No, pit bulls were never "America's favorite pet." --No, pit bulls were never "nanny dogs." --No, there is no evidence that if pit bulls were unavailable some other type of dog would be comparably exploited --No, it is not true that breed-specific laws do not reduce bites --No, breed-specific legislation is not inherently hard to enforce because of the difficulty of defining particular breeds.

Humane community credibility at risk?
Merritt Clifton reminds us that, “ANIMAL PEOPLE has warned, many times, that the trustworthiness of the humane community itself is at risk when animal advocates deny the realities of the pit bull crisis.”

Breed-specific legislation (BSL)?
“ANIMAL PEOPLE again reminds the humane community that an effective response to pit bull overpopulation must target breeding, and must be legislatively mandated, since pit bull breeders have proved intransigently resistant to any and all forms of gentle persuasion… “ANIMAL PEOPLE believes active enforcement of breed-specific legislation would be most effective if enforcement is triggered by evidence of breeding, sale, or other exchange. “Effective breed-specific legislation could stop the reproduction of pit bulls and other problematic breeds, stop dogfighting and speculation on fighting bloodlines, curtail shelter intakes of pit bulls and other "fighting" dogs, and reduce attacks on people and other animals.” (Above are excerpts. Read more… )


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