The Buck Stops Here: Ending The Cycle Of Canine Discrimination

We really love “pit bull” dogs here at AFF. To accomplish our mission, we work to remove discriminatory policies in shelters, in our law books, and much more. But here’s the secret to our work: it doesn’t just benefit “pit bull” dogs.

The overarching goal for us is not only to fulfill our mission to secure equal treatment and opportunity for any dog labeled “pit bull”, but to put an end to canine discrimination – for ALL dogs.

If we do our jobs right when it comes to “pit bull” dogs, then we effectively put an end to all the myths, misconceptions, and misinformation that form the basis for any discriminatory practice and policy against any dog.

In other words, done right, the discrimination buck stops here.

We’re thinking big picture!

We don’t just want to convince lawmakers that Breed Specific Legislation is bad for “pit bull” dogs and their families. We want lawmakers to understand that discriminating against any dog based on looks and breed is always ineffective and wrong.

That’s because what’s true for “pit bull” dogs is also true for ALL dogs (“pit bull” dogs are just dogs, after all!).

  • No dog has a locking jaw.
  • No group of dogs is inherently dangerous.
  • No community is made safer when dogs are banned based on their physical appearance of breed label.
  • No group of dogs needs blanket adoption restrictions placed on them, based only on their appearance or breed.

All dogs are individuals. When we say that, we really mean ALL dogs. Not just “pit bull” dogs.

This is important for all of us to think about because if we don’t do our jobs well now, then there will be a different group of dogs that gets singled out for discrimination, just as Rottweilers, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and “pit bull” dogs have already been.

Eventually, there will be a different group of dogs that are unfairly saddled with restricted adoption policies or bans in our communities. That is the nature of stereotypes, scapegoating, and discrimination – they move from one target to the next.

No stereotypes allowed in this play group!

No stereotypes allowed in this play group!

 

So although our work starts with “pit bull” dogs – because they need us right now – it ends with raising the bar for the way we understand canines as a whole, so that no other group of dogs can ever be discriminated against in the future.

Ending the cycle of discrimination means we help communities, politicians, and shelters understand that every dog must be evaluated as an individual, that communities are safest when our laws put the responsibility on the owner, and that adoptions are successful when we stop making assumptions about a dog based on their looks or breed label.

If we do our jobs right for “pit bull” dogs, then every dog, family, and community will benefit because it will finally be understood – once and for all – that a dog can’t be judged by looks or breed alone and that policies based on that line of flawed thinking are always doomed to fail us.

We challenge those of you who love and advocate for “pit bull” dogs to join us in Big Picture Thinking.

That means: Be mindful about how you talk about other dogs. If we are asking the public and policy makers not to rely on stereotypes about “pit bull” dogs or to judge them by their looks or breed label, then we must refrain from doing the exact same thing about other dogs.

If we do not treat ALL dogs as individuals, then we are perpetuating the thinking that will one day lead to serious consequences for other dogs. Another group of dogs and their families will suffer because we failed to advance our collective understanding about dogs.

So the next time you catch yourself making a joke about how Chihuahuas “are more likely to bite than a pit bull” or make a generalization that ALL Malinois need “owners with breed experience” (sound familiar?), we ask that you take a step back to reflect on this cycle of discrimination.

Chihuahuas are individuals too! Available for adoption through Our Pack

Chihuahuas are individuals too!   Jack is available for adoption through Our Pack

 

It does not help “pit bull” dogs when we speak negatively of other dogs.

It does not lift “pit bull” dogs up when we put another group of dogs down.

It’s a mistake to think that pointing fingers or generalizing about other dogs isn’t harmful. It may not be immediately obvious, but there are consequences. It undermines ALL dogs when we allow prejudicial thoughts, stereotyping, and finger-pointing to be perpetuated.

It allows the false belief that we can generalize about any dog – based only on their breed or physical appearance – to continue to exist. And that is the fuel that feeds the fires of discrimination.

Nineteen states already understand that treating all dogs as individuals applies to all dogs. Statewide BSL preemptions are being passed more and more frequently. While this seems like a victory for “pit bull” dogs, we urge you to see this as a victory for all dogs.

It means that in those states, there will be no other group of dogs that follows “pit bull” dogs in the long chain of canines that have been persecuted and banned over the past 100+ years.

We challenge all of you to examine your language not just when speaking about “pit bull “ dogs, but whenever you talk about dogs of any kind. Bring awareness to how you may be perpetuating the cycle of discriminatory thinking by making generalizations, pointing fingers, and perpetuating stereotypes.

our pack

No generalizations allowed at this group nap! Photo Credit: Our Pack

 

If we do this right today, then no one will ever have to go before a town council to fight breed specific legislation again – not for “pit bull” dogs and not for any other dog.

If we do this right, then one will ever have to fight to get another group of dogs onto the adoption floor.

We’ll have shown the world that fair, equal treatment of all dogs is the ONLY way. The right way.

We can secure this only when we promote this basic truth: All dogs are individuals first and foremost.

The cycle of discrimination ends with your help. The discrimination buck stops here.

Posted in Breed Specific Legislation, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

All Dogs Are Individuals [INFOGRAPHIC]: Spanish Translation

In this infographic Animal Farm Foundation looked at the science and research on the subject of canine genetics and behavior. What we found is simple: All Dogs Are Individuals.

En esta gráfica informativa, Animal Farm Foundation exploró la ciencia e investigación en relación al tema de la genética y el comportamiento canino. Lo que descubrimos fue simple: Cada Perro es un Individuo.

Despite how a dog may look on the outside or what their breed or breed mix may be, research reveals that dogs are complex animals influenced by many factors. Looks alone do not dictate behavior.

Sin importar la apariencia, o bien, la raza o mezcla de razas a las que un perro pertenezca, investigaciones recientes demuestran que los perros son animales complejos influenciados por varios factores. La apariencia no indica únicamente al comportamiento.

Recognizing and understanding dogs as individuals is important for our families and communities. It means that every dog must be judged and evaluated for their actual behavior, rather than on assumptions, generalizations, and stereotypes based on breed or looks. And all dog owners must be held equally accountable.

Es de suma importancia para nuestras familias y comunidades el reconocer y comprender a los perros como individuos. Esto significa que cada perro debe ser juzgado y evaluado por su verdadero comportamiento, en lugar de asumir, generalizar o basarnos en estereotipos, raza o apariencia. Y los dueños de cada perro debe tener la misma responsabilidad.

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Want to share the infographic?

You can find the full graphic here in English. If you’d like to add the infographic to your website or blog, just cut and paste the embed code (at the bottom of this page). A preview image of the infographic will appear on your site! And for a more detailed look at the English version of the infographic, please see this post. 

¿Quisieras compartir esta gráfica informativa?

Puedes encontrar la gráfica informativa completa aquí. Si quieres añadir la gráfica informativa en tu página web o blog, sólo copia y pega el código (se encuentra hasta abajo de esta página). ¡Una vista previa de la gráfica informativa aparecerá en tu sitio web!

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Thank you to Natalia Martinez of Design Lab Creative Studio for designing and translating the infographic!

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CITATIONS:

The Dog and It’s Genome by Elaine Ostrander

Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog by Scott and Fuller

National Geographic

Kristopher J. Irizarry, PhD

Janis Bradley, The Relevance of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog

Dr. Victoria Voith

ABSTRACTS:

Brachycephalic traits

Morphological traits

Brain development genes

Cranial facial development and here

Canine skull development

 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Posted in Breed Specific Legislation, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Fairfax County Animal Shelter: No Restrictions, Just Success

Last year we had the privilege to meet several members of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter (FCAS) at our Language and Advocacy Internship program.  Later that year, FCAS shared that they had been able to double the number of “pit bull” dog adoptions at their shelter. This accomplishment is noteworthy at any shelter, but FCAS managed to increase adoptions while still struggling to remove a long list of breed restrictions on their “pit bull” dogs!

In January, FCAS’s efforts to remove the restrictions finally paid off. Today, FCAS is able to treat all dogs as individuals. We recently spoke with Kristen Auerbach, the Director of Communications and Outreach, at FCAS to find out more.

AFF: Prior to January 2014, what were the restrictions on “pit bull” dog adoptions at FCAS?

FCAS: The major components of the policy were:

-Adopter must be 25 or over
-Adopter must own a home
-Adopter must undergo a home visit
-Adopter must undergo a background check
-Adopter must agree to take their dog to training classes.

How did the restrictions directly affect adoptions?

As you can imagine, four out of five adopters walked out the door once they heard about the restrictions, even the ones that did qualify. We had to explain the policy to adopters, while simultaneously asserting that “pit bull” isn’t a breed and that pit bull type dogs were really okay. It didn’t make sense to people.

Each restriction affected adoptions differently. Many adopters who were turned away because of age were really frustrated. They wanted to ‘do the right thing’ and help a homeless pit bull dog. So many young people left in tears because they were aware of the plight facing pit bull dogs and they wanted to help.

The homeowner restriction was a huge problem too. Even if you rented a home and had lived there for ten years, you still couldn’t adopt a pit bull type dog, even if your landlord gave you permission.

The background check and home visit: No one ever objected to these, but they prevented countless adoptions, mostly because people didn’t want to wait the days or even weeks it would take for staff members to do the background check and go to do a home visit.

Fairfax is a huge county that encompasses almost 400 square miles; it can take an hour or more to get to any one place. Like most shelters, our human resources are limited and precious, and we expended a lot of them doing these home visits.

Staff celebrates the day restrictions were officially dropped at FCAS

FCAS staff on the day restrictions were officially dropped at FCAS!

And how did they affect adopter’s perceptions of the “pit bull”dogs?

Overall, the restrictions both gave the public the idea that something was wrong, or at least very different, about these dogs. People who wouldn’t have even thought twice about adopting a pit bull were stopped in their tracks and left asking, “Why is the shelter so worried? Should I be worried?”

One practice that was in effect a year ago was to write “PIT BULL RULES” on every kennel card in bold, capital letters and then to highlight it with a yellow marker. Boy, that kind of thing will scare any adopter away!

What about the overall affect the restrictions had on your organization? How did they impact the staff?

The policy led to some shelter practices that compounded the problems, making things even worse. Just one year ago, the shelter had a practice of taking at least three ‘applications’ on every pit bull dog because the idea was that at least two would fall through. And that was often true. But not for the reasons you might think. It was because they got tired of waiting. Adopters are excited to bring home their new family member and they have so many options. In our area, adopters could choose any of the other shelters, most of which had no breed-specific policies.

We adopted out so few and the staff was demoralized. There was a negative attitude about pit bull type dogs – the staff seemed to dread seeing them. It wasn’t because our staff didn’t like pit bull dogs, it was because they knew that every one that went on our adoption floor was likely to wait months to find an adopter. For our staff, compassion fatigue was heightened by this sense of hopelessness around the possibility of pit bull dogs finding homes.

Finally, length of stay was a huge problem. Around 10 dogs waited five to six months or more to find homes last year. This is hard on the dogs of course, whose mental health eventually begins to decline, but it’s also devastating to the staff and volunteers who come to know and love these dogs.

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Cherry is one of the “pit bull” dogs currently available for adoption at FCAS

In order to remove the restrictions, FCAS had to work with the Fairfax County Police Department, the County Attorney, and the County Commissioners.

What was that process like? What were their concerns about dropping the restrictions and how did you address them?

I think that the thing we did right was to really do our groundwork. We did extensive research and attended internships, conferences and trainings to learn about best practices in animal welfare.

We were really lucky, because virtually all of the other jurisdictions surrounding us: Alexandria, Arlington, Washington, Prince William, Montgomery and others had no breed-specific policies.

We built a strong case, using the research and recommendations of national organizations who have spoken out against breed-specific legislation, including the AVMA, HSUS, AFF, CDC, and others.

A turning point for us was when we invited the executive director and director of external communications from the Washington Humane Society to meet with our animal services advisory commission to talk about their adoption policies. Lisa LaFontaine and Scott Giacoppo were able to answer all of their questions and alleviate many of their concerns. It was following that meeting that the Commission agreed to unanimously support the lifting of the restrictions.

We also invested a lot of time into one-on-one meetings with the County’s leadership, who were incredibly supportive. During those private meetings, anyone who had questions or concerns was able to express that before the moment they had to make a decision.

All levels of leadership in the county, from the Chief of Police to the Board of Supervisors to the County Attorney, were supportive of the changes. Of course, there were initial concerns about public safety, but we were able to use information from Animal Farm Foundation, the National Canine Research Council, and other organizations to show that moving away from breed-specific policies would actually support and increase public safety and responsible pet ownership.

Do you have any advice for other shelters that are considering dropping blanket restrictions based on breed?

Yes!

What some people forget is that this is a cultural shift. If you’re going to change the way that others think about pit bull type dogs, breed restrictions, or anything else, you might have to also look at the way you think about those things.

For example, we are constantly interrogating our own ideas and assumptions. We’ll catch ourselves stereotyping a certain breed or type of animal, and realize that whether we’re stereotyping a pit bull, a Dalmatian, or a guinea pig, we’re doing a disservice to that animal. At AFF, you say, “All dogs are individuals.” We took that a step further in our shelter and our slogan is “All animals are individuals!”

Before overturning the restrictions, we started to make small changes that would help change the internal culture of the shelter as well as the experience people had when they came into the shelter. For example, “PIT BULL RULES” changed to “Ask about my special adoption procedure!” It wasn’t perfect, but it was a step in the right direction.

A positive spin on "pit bull rules" and restrictions. Better, but not ideal!

A positive spin on “pit bull rules” and restrictions. Better, but not ideal!

Instead of taking three applications on every pit bull type dog, we took one, and then committed to seeing in through in a timely manner. And then, if the adoption fell through, we made the dog available again. While we had the restrictions, we sped up the process so that instead of an adoption taking three weeks, it took three or four days. This was hard on the staff and volunteers, who had to drop what they were doing for a home visit or to run a background check, but it got the dogs adopted.

And after the AFF training, we decided that we were going to invest a lot of time and energy into showing off our pit bull type dogs. We did this thoughtfully, as to not isolate or differentiate them, but we made sure that when people saw our pit bull dogs on their computers and smart phones, that they would want those pit bulls – in their home, on their couch, playing with their kids, cuddling with their cat, or riding shotgun in the car.

We’ve been very conscious about how we want people to feel when they see Fairfax pit bulls. Some of the feeling we want our dogs’ images to elicit are: triumph, joy, overcoming, survival, thriving, love, family, laughter and comfort. We kept sad, hopeless, and angry off that list.

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FCAS creates fun, positive memes to help connect with potential adopters through social media.

What impact do you foresee this policy change will have on your organization – internally or eternally?

Without the restrictions, we did 12 pit bull dog adoptions in just two weeks. Last year we only did 40 pit bull dog adoptions in the entire year!

Some of our staff and volunteers were the most hesitant about the policy changed. This really surprised us. They were afraid that the dogs wouldn’t go to good homes or that they would be victims of dog fighting. They felt that we needed to have the restrictions to protect the dogs.

What’s been great is that in just two weeks, those who were the most vocally opposed to the change have made a complete turnaround. They can’t believe how many of our dogs are getting adopted and to great families!

Those staff resources we were using to do background checks and home visits? Now those resources are going towards a more comprehensive post adoption follow up program. We’re now going to be able to reach out to adopters, ALL adopters, several ways and we’ll be able to offer them advice and resources throughout their pet’s life.

In just the past two weeks, our pit bull dog length of stay had dramatically decreased. Last year, we had nearly 10 pit bulls who spent five to six months waiting for adoptive homes. We’re hoping that nobody has to wait more than a month or so to be adopted.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. It’s wonderful to see all of your hard work paying off for the staff and volunteers, the adopters, and the “pit bull” dogs in your care. Bravo FCAS!!

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Can Animal Trainers and Behaviorists Be Divorced from Animal Advocacy?

We recently read a blog by the good folks at Your Pit Bull and You called: Can Animal Advocacy be Divorced from Animal Behavior? In this thoughtful post, the authors contemplate if animal welfare advocates would be more effective in the long run if they were as educated in animal learning and behavior as they are in the issues related to improving animal welfare.

They wrote, “It behooves advocates (and the dogs who inspire their work) to have a basic understanding of how animals learn, and what drives their behavior. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 2.7 million adoptable cats and dogs were euthanized in US shelters last year. Behavioral issues are ranked among the top reasons for the relinquishment of pets to shelters.”

We agree. It’s only a good thing when advocates have a deeper understanding of dog behavior and how our actions on the other end of the leash impact the dogs. Dog behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum after all! Dogs live with us. Dog behavior cannot be understood apart from humans or the situations in which humans have placed dogs.

As we advocate for fair, effective non-discriminatory dog laws and better animal sheltering practices, it’s important that we have a foundation of understanding about how dogs learn and how their behaviors are related to and influenced by our actions.  In this way, we can better support pet owning families, create dog owner laws that work, and prevent more dogs from entering our shelter system in the long term.

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The blog got us thinking that an equally fair question to ask would be: Can Animal Trainers and Behaviorists be Divorced from Animal Advocacy? And to that the answer is also: No.

Just as advocates have a lot to learn about dog training and behavior, dog trainers have a responsibility to learn from advocates as well.

The language and the information that dog trainers and behaviorists use is perceived as fact by lawmakers, shelter workers, and dog owners. This means there is a responsibility to think carefully about how our words might be perceived and the potential our words have to influence wider audiences.  Unfortunately, we sometimes hear dog trainers (as well as advocates and veterinarians) relaying information to the public that can be quite damaging for the dogs.

For instance: sometimes well-intentioned dog trainers will speak positively about “pit bull” dogs by referring to their supposed “high pain threshold” as an example of how they’re a good match for families with younger kids who may handle the family dog in a rough manner. While we understand that the intentions behind statements like these are good ones, there are three ways this kind of information sharing does not help the dogs:

1. It’s a generalization about a large group of diverse dogs. Like any dog, from Labrador Retrievers to mixed breed dogs, some “pit bull” dogs may be good with younger, rowdy children, while others are not. Using generalizations about a large group of dogs distracts potential adopters from focusing on getting to know dogs as individuals. For example, a better method for selecting a kid-friendly dog is for families to choose an individual dog that is good with their children.



2. It’s easy to misinterpret. This kind of statement fails to set dogs and kids up for safe and successful interactions because, to the average listener, it suggests that it’s acceptable for parents to allow children to play roughly with dogs to the point of inflicting pain. We can help all dogs by sharing information that clearly communicates to families how they can set dogs up to succeed in our world.



3. It perpetuates myths. This statement perpetuates a myth about the biology of “pit bull” dogs which has been used against the dogs in court by those who wish to characterize “pit bull” dogs as deviant and dangerous. Misinformation like this is used to support discriminatory laws and policies which ban the dogs based on breed, not on individual behavior.



Take a look at the graphic below, which illustrates some common refrains we hear from dog trainers (as well as veterinarians and advocates) and the corresponding quotes that we’ve pulled from BSL hearings, laws, and other discriminatory statements:

our words their ammo

Can you see how words spoken about dog behavior and training can also cause confusion for some audiences? And worse, how it can be used as ammo for fueling discrimination against dogs? With good intentions, dog trainers often say sweeping things about large groupings of dogs (not just “pit bull” dogs) and this information is then used by decision makers to justify hysteria-based discriminatory laws and policies.

That’s why it’s important to consider how we speak about the dogs.

Our words really do matter. Dog trainers are considered experts and their words are perceived as fact. Saying things like “it’s all how they’re raised” and “that breed isn’t appropriate for first time dog owners” about an entire group of dogs can cause real long-term problems.

It’s not always easy to carefully consider our language choices, but we owe it to the dogs to think about how we communicate and how the information we share might be misunderstood or used to justify dangerous and discriminatory policies.

The dogs and their families will benefit when all of us take the time to educate ourselves about the work being done on the other end of the spectrum.

Dog trainers can learn how to communicate more accurately and effectively from advocates and advocates can learn how to better support the dogs, their families, and communities through a better understanding of canine learning and behavior from dog trainers.

Learning from one another in this way, we can truly make a positive, lasting impact for the dogs we all love.

Posted in Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Seeing Is Believing: The Power of Play Groups and Enrichment

You may have noticed that we spend a significant amount of our time and resources investing in teaching shelters about kennel enrichment and play groups. If you’re wondering how promoting kennel enrichment and play groups fit in with our mission to secure equal treatment and opportunity for “pit bull” dogs, this blog is for you!

Providing kennel enrichment and play groups isn’t specific to fulfilling the needs of “pit bull” dogs. Of course, we know ALL dogs benefit from these activities. “Pit bull” dogs are not unique in their needs for mental and physical activity! However, teaching shelters about the importance of kennel enrichment and play groups and how to implement both, fulfills our mission by addressing two key issues:

  1. Increasing “pit bull” dog adoptions in shelters.
  2. Teaching shelters how to think and communicate about “pit bull” dogs as individuals.

Both of these issues are interconnected. Here’s how:

It’s a common misconception that there is a secret recipe for boosting “pit bull” dog adoptions or that extraordinary measures are needed in order to increase their adoption rates. Not so!

In our experience, along with lifting restrictive blanket policies, when the staff and volunteers view and communicate about each dog as an individual – free of stereotypes and assumptions – adoptions will increase in quantity and quality.

When we marginalize, restrict, or stereotype the dogs in our care, it slows their adoptions by relaying a message to the public that “pit bull” dogs are different (deviant) from other dogs. To increase adoptions, there first needs to be an internal shift in the way the staff views the dogs. When that happens, everything shifts: observations, marketing, adoption counseling, training, etc.

Asking people to change the way they view “pit bull” dogs typically challenges their own deeply held beliefs and personal experiences. It’s nearly impossible to shift someone’s thinking just by throwing information at them.  In order to have a major shift in thinking – one that resonates deeply and influences their behavior – people often need to see it for themselves.

The most impactful way to affect people’s attitudes toward any particular group of dogs (or humans) is to give them a positive personal experience. The role of direct experience in changing attitudes and opinions cannot be underestimated.

Enter kennel enrichment and play groups! Both are a real life experiences that helps the staff and volunteers see “pit bull” dogs in a new way.

For example, seeing “pit bull” dogs interact with other dogs in the yards helps shelter staff to understand that a dog’s behavior in their kennel isn’t an accurate indicator of a dog’s social skills. Many dogs are labeled “aggressive” due to their kennel or on leash behavior. This label may go unchallenged if it confirms an already present (sometimes unconscious) bias among the staff that “pit bull” dogs aren’t capable of being dog social. We can tell them that kennel and leash behavior is not an accurate indicator of off leash social skills, but that’s hard to believe. So we stopped telling and started showing!

When shelter workers see the dogs interact in play groups, their eyes are opened: dogs that were mistakenly labeled “dog aggressive” because of kennel behavior or based on breed labels are now seen behaving in a social manner in play groups.

Play groups have the power to shift deeply entrenched thinking. After seeing play groups, staff members quickly grasp that the behavior generalizations they’ve been making about the dogs may not have been correct and may have prevented the dogs from getting adopted.

Further, seeing “pit bull” dogs happily and safely socializing with other dogs translates into a perspective shift that helps staff and volunteers let go of breed-based stereotypes and myths that may have influenced their decision making and the information they share. When they witness one “pit bull” dog after another displaying appropriate social skills and enjoying play with other dogs of all kinds, a big light bulb goes off!

Suddenly, it becomes clear: “Pit bull” dogs ARE individuals.

all breed playgroup

Animal Farm Foundation Play Group

Once the staff recognizes that “pit bull” dogs are individuals too, then the dogs are provided with fair, unbiased treatment and care. This kind of “individual first” way of seeing the dogs will lead to increased adoptions.

Adoption rates will increase for ALL dogs when the dogs are calm in their kennels and/or when the public can view the dogs in a more natural environment than just the kennels.

For example, seeing dogs interact with one another in a play group is a joyful experience. It’s much more fun and less intimidating for adopters to watch dogs play outside than it is to walk through noisy kennels.

When potential adopters are allowed to view “pit bull” dogs playing with other dogs, it busts through their preconceived notions, allowing them to see a side of the dogs they’d never get exposed to while sitting in their kennels. And while it’s best if the public can see the play groups in person, if that’s not possible then photos of play sessions shared on your website and social media will help too!

Chicago Play Group

Chicago Play Group

Even if the play groups are not open to public viewing, play sessions support the mental and physical health of the dogs, reducing behavior problems in the kennels by allowing them to get to know their canine neighbors and tiring them out so that they can relax.

With or without play groups as part of the rotation, daily kennel enrichment, such as meals in Kongs, quiet time with volunteers, and training games will also exercise and support the dogs’ minds and bodies. This leads to calmer behavior in their kennels, reduced barking, and better kennel presentation overall. Adopters are more likely to choose dogs that are pleasant and quiet in their kennels.

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Enlist volunteers to help teach dogs polite kennel manners

When an adopter passes on the chance to meet a “pit bull” dog available for adoption, it’s important for staff to consider: Was the dog well behaved in their kennel or bouncing off the walls? If the dog wasn’t calm or happy, it may not be accurate to blame their breed label for the public’s lack of interest. It’s more likely that the dog’s individual behavior was a turn off.

Luckily, we can do something about that through enrichment. Give the dogs activities to keep them busy and tire them out, before and during visiting hours. Help them present well in their kennels and the public will notice them!

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Busy dogs are quiet dogs at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington

If there’s any “secret” to increasing “pit bull” dog adoptions, it’s in teaching the staff to see all dogs as individuals, to support the mental and physical health of all dogs during their stay in the shelter, and to help the public see the dogs in a better light. The “secret” is to help people (adopters and the staff) have a shift in perspective.

Kennel enrichment and play groups provide the direct, positive experience that allows for this change in attitude. And that’s why investing in kennel enrichment and play groups supports our mission to secure equal treatment and opportunity for “pit bull” dogs!

 For more information, please visit out website

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Enrichment and Training | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Good News You Didn’t Hear About in 2013

It seems like just the other day that we were writing the 2012 wrap up (read that here). But here we are at the end of 2013 already!

We’re excited to report that the positive trends we shared with you a year ago are still in full effect: Towns across the country are continuing to veto and repeal Breed Specific Legislation, shelters are dropping blanket restrictions from their adoption polices, and community advocates are busy connecting families with much needed pet-related resources.

This continual positive shift for “pit bull” dogs and their families has allowed us to commit more time in 2013 to working with a variety of shelters, their staff, and volunteers.

It’s not exactly headline news or breaking research, but getting to work one-on-one with shelters is big stuff! Why? Because shelters are the local animal experts in their community, working with and speaking on behalf of “pit bull” dogs and their families. For that reason, the time we spend working with shelters is always worthwhile (and a lot of fun!).

As the year comes to a close, we couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up 2013 than by sharing a few successes that you probably won’t hear about anywhere else! The following is just a handful of the shelters we’ve worked with in the past 12 months and a small sampling of the good work that’s being accomplished: 


Charlotte Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control, North Carolina: Starts adopting out victims of dog fighting for the first time.

When a group of 27 “pit bull” dogs was confiscated from a dog fighting operation at the beginning of 2013, CMACC saw this case as an opportunity to evolve and dropped their former policy to euthanize all dogs from alleged dog fighting operations.

Rather than making assumptions about the dogs’ future behavior based on their past, CMACC opted to evaluate each dog as an individual. This approach, along with marketing the dogs to potential adopters in their community and partnering with rescues around the country, was a success for many of the dogs.  It’s an excellent start toward treating victims of cruelty as individuals.

Bess, who is seen here graduating from her CGC class, was just one of the dogs who benefited from their policy change. Like many of the victims of dog fighting, Bess now shares her home with another dog (and a couple of cats!).

bess

Bess on Graduation Day


Another North Carolina dog, Mara, is currently with Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue, waiting to be adopted. We think you’ll enjoy her terrific adoption video:


Thank you CMACC for making these new beginnings possible!


Fairfax County Animal Shelter, Virginia: Dramatically increases “pit bull” dog adoptions and begins accepting “pit bull” dogs on transports from other shelters.

FCAS spent 2013 committed to creating fair, equal policies to increase “pit bull” dog adoptions. Despite having a few remaining restrictions on “pit bull” dog adoptions (which the shelter is actively working with the County to remove), FCAS was STILL able to nearly double the number of “pit bull” dog adoptions this year and achieved an overall positive release rate of 93% for their dogs!

King Tut: who can resist this guy?

King Tut: who can resist this guy?


In addition to starting play groups, a weekend fostering program, and a dog walking club, FCAS launched their popular Facebook page this year. And now they’re the ones teaching us a little something about great marketing via social media. Check out their photos, like the one below, designed to help this dog score a home with his ideal adopter (a guy)!

Bambam-6

Bam Bam showing off his moves at football practice


Not only are they dedicating their efforts to getting local “pit bull” dogs adopted, but FCAS welcomes transports of dogs from nearby shelters in Virginia and DC and in 2013 those transports included “pit bull” dogs for the first time. Many shelters that accept transports do not accept “pit bull” dogs, so this deserves recognition.

Thank you FCAS for opening your doors to ALL dogs in need!


Rochester Animal Services, New York: Launched a 100% volunteer run playgroup program.

In August of 2013 RAS opened the gates to a brand new play yard, launching a play group program run entirely by volunteers and supported by the staff. In addition to using the yard to exercise and enrich more than 240 dogs (of all breeds and mixes) since the gates opened this summer, RAS also uses play groups to increase adoptions.

Throughout the week, the public is invited to view play groups, so that they can see the dogs in a different environment than in their kennels. Potential adopters get to watch the dogs at play and can pick their new best friends right out of the yard!

RASPlayYard-4

Snow doesn’t stop RAS volunteers from running play groups!


“We have made a commitment to marketing and promoting our play groups within our community. We post the weekly play group schedule via social media and we are committed to sharing photos and videos of play yard escapades to help build our brand. With many people expressing hesitation about viewing animals in a shelter environment, play groups provides us with yet another option/venue to capture and engage potential adopters. It is powerful stuff.” – Deb C. Volunteer

RASPlayYard-6

RAS Play Group Winter 2013


Rescues and other shelters are also welcome to watch the play groups. Getting to see the dogs interact in the yard helps them choose which dogs to pull for their own adoption programs. Since implementing play groups in August, RAS has increased their transfer out rate (to rescue partners) by 27%!

“I am thrilled to have this as a resource to make decisions in pulling dogs.  Knowing a dog is doing well in a play group makes it easier to answer questions for potential foster homes to ensure their family pets are safe when pulling a dog from the shelter with little or no known history. It has also shown us a considerable difference in the behavior from kennel to play yard and that the play yard is a much more reliable tool than the shelter evaluations.  Our rescue doesn’t rely on the leashed evaluations now that the play yard program is in place.”  Melissa N. – Going to the Dogs Rescue

Thank you RAS for showing us that a small group of dedicated volunteers can make a huge difference!


Liberty Humane Society, New Jersey: Reduced Owner Surrenders by 30% through Pet Owner Support Program.

LHS, instituted a new Pet Owner Support Program in 2013 and the results have already made a huge difference. In just the first three month, owner surrendered animals have dropped 30%!

Alycia-puppies

LHS tsaff member Alycia and puppies at your service!


The pilot program offers families a $35 stipend (the equivalent that LHS spends to intake a new animal) for shelter services that can help pet owners keep their animals at home, rather than surrendering them.

Donte-puppy

LHS staffer (and former AFF intern) Donte is every dog’s best friend


Services include free vaccinations, training consultations, dog crates and other simple solutions to assist families in keeping their pets at home. LHS reports that the majority of families didn’t need to use the full $35 stipend and the pets did not enter the shelter system.

Thank you LHS for helping families to stay together!


These shelters may not be making headlines, but to us and to their communities, the work they’ve done in 2013 was truly big news. Their accomplishments are indicative of what we’re seeing around the country – shelters are stepping up as the experts and making a difference for pets, people, and especially “pit bull” dogs in their communities. Bravo!

Thanks to the good work being done by these organizations, and many, many others, we’re excited to see what 2014 brings. Stay tuned for more stories, new free resources, and learning opportunities coming soon from AFF…

And Happy New Year everyone!

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Enrichment and Training, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Pit Bull” Dogs: A Petfinder Photo Sampler

boy saving paws of WA

Boy at Saving Paws of WA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier

Bruno at Rocket Dog Rescue, CA: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Bruno at Rocket Dog Rescue, CA: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

brady saving paws of WA

Brady at Saving Paws of WA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier

Buddy at Grateful Dogs Rescue, CA: Listed as American Staffordshire Terrier and Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Buddy at Grateful Dogs Rescue, CA: Listed as American Staffordshire Terrier and Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Wilma at Villalobos Rescue, LA: Listed s Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Wilma at Villalobos Rescue, LA: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Bunny of Manchester Animal Care and Control CT: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier and English Bulldog mix

Bunny at Manchester Animal Care and Control CT: listed as Pit Bull Terrier and English Bulldog mix

King

King at Poughkeepsie Animal Care and Control, NY: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Chase of Response-a-Bull Rescue DE: listed as Pit bull Terrier

Chase at Response-a-Bull Rescue, DE: listed as Pit Bull Terrier

helen pspca

Helen at Philadelphia SPCA, PA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier and Plott Hound Mix

Rue at Boise Bully Breed Rescue, ID: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Rue at Boise Bully Breed Rescue, ID: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Roger at Oregon HumaneSociety: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Roger at Oregon Humane Society: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

mocha austin animal center

Mocha at Austin Animal Center, TX: listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

elvis manchester ct


Elvis at Manchester Animal Care and Control, CT: listed as Pit Bull Terrier and Boxer Mix

Bradley at Homestretch Hounds, OH: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Bradley at Homestretch Hounds, OH: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

dusty va

Dusty at Fairfax County Animal Shelter, VA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier

Sampson of Mutt Love Rescue, VA: listed Pit Bull Terrier

Sampson at Mutt Love Rescue, VA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier

sheba austin animal center

Sheba at Austin Animal Center, TX: listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Autumn at Canine Cupids, WI: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

Autumn at Canine Cupids, WI: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

siri oas

Siri at Oakland Animal Services, CA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier

 

We’ve picked this random group of dogs from Petfinder to illustrate three things:

1. There is no agreed upon or standard definition of a “Pit Bull.” Through our work we have come to understand that the phrase “pit bull” means something different to everyone. Animal welfare workers don’t agree on how to define “pit bull”. Law enforcement officers don’t agree. Legislators don’t agree. Even dog owners don’t agree on exactly what a “pit bull” is! So, the use of that label, “pit bull” is subjective, as you can see in the photos above. That’s why we put it in quotes.

2. The goal is not to get better at breed labeling. We can’t get better at it, so there’s no use wasting time trying. Peer-reviewed studies have proven that the visual identification of breeds is unreliable. Did you know that only 50 of a dog’s 20,000 genes determines what they look like on the outside? That means we’re making a breed guess based on seeing less than 1% of a dog’s DNA. No wonder we’re wrong so often (particularly in shelters where the population of dogs has been estimated to be up to 75% mixed breed)! Don’t bother trying to get better at it – we can’t, because we don’t have super powers.

3. A dog’s label, right or wrong, doesn’t tell us who they are or how they will behave. This is true whether we are accurate or not in our labeling. This is true whether the dog is a pure breed or a mixed breed dog. The labels we assign to dogs don’t tell us what they need as an individual or whether or not they are safe to live in our communities. We cannot accurately predict a dog’s future behavior based on breed or breed label alone. Dogs are complex individuals whose behaviors are influenced by a number of external and internal factors. Above all else, dogs are individuals.

 

Finally, some advice for anyone using Petfinder.com or another shelter software program:

Since they require you to list the breed of dog, you don’t have much choice but to guess! However, you can choose to tell your adopters that the breed label is just a guess. And you can add this to your posts, like we do: “Visual breed identification in dogs is unreliable so for most of the dogs we are only guessing at predominant breed or breed mix. We get to know each dog as an individual and will do our best to describe each of our dogs based on personality, not by breed label.” You can find posters and kennel cards with this info, available here.

 

For more FAQs from shelters about breed labeling, please see this blog post. 

To learn more about labels and language, please visit our website. 

To better understand the science behind seeing dogs as individuals, please see our infographic.

 

Please note: the photos included here are not meant as an endorsement or a criticism of the agencies that are caring for these dogs. The photos were randomly chosen to illustrate the diversity of dogs being labeled “pit bull” across the country. Each photo is linked to the dog’s Petfinder bio. We sincerely hope each dog is adopted soon and thank each organization for their efforts on behalf of “pit bull” dogs. 

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Breed Specific Legislation, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

A Closer Look at All Dogs Are Individuals [INFOGRAPHIC]

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 1

All dogs are individuals means: We owe it to all dogs to see them for who they really are, free of prejudice, stereotypes, and assumptions that are based on a known pedigree, a breed label guess, physical appearance, or their past history.

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 2

Just a small handful of genes will determine how a dog looks on the outside. It’s not even 1% of their genome. And yet, we frequently make enormous, life changing assumptions about dogs based on that 0.25%!

AFF_infographic_FINAL-03

This set of genes, the ones that determine a dog’s breed associated physical traits, are different that the genetic program that builds the brain. The genetic program responsible for creating the brain is much different and tremendously more complex than the genetic programs that underlie physical traits in dogs.

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 4

The overwhelming majority of dogs in shelters are mixed breed dogs. Peer reviewed research shows us that visual identification of mixed breed dogs is highly inaccurate. Remember, we can only see 0.25% of their DNA!

But even if we do know their breed mix, it doesn’t tell us much about how they’ll behave. That’s because mixed breed dogs and pure breed dogs are apples and oranges. You can’t accurately compare one to another.

Not even when the mixed breed dog has pure breed parents!

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 5

The offspring is a unique combination of their parent’s DNA. They are NOT a member of either breed now that they’re less than 100% of those single breeds. That’s why it’s not accurate to make assumptions about behavior by comparing the offspring to the breeds of their parents.

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 6

But even when they are 100% pure breed dogs, it’s not a guarantee of future behavior.

For example, did you know that despite looking alike on the outside, even pure breed dogs from the same litter do not share identical DNA? Even in the case of cloned pets – animals that are genetically identical – their personalities and behavior still vary. That’s because the behavior of all dogs (pure breed and mixed breed) is influenced by many outside factors such as training, environment, management, and socialization, in addition to their genetics and breeding. There is no guarantee that a dog will act in a specific way simply based on how it looks or because of its breed.

Think of it like this: do human siblings have the exact same personalities? Even though they come from the same family, siblings still have different DNA and varying experiences which contribute to their individual health and personalities. Even identical twins – similar to cloned animals since they have identical DNA – will have personality differences due to outside influences and experiences. We’re all individuals.

It’s the same with dogs! From their unique DNA to varying external influences, all dogs are individuals (even when they do conform to breed related traits). We can’t predict their future behavior based solely on looks or breed.

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 7

Dog behavior is a complex mix of nature and nurture. Knowing a dog’s DNA is only one piece of the puzzle. A dog’s DNA is not an accurate predictor of how they will behave in the future.

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 8

The only way we can accurately determine what a dog’s needs are is to look at the individual dog in front us for the answers.

In other words, we can’t judge a book by its cover (even if that cover looks like other ones we’ve seen before)!

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 9

Treating all dogs as individuals means that we let go of biased thinking, recognizing each dog for who they really are, not who we assume they are based on looks, labels, or past experiences. In doing so, we set all dogs free of the baggage and consequences caused by our assumptions, prejudices, and discrimination.

Animal Farm Foundation infographic 10

Why does this matter?

For families: Recognizing them as an individual means that you will get to know the dog in front you, rather than assuming that because they look like another dog or are labeled a certain way, they will act the same or need the same things. By looking at the dog in front of you and seeing them as an individual first, you will be able to set them up for a successful family life by tailoring a training, management, and care routine to their specific needs.

For shelters and rescues: This means ending blanket policies and choosing to evaluate dogs as individuals instead. Some dogs will need more structured adoptions, while others will need no restrictions at all. The key is to make these determinations for each individual dog, rather than relying on assumptions based on how dogs look. This opens up the pool of potential adopters and more lives are saved.

For politicians and law makers: This means putting an end to laws passed on the flawed idea that you can determine how a dog will act based on how they look or their breed label. Rather than instituting bans on “dangerous dog breeds”, focus on creating and enforcing responsible pet ownership laws that hold ALL owners equally accountable for their individual dogs, thereby creating truly safe communities. Dogs will be labeled “dangerous” based on their actions or behavior, not based on breed label or physical appearance. Dogs will no longer be persecuted based on stereotypes.

*****

Want to share the infographic?

You can find the full graphic here. If you’d like to add the infographic to your website or blog, just cut and paste the embed code (at the bottom of this page). A preview image of the infographic will appear on your site!

And stay tuned: We’ll be releasing printed materials (like posters and booklets) with these images in the near future, so you’ll be able to use them in many different formats!

*****

CITATIONS:

The Dog and It’s Genome by Elaine Ostrander

Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog by Scott and Fuller

National Geographic

Kristopher J. Irizarry, PhD

Janis Bradley, The Relevance of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog

Dr. Victoria Voith

ABSTRACTS:

Brachycephalic traits

Morphological traits

Brain development genes

Cranial facial development and here

Canine skull development

 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. If you would like to make changes or translations of this work, please contact Animal Farm Foundation for permission.

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Breed Specific Legislation, Enrichment and Training, Fair and Equal Treatment, Programs and Events | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Ambassador Dog Programs: Evolving “Pit Bull” Dog Adoptions

Earlier this year we shared a blog about the successes that The Animal Rescue League of Iowa and their Pit Crew have accomplished on behalf of “pit bull” dogs and their people. In reflecting on their successes and how times have changes, ARL has decided to end their “pit bull” specific programs in order to fully assimilate “pit bull” dogs into the general shelter population. We think this is an excellent indicator of the evolution of “pit bull” dog adoptions – the times are changing and for the better!

Please take a moment to read their well written post about how they came to this decision. Note that all of the services and outreach that they are doing now will continue. However, their efforts are being rebranded to focus on ALL dogs, rather than “pit bull” dogs only.

IMPORTANT PIT CREW UPDATE: We have made great progress with the Pit Crew & Ambass-A-Bulls over the past 3 years – progress not only in spreading awareness, but also in increasing adoptions – in 2010 when we started the Pit Crew, we had 19 “pit bull” dog adoptions that entire year. From January through August this year we have already adopted 123 “pit bull” dogs.

We’ve removed breed bans from 2 cities and are still working with several others. Hundreds of “pit bull” dogs have received free spay/neuter surgeries, microchips, and rabies vaccinations at no charge to their owners who would have otherwise been unable to afford it. We’ve taught nearly 1,000 kids about bullying and stereotypes and how to safely greet a dog of all breeds. “Pit bull” therapy dogs have been in countless nursing homes, libraries, community centers, businesses, and more throughout Central Iowa. Nearly two dozen “pit bull” dogs are now Canine Good Citizens – and there are many others who began enrolling in training programs because they were inspired by the CGC leaders. We’ve met a lot of people and changed a lot of minds.

We started the group because we needed to elevate the dogs’ brand in our community. We needed to show that the dogs aren’t what people hear about them in the media, that dog bites are not a breed issue, and that dog fighting is not what the majority of these dogs do. The overwhelming majority of dogs identified as “pit bull” by appearance are actually sweet, family pets who have never been abused and have never hurt anyone. They are just dogs…and dogs are individuals and therefore should be treated accordingly.

It’s time for us to do the same.

So we recently have come to a cross-roads. We had a decision to make – do we continue down the path of “Team Pit Bull” where we focus so heavily on “pit bull” dogs that people see them as different? Or do we re-integrate back into the path of “Team Dog” where we show people that “pit bull” dogs are just dogs – and instead, have a strong representation of ALL dogs within this new team?

The ARL has chosen the latter.

There is a time for awareness programs and “Team Pit Bull” and we all know that Des Moines needed it in a bad way 3 years ago, but that was then. We’ve now grown past that to the point where the approach that was previously our solution, is now becoming our problem. Having programs for “pit bulls” and calling it 1 thing and then having programs for ALL of the other dogs and calling it something else is not going to help forward our mission.

We are SO proud of the work we’ve done and everything that we’ve accomplished with your help, but what we’re most proud of is that we have elevated the dogs back on the playing field as equals and now it’s time for the next phase in our journey.

We used to have a spay/neuter program for “pit bull” dogs called PitStop and then one for all other dogs called DogSnip. The branding for PitStop has ended and all dog spay/neuters will be promoted as DogSnip. The service has not changed, but the branding has.

Likewise, the service of the Pit Crew and Ambass-A-Bulls will not change, but the branding will. We started a variety of programs through this group that were new to the ARL and those will all continue, but under a different brand.

The focus of the new Team Dog will continue to be what the Ambass-A-Bulls have been focused on over the past year – primarily in the area of advocacy: Helping cities create safe ordinances for people and pets, identifying and creating pet-friendly housing, and providing public outreach services to undererved communities through our Pets for Life program.

We are phasing out our Black Dog and Black Cat clubs for the same reason.

This page will soon be merged into the main Animal Rescue League of Iowa page and the content we used to post on this page will now be posted on that one.

arl iowa

***

Well said ARL! We applaud organizations that are taking this progressive step forward in recognition of the changing times.

That being said, if your organization is adopting out “pit bull” dogs for the first time and there are no other options, there may be a place for Ambassador (or otherwise “pit bull” dog specific) programs as a temporary bridge from point A (no adoptions) to point B (full inclusion). Used as means for transformation these programs may be helpful in changing public opinions.

If you’re currently running a “pit bull” specific program or considering adding one, here are two points to consider:

1.     Is it really necessary? For example, if the public is already on board and adopting your “pit bull” dogs, there’s no need to single them out for special programs!

2.    When can we end it? These programs should always be considered to be temporary. Use them only as a transitional step to help change hearts and minds in your community. Do not allow them to become permanent, therefore perpetually singling out “pit bulls” as different than other dogs.

With any Ambassador program, the goal is to help adopters, staff, and board members look at “pit bulls” and learn to simply see dogs. For adopters, the intent is to help them consider whether that dog, who happens to be a ”pit bull”, is a good match based on their personality and pet qualities. If you choose to use these programs, consider them just one brief stepping stone along the path to full inclusion in your adoption program.

Ambassador Programs are a tool to help start adopting out dogs. But beyond that, the programs can have unintended consequences that make “pit bull” dogs seem different and undesirable or scary, which means the window for having such programs needs to be temporary. Aim for day when all dogs are promoted equally – free of specialized programs or restrictions – and celebrated as individuals!

Have a question about ambassador programs? You can visit our website to see how we recommend using them temporarily.

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Fair and Equal Treatment, Programs and Events | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

4 Ways Shelters, Rescues, and Community Groups Are Getting it Right

In our line of work, it’s easy to get caught up in what needs improving out there in the animal welfare world. Despite the work that still needs to be done, there are so many shelters, rescues, and community groups that are doing excellent work right now.

In a wide variety of groups – from large, well-established brick and mortar organizations to small, recently-formed volunteer groups – people are getting together to make a difference for animals and their people. Today, we’d like to share four ways that you guys are doing awesome work!

1. Community Outreach: Groups from coast to coast are recognizing the power of community outreach programs and funneling their energies into providing much needed and much appreciated resources for under-served areas. By providing positive, non-judgmental support to pet owners in under-resources communities, organizations can reach pets that are most at risk.

Paws of Rochester, our neighbor here in New York State, is a non-profit organization focused on providing respectful and compassionate outreach programs in their community. They offer no-cost and low-cost veterinary care and spay/neuter services. Cheers to them for recently signing a lease on a space that will serve as a clinic providing high quantity/high quality spay/neuter services, as well as low-cost wellness services.

paws rochester

PAWS not only provides vet care, but dog houses and other supplies as well.


The Pet Project, a nonprofit in Delaware, takes a holistic approach to community outreach by empowering pet owners in under-served areas. They offer affordable access to spay/neuter and wellness services as well as training and behavior assistance to families in need. Their monthly Kibble Kupboard serves as a free pet food bank for their community.

pet project de
A Rotta Love Plus, a rescue and education nonprofit in Minnesota, offers community programs such as Dog Safety for Children, a therapy dog program that serves youth in crisis, dog training classes, and multiple Get Your Fix! Fairs every year to provide spay/neuter and vaccination services. This proactive group uses a “nose-to-tail” approach to address the issues faced by Rottweilers, “pit bull” dogs, and their owners. In doing so, they’ve become a powerful force for change in their community.

rotta

A dog rests in his owner’s arms as he recovers from his neuter surgery.


2. Pet Retention Programs: One of the most effective ways to save lives is to prevent pets from entering our shelter system in the first place. Behavior issues, medical problems, landlord and housing issues, family crises, etc. – these are just some of the challenges pet owners face. With help from shelters and community organizations, many families are able to keep their beloved pets safe at home.

Downtown Dog Rescue: DDR in Los Angeles, CA implemented the Animal Shelter Intervention Program this year at the South LA Shelter. In just the first four months alone, this innovative program prevented 1,000 animals from entering the shelter system. The program offers a variety of services and resources to low income families, including free spay/neuter, wellness care, basic medical care such as mange treatment, ear infections, simple wound suturing, free dog food, and dog training. From fixing fences to assisting with pet deposits required by landlords, DDR always looks for a way to keep pets at home, with the families who love them. You can read more about their work here and on Facebook.

downtown dog

A family is reunited with their lost dog after DDR helped pay the shelter’s impound fees


SPCA Florida: SPCA Florida’s Ani-Meals program provides supplemental food, supplies, vaccinations and spay and neuter services to animals belonging to elderly and home-bound clients of their partner agencies: Meals on Wheels, Polk County Elder Services, and other food pantry organizations. By bringing services to community members and partnering with local social service organizations, Ani-Meals take a proactive approach and enables pet owners to keep their beloved companions at home. Ani-Meals serves more than 160 guardians and their 300 animals, which include dogs, cats, birds and even goldfish.

spca fl

Food and supplies packed up and ready for delivery


Pets Are Wonderful Support, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, began offering services to support the human-animal bond more than 25 years ago in response to the AIDS/HIV epidemic. Today, they provide many services, including in-home care to more than 1,000 pets. Their work enables some of the city’s most vulnerable pet owners – those that are chronically ill, frail, and isolated by disease or age -to keep their companion animals at home with them.

paws

PAWS provides support to more than 800 disabled and elderly pet owners in their community.


3. Shelter Enrichment: Shelters are stepping up to increase the quality of life for their animals through a variety of programs. Keeping pets well, both physically and mentally, during their stay at the shelter not only keeps animals healthy, but it also helps them to make a good impression on adopters. Calm, happy dogs go home faster!

Playgroups are up and running in shelters across the country. Not only do the dogs enjoy and benefit from their time playing together, but shelters have discovered that playgroups are an effective, efficient way to exercise and enrich many dogs at one time, instead of (or in combination with) working with the dogs individually. In addition, staff and volunteers learn more about each dog’s dog-dog social skills. This important piece of information can help dogs go home faster.

Here are just a few organizations that are finding ways to increase the quality of life for shelter dogs by using regular playgroups:

Kansas City Pet Project
Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control
Chicago Animal Care and Control
Indianapolis Animal Care and Control
Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter
Idaho Humane Society

And many, many more from Rochester, NY to Oakland, CA!

cacc

Two new buddies at a Chicago ACC Playgroup

 

The Monster Milers: This Philadelphia non-profit organization connects local runners with shelter dogs at the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and other area shelters and rescues. While the dogs wait to be adopted, this partnership with The Monster Milers offers them the chance to go on running adventures with dedicated volunteers. Through their runs in the city, the dogs not only burn off energy and have fun, but they learn manners and social skills. Plus they get great exposure to potential adopters!

There are many groups around the country that offer similar running programs for shelter dogs.

monstermilesr

A volunteer hits the streets with a shelter dog in Philadelphia


4. Dropping Restrictions: Instead of relying on blanket policies and restrictions, shelters and rescues are dropping these ineffective barriers to adoptions. Progressive organizations recognize that all dogs and adopters are individuals and create adoption procedures that reflect this philosophy. Their fair, effective approach increases adoptions and saves lives.

Washington Humane Society, located in Washington D.C., has done a complete turnaround in their policies regarding “pit bull” dogs. Just a few short years ago any dog with the label “pit bull” was automatically euthanized. Today, under the leadership of Executive Director Lisa LaFontaine, all dogs are treated equally and “pit bull” dogs are available for adoption without restrictions.

chuck

Once banned from the adoption floor, “pit bull” dogs like Chuck are now the pick of the week!


Charlotte Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control dropped their former policy to euthanize any dog from alleged dog fighting operations. When a group of “pit bull” dogs was confiscated from a local fight bust this year, the shelter saw it as an opportunity to evolve. Rather than making assumptions about the dogs’ future behavior based on their past, CM ACC opted to view each dog as an individual. These recent victims of cruelty were given fair evaluations and many were made available for adoption – a most excellent first for this North Carolina shelter.

photo (4)

These two girls, both victims of cruelty, were evaluated as individuals AND allowed to play together at CM ACC


This is truly just a small sample of the many organizations that are doing incredible work  around the country. Thanks to the dedication, perseverance, compassion, and progressive policies of these groups, companion animals and their people are finding the support they want, need, and deserve. AFF is sending out a standing ovation to all of you who are on the front lines, doing this live-saving work. Bravo!

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Enrichment and Training, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments