Seems I cannot go more than a day or two without someone talking about a new potential program focused on helping to make bully-type dogs more attractive to potential adopters. More and more ideas about how to “de-stigmatize” those bullies…
The trouble is… I am not convinced that there are not a gazillion people who love bully type dogs—the data would say they do! The United Kennel Club has bullies as one of their top 5 registries in the U.S. Bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and miniature bull terriers have all increased in rankings in the American Kennel Club over the past decade. Banfield Pet Hospital reports pit bulls as one of the most popular breeds they see at their hospitals… Something simply is not computing for me! Plenty of people love bully types… and they are increasing in popularity.
What if we instead stepped back from the focus of a potential bias against the breed? Certainly there is data to suggest they are a trending and popular breed type… Are we simply missing the mark and missing the market?!
Now, I am not implying that there are not challenges for bully type dogs and those who have biases against the breed. We are hard at work researching and piloting programs to help increase rental housing options for pet owners with any large dog, and certainly those with bully-types are often the most challenged. What I am saying is that I am not at all convinced that there are not plenty of folks who want to add a bully-type dog to their home.
I have written a few times about how we put barriers between our potential adopters and our bully-type dogs—often requiring a more stringent process (home visits, dog-to-dog intros, required training classes) for dogs who appear to be bully-type dogs. Is part of the stigma for these dogs in the shelter because of the requirements for adoption for these particular dogs? How many doors can we open to homes by simply dropping breed type-specific policies?
I have also observed some potential adopters be essentially dismissed for the breed type based simply on how they look. For example, I’ve seen young male potential adopters turned away, dismissed as potential fighters or simply not ‘ready’ to adopt. We know there are plenty of available bully-type dogs in most communities for sale or simply for free. Someone walking into our shelter to choose a spayed or neutered dog is our hero—no matter what he or she looks like. Seems a bit ironic that we plead not to stigmatize the dog…
We often tackle problems by focusing on what is not working—the experts, like my faves the Heath Brothers, would suggest we may get much further by focusing on what is working…
Where are folks obtaining their bully-type dogs? Why do they choose that place as opposed to our shelter? What can we do to be the place to obtain one of the most popular breed types/ breed mixes in the country? They want ‘em—let’s be sure they choose our shelters this time.
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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