Recently, I heard the claim pit bulls are dying in New Jersey animal shelters due to “overpopulation” and the “average family” not wanting them. These reactions followed my previous blog setting adoption and euthanasia goals for New Jersey animal shelters. While I personally like some of the people making these assertions and agree with them on other issues, I believe this is a dangerous myth that has deadly consequences for pit bulls everywhere. Many shelters have already achieved no kill for their pit bulls despite taking in large numbers of these dogs. In this blog, I’ll explore the notion that the average family (presumably white and middle class) doesn’t want pit bulls so we shouldn’t even bother trying to save them.
Colorado Animal Control Shelter Proactively Works to Save Its Pit Bull Type Dogs
Ark Valley Humane Society serves Chaffee County, Colorado. Chaffee County’s population is 91% white and its poverty rate is below the national average. Families make up a similar percentage of households as your typical New Jersey suburb. Thus, Chaffee County, Colorado is similar to many New Jersey communities.
Ark Valley Humane Society radically increased its pit bull live release rate in one year. In 2012, 40% of the shelter’s pit bulls were killed. Instead of complaining about “pit bull overpopulation” and “the average family not wanting pit bulls”, Ark Valley Humane Society set a strategic goal to turn their pit bull performance around. The shelter’s strategy focused on a longer term objective of reducing pit bull intake via offering free spay/neuter for pit bulls and a shorter term goal to quickly adopt out pit bulls into loving homes. Ark Valley Humane Society engaged the public, instituted multi-dog playgroups, and trained pit bulls to obey basic commands and become good canine citizens. As a result of these efforts, Ark Valley Humane Society adopted out all 27 pit bulls they took in during 2013.
Ark Valley Humane Society’s description of their efforts is as follows:
We are especially proud of our 2013 Pit-Bull Initiative. Pit-bulls and bully breeds have suffered a negative public perception. Faced with increasing numbers of pit-bulls, AVHS decided to take action to improve this breed’s ability to find forever homes. AVHS began offering free spay/neuter for owned pit-bulls and the pit-bull mixes living in Chaffee County. We have increased emphasis on public education, instituted multi-dog play groups for behavior modification, and formed shelter dog training classes for basic commands and good citizenship. Our efforts have resulted in the adoption of all 27 pit-bull intakes for 2013. No pit-bulls were lost due to ill health or unmanageable aggression issues.
While 27 pit bulls does not sound like a lot of dogs, this is large number for this community. Chaffee County is a sparsely populated area and only has 17,809 residents. The surrounding counties also have a low population density making it unlikely many people from elsewhere would visit this shelter to adopt dogs. This equates to a pit bull intake and adoption rate of 1.52 pit bulls per 1,000 people. As a comparison, I estimate New Jersey animal shelters collectively only take in approximately 1.15 pit bulls per 1,000 people and would only need to adopt out 0.70 pit bulls per 1,000 people to achieve no kill for our state’s pit bulls. Additionally, Ark Valley Humane Society took in 35% more pit bulls during the year they saved all of these dogs compared to the prior year when the shelter killed 40% of its pit bulls. Thus, Ark Valley Humane Society adopted out all if its pit bulls despite taking in significantly more pit bulls per capita than New Jersey animal shelters do as a whole.
Ark Valley Humane Society likely quickly adopted out its pit bulls. While the shelter did not disclose the time it took pit bulls to get adopted, we can come up with a reasonable estimate. Pit bulls made up 6% of all dogs taken in and the shelter’s average length of stay for dogs was 11.8 days. Typically, pit bulls stay 2-4 times longer than other dogs at high performing no kill animal control shelters. Using these numbers and some simple algebra, we can estimate pit bulls took 22.3 days, 31.6 days, and 40 days to get adopted assuming the pit bull average length of stay was 2 times, 3 times, and 4 times longer than other dogs. Even if pit bulls stayed at the shelter 5 times longer than other breeds, pit bulls would only take 47.6 days to get adopted. Furthermore, the fact that all pit bulls impounded in 2013 were adopted out during the year also supports the notion pit bulls left the shelter quickly. As a result, claims that pit bulls take “forever’ to get adopted are simply untrue.
Local Shelters Need to Stop Making Excuses and Work on Saving Our State’s Pit Bulls
Many other shelters are saving their pit bulls. For example, Longmont Humane Society, which serves a similar demographic in a more suburban area of Colorado, saves 96% of its pit bulls and takes in roughly 3 times as many pit bulls per capita than the average New Jersey animal shelter. Kansas City, Missouri’s animal control shelter, KC Pet Project, takes in nearly 3 times as many pit bulls per capita than the typical New Jersey animal shelter and has a pit bull save rate close to 90%. Thus, many shelters across the nation are saving their pit bulls.
Several New Jersey shelters are doing a good job adopting out their pit bulls. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, which serves an area with a high poverty rate, is likely saving over 90% of their pit bulls based on their overall dog live release rate of 97% and pit bulls probably comprising a substantial percentage of the dogs taken in. For example, if this shelter saved 99% of non-pit bulls, pit bulls would only need to make up 22% or more of the dog intake for the pit bull live release rate to equal or exceed 90%. Not surprisingly, I estimate Perth Amboy Animal Shelter adopted out roughly 40% more pit bulls per capita in 2013 based on the assumptions from my prior blog than the average New Jersey animal shelter needs to do to achieve no kill for pit bulls. Similarly, I estimate Trenton Animal Shelter is adopting approximately 30% more pit bulls per capita than the average New Jersey animal shelter should despite severe space constraints (i.e. which limits adoption potential). Thus, there is no reason other New Jersey animal shelters cannot adopt out more pit bulls.
People truly want pit bull type dogs. Based on recent data, pit bulls are among the three most popular breeds in New Jersey. Given people keep obtaining these dogs, which is often not from shelters, demand clearly exists for pit bulls. Additionally, all sorts of families and people adopt pit bull type dogs. Furthermore, even if the myth that suburban families won’t adopt pit bull type dogs were true, shelters can still adopt out these dogs off-site in nearby urban areas. Thus, New Jersey residents want pit bull like dogs and local shelters need to meet that demand.
Adopting out many sterilized pit bulls to the public will decrease pit bull breeding. Many pit bulls are surrendered to shelters due to owners lacking resources to fix solvable problems. If we can help these people, fewer pit bulls will come into shelters, and people will be more likely to get sterilized pit bulls from shelters in the future. Significantly increasing the number of sterilized pit bulls in the state will decrease the number of pit bulls coming into shelters. Thus, we can save the pit bulls currently in shelters and reduce the number of pit bulls arriving at shelters in the future.
Local animal shelters need to abandon the excuses and help save our pit bulls. Animal Farm Foundation has tons of resources for shelters to use and offers internships to shelter personnel to improve their pit bull adoption rates. Shelters can also contact Executive Directors from successful shelters and seek their advice. Additionally, shelters can bring in Amy Sadler to properly implement multi-dog playgroups. Similarly, organizations can engage no kill consultants, such as Humane Network and No Kill Learning, to provide detailed advice as well. Thus, shelters need to take proactive steps to improve their pit bull adoption rates.
It is time we stopped making excuses and do what is possible. Like Ark Valley Humane Society showed, where these is a will there is way. It is time all shelters do the same.