I’m gonna go a little bit off the beaten path of bird dogs to write about something that has been bothering me for a while. Anyone who knows me knows I am essentially an animal lawyer, more specifically an animal owners lawyer. I won’t delve into my whole history, but I have LONG been passionate about fighting breed specific legislation, dating back to before I was even a lawyer. My roommate in college had a pit bull type dog from rescue, and since we were in Ohio she was subject to BSL. It opened my eyes to how very ridiculous it is, and ever since, in one form or another, I have been fighting it. I was even part of getting the state law in Ohio overturned. What’s bothering me now is a serious concern that all that hard work by so many people is being undone by the no-kill, save everything mentality.
Let me start by saying that most shelters and rescues out there are full of well intentioned, hard working, selfless individuals and I so do not envy their job. Obtaining animals (I hate using the word “rescue”—did you save the dog from certain death??) through shelters and rescues is so much in vogue that it has become the largest source of pets on the market right now. The whole paradigm of rescue and shelter has shifted. In areas where the population of surplus or stray animals has been lowered or even eliminated, we are seeing a huge transfer of animals being transported in from other areas. Many parts of New England are a perfect example: shelters are emptied due to successful education, owner responsibility, increased spay/neuter, etc. So, to keep meeting the demand for “rescue” animals, supply is sought elsewhere, often in the South and even in other countries. Dogs are scooped up from areas with lots of surplus dogs and taken back to New England, often in empty storefronts set up for “adoption” events where you can get your very own “rescue,” often for rather obscene amounts. Now this makes me sound very anti-rescue, which I am not. I’d just rather call a spade a spade, and call this what it really is: retail rescue. If it was truly about saving animals and decreasing the number of surplus dogs, why isn’t that money from these SALES of dogs being reinvested into the problem areas to address “overpopulation” through education, low cost spay/neuter, etc?
Combine this retail rescue with the mentality of “save everything at any cost” with no real oversight, and we have some real problems starting to arise. There have been far too many cases of aggressive, no let me rephrase that, KNOWN aggressive dogs with bite histories, being adopted out. Not only that, but all too often adopted out to innocent, unknowing parties. Compound that issue with the sharp increase in recent years of the popularity of pit bull type dogs, and now we have an actual increase in attacks by pit bull type dogs. Just last year saw an increase in attacks by “rescue” dogs, and far too many of them were unfortunately labeled as pit bull type dogs.
I want to be very, very clear. This increase in attacks by these dogs does not speak against these types of dogs as a whole. There are far too many factors at play here. First, like I said, there is a sharp increase overall in the popularity of adopting pit bull type dogs, so proportionally, if there is a rise in bites, you will see that occurring most in the most popular type of dog being adopted out. There’s a vast difference between a well bred American Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier and a dog that resembles one or a mix thereof with unknown parentage and history. VAST. With the rise in popularity of these dogs, as with the rise in popularity of any breed, has resulted in a LOT of poor breeding and mixes. These are the dogs ending up in the system for the most part, not the carefully bred APBT’s or AmStaffs. Poorly bred dogs + abuse and neglect is a recipe for behavior issues. Now dump them onto pet people who don’t know how to deal with these issues and you are asking for trouble.
With the save everything mentality there unfortunately has been a lot of underhandedness, and thankfully people are catching on and some of this is being caught and documented. A shelter in New Mexico came under fire for a high rate of adopting aggressive dogs. A few shelters are being sued for this negligence. Last year a shelter in Iowa adopted out a dog that had been procured from “death row” in a shelter in Louisiana, unbeknownst to the adopter. It mauled a child, and the family is suing the shelter. In Virginia, a pit bull type dog had been transported between a few shelters with a KNOWN bite history. I’m sorry, but this dog should have been euthanized at this point. It was not. It was transported from New York to a “rescue” in Virginia, where a woman adopted it with NO KNOWLEDGE of the bite history. That afternoon the dog killed her 90 year old mother. She is also suing the rescue.
I personally do not agree with the no kill movement. Some dogs cannot be saved, and sorry, but human lives come first. It is never worth risking human lives to “save” a dog with a history. And yes, there are sanctuaries out there, while I question the quality of life dogs have at those, I’d rather see that than these dogs being put back into the public realm to endanger others. Shelters have a legal duty of care to not only disclose known histories at a minimum, but should also question and investigate to try to discover histories, if possible. While shelters are full of wonderful, well intentioned individuals, too many are not properly trained or experienced in dog behavior to really properly evaluate dogs with unknown histories, much less deal with problem aggressive dogs.
Although this is happening with all types of dogs, unfortunately too many are dogs that resemble pit bull types, or are labeled as such, and now we are seeing an increase on attacks by dogs labeled as such. This breaks my heart in a time where we have been so successful in eliminating BSL in many places, many are screaming for it to come back. Just last week I heard of a horrifying incident of 4 loose pit bull type dogs, apparently all rescues, attacking a dog trainer’s Donovan Pinscher and killing it. A Donovan is no pansy dog itself, coming from crossing Belgian Malinois, APBT’s, Dobermans, and various mastiff breeds, to name a few.
The rescue community needs to step up and be real. Continuing this insane “save them at all costs” mentality is going to result in far more dogs being killed if BSL makes a come back. It will result in innocent dogs being killed because too many aggressive dogs were saved. I would hate to see all this hard work to protect responsible dog ownership being completely undone, and innocent dogs and their responsible owners getting screwed over because some in the rescue community are going too far in their attempt to save dogs that cannot be saved