Sunday, March 15, 2009

Unintended Consequences

We've learned a lot over the years about language, messaging and the often unintended consequences. One of the things that we've learned is that breed specific policies tell the public that the entire breed in question is different than other dogs - and not in a good way. Larger examples include shelters that still won't adopt out pit bulls; sending the message to the community that there are no safe, or worthy, pit bulls. But even shelters that we see as breed friendly, can often do better.

As a parent of a 2 1/2 year old, with another on the way, I know first hand how great solid pit bulls are with children. Some of the best moments of my day are watching my dog and toddler interact. My child's life is richer and she is a more caring person already for having shared space with her pit bull. So it should come as no surprise that one of my personal missions has been to try to eliminate shelter policies that prohibit pit bull adoptions to families with small (or sometimes any) kids.



Let me add that I take parenting very seriously. I devote time, energy and focus to it in a way that I never expected. I work part time now by choice so that I can more fully participate in my child's development. I hold a graduate degree in Maternal Child Health and am a pediatric nurse practitioner. I tell you all of this by way of making it clear that I am not cavalier about safety, health or my child. Matter of fact, I'm not cavalier about much. So I would never, ever advocate putting my child or anyone else's in harms way.


Adopting a temperamentally correct pit bull to a family with any age children is a good thing. Assuming the family is prepared and responsible and the dog is temperamentally sound (as will all breeds!), pit bulls make fabulous family dogs. Are they larger than some mall toddlers? Yup. Are they sometimes exuberant and high energy? Yup. Are they likely to occasionally knock over a small child? Yup. Is that really 'dangerous' or unsafe? I think not.

My daughter has toppled over a few times as a result of the dog. She's cried occasionally when the dog was moving at higher velocity. But she's never been seriously injured and they've both learned better how to avoid collisions. And though I'll never be able to prove it because I'll never own another breed, my guess is an 80 pound Labrador would occasionally knock her over as well, maybe even more often give that it'd be 25 pounds heavier. She loves her dog and continues to want to play with him in the yard despite occasionally getting, in her words, 'nailed by Spence-ote'.


Back to the point (you can see why I don't blog often). Blanket breed based policies often send messages to the community that shelters may not be aware of. For example, an exchange recently took place on a large parenting group list I belong to. Someone asked about the safety of Chow Chows with children and for the name of a responsible breeder. The first handful of replies recounted negative childhood experiences with the Chow Chows, including bites. Then things shifted direction:


  • Just wanted to add... my dad has been a mailman for 33 years and has only ever been attacked by pit bulls and chows!!

  • I volunteered at an animal shelter for several years and they would not allow families with young children to adopt Chows (also Pitbulls & Rotties).

  • XXX Local Shelter (name removed) doesn't let anyone with kids adopt pit bulls but they can adopt Chows; so Chows are probably OK.

I responded with an explanation that broad shelter policies are not a great representation of whether or not it is a good idea to have a particular breed of dog with children. That there is great variety of dog personality within each breed and I provided a link to a few good sites with Chow Chow breed descriptions as well as a link to a Chow Chow forum with what seemed like knowledgeable rescuers and owners. I also suggested they find a rescue or shelter with an adult Chow Chow who's specific personality is known. The replies were all along the lines of this:

  • While shelter policies may not be one's overriding concern in selecting a dog, those policies are there for a reason (hence why I relayed the information) and shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.
So, now we have a pretty clear example that a well intentioned shelter can do some damage in their efforts to be extra cautious. Not only did this policy, and maybe that of the other unnamed shelters, convince a group of parents that pit bulls are not safe with any children but that any breed that isn't entirely off limits for adoption to families is by default to be considered safe with children. I'm happy to say that the local shelter named has removed this blanket policy.


27 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a great post. Working in my shelter for five years I can say that when i was hired the executive director and manager hated pitbulls and would discourage families with children from adopting them. At that time, our pitbull rate was over 70%. After those people were fired our staff became knowledgeable and encouraged families to adopt pitbulls because of how fantastic they are with kids. In my 5 years here our pitbull rate went from 73% to maybe 20% and we are always taking in new pitbulls from other shelters because of our successful adoptions. Even though our shelter didn't have an official policy, our words and actions spoke as loudly. I hope some shelter sees this post and it encourages them to rethink their policies

Guy said...

Both my boys grew up with a 65 lbs male Pit Bull. Since they were newborns their pal Harley was at their side. Always gentle and forgiving, even with the occasional poke and pull of sensitive parts. Even while swimming in the pool our Pit Bull was careful around little kids. When we had kid parties our Pit Bull would hang out with all the little kids, he never needed to be restrained. As strong as Pit bulls are, they can be gentle and respectful. My Pit Bull was the best dog I have ever had.

Luc

Anonymous said...

Pit Bulls are great dogs and I totally agree with the post here. One of our pits is very protective of children. With him around there are no worries about their safety, be it a snake or human. Anyone who doesn't love the pit bull hasn't known a good one.
Dreaming of the day they are understood!

Anonymous said...

We are expecting our first (human) child in a couple of months, and I would be very interested in any advice/resources for info on how to introduce the dogs to the baby. We have two great pit bulls and I am not concerned about them intentionally harming a child, but as this post points out, they can be a bit exuberant. They are such an important part of our family, and I just want to make sure that we set them up for success with a new addition. Thanks!

PS: We've been told to bring something home that smells like the baby before the actual baby arrives (like a blanket), but my pups love to chew on blankets!

Donna said...

Congrats on your new little one. I love this blog for info on raising children with dogs. Hat tips to KC Dog Blog for daylighting it.

http://dogsandstorks.blogspot.com/

Heather said...

What a great post. I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old and I have had both my pits, one for 9 years and one for 7. Yes my kids have been knocked over a couple of times with vigorous tail wagging or a case of the zoomies. I trust my dogs 100% with my kids, its my kids when they were crawling and about 18 months that I didn't trust.

As for the reader who is pregnant and wanted advice, for both my newborns I came into the house first and gave my dogs a huge fuss. I let them smell the hat the babies were wearing. My husband carried the babyseat with the baby and let the dogs sniff it. My female dog Macy would 'cry' when the baby cried and sometimes she would come racing in from outside as soon as she heard them cry. This lasted about 6 weeks with my first child and about 2 weeks with my second. She still is very empathetic when they cry but not quite as intense as when they were newborn. I would let them sit next to me on the couch while I nursed and patted them at the same time. There is a lot of advice out there and the one that Donna recommended is great. I think you should just take it slow and 'read' your dogs as best you can.

Kyle and Tom said...

Great site Donna. If anyone is interested, we too are expecting baby #3 into our home (in about 4 weeks), along with our rescued pit bull Trinity, and will be blogging and posting about everything that happens in our household. We have a 5 yo and a 3 yo right now, and our Trinity has been one of the best things to ever happen to our family.

www.trinitythepitbull.com

Lisa said...

One of my big bugbears about dangerous breed myths is that they also perpetuate the converse--the myth of the safe breed.

When my son was a child, he was attacked very brutally by a Lab mix, and it was that experience that really brought my attention to these issues. People would not believe that a Lab would do anything wrong. They blamed my son, they accused me of being mistaken about the breed, and people who didn't see him while he was recovering from his injuries accuse me to this day of exaggerating.

And it's exactly those attitudes that caused his injuries in the first place. The dog's owners got a dog that they'd been told was a 'safe' breed, and then they proceeded to ignore it and mistreat it based on the belief that the breed could do no wrong.

And on point, when shelters refuse to adopt out certain breeds of dog to families with children, but do adopt out other breeds, the implicit assumption is that the dogs they will adopt to them are inherently safe.

There is no such thing as a dangerous breed. There is no such thing as a safe breed. Dogs are dogs, and the very best thing you can do to ensure safety is to socialize, control, and train your dog, regardless of breed.

There is always some small amount of risk involved in living with dogs, but the benefits outweigh the risks many times over.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bambi for an excellent and comprehensive blog. Such damage is done by assumptions that official decisions are based in something other than going along with a current climate of fear and ignorance

Anonymous said...

When we brought our son home almost 2 years ago, the problem was not jealously or aggression, but how to keep the Pittie out of his face! She LOVED him from the day he came home, and never thought that we gave him a good enough bath I guess because we would catch her licking him all the time. She just absolutely loves babies. Our Lab was not impressed.

leigha said...

good on you for being such a positive force for the pitties. all we can do is approach the ignorance with education and insiration. (my favorite car bumper sticker from bad rap states: "resist ignorance, educate, inpsire") anyway, you are obviously a wonderful parent, an educated person and a pit bull advocate. you deserve a lot of praise, just as our beloved pit bulls do. dogs are individuals and while pit bulls aren't for everyone, neither are chihauhaus. you must know the individual dog as well as the breed. and then decide from interactions and behavior what is an appropriate home for that dog. cats? children? other dogs? all of the above? it saddens me that so many shelters still discriminate, to me its the same as if a jail discriminated against humans based on race. breedism=racism. i am curious what is the best approach to our local shelters so that we can have them remove such biased policies? my email is jadie68@hotmail.com if you have any suggestions of things i can do directly.

Bambi said...

Thanks Leigha. As for your question, a lot depends on what you are trying to have changed and what your relationship is with your shelter. I can say that in my experience, the best way to create change is to get involved directly. If you aren't a volunteer, become one. If you are, email me and we can talk more about the situation. Bambi@badrap.org

leigha said...

thanks bambi, i will get in touch with you. i am not a volunteer at this time. but i will email you to find out what i can do in my community to help improve shelters adoption policies.

as for the anonymous poster asking about bringing the human baby home and the settling in period with the dogs. yes bringing a blanket that smells like baby is a good idea. my friends did that recently with their new baby and their pittie. just get a blanket you dont mind them chewing since you mentioned they will chew it. also supervision supervision supervision is key. giving treats when they exhibit proper calm behavior around baby is good too. there are wonderful books and websites out there about acclimating all to the new addition.

Anonymous said...

Great post!! Let all the haters out there see how great these dogs really are... I dont have children but my pit is extremely protective of her "Momma". Im sure it has something to do with treats but she has come to my aid on a few occasions and will steer me out of the path of danger. I love this dog and can't imagine life without her. I trust her instincts to the fullest.

Pit bull NM said...

Great post, on many levels. This one is going into the "featured posts" section of my blog...your home sounds like a fun place!

Donovan

Anonymous said...

A certain shelter in SF should take note but they don't because according to them their stereotypical breed specific bsl law "works." If you were to go there to adopt a pit bull there are so restrictions that you have to meet in order to adopt. Bambi you really hit the nail on the head with this post. I don't know what it would take for them to change their mindsabout that stupid law but I know one thing for sure they get defensive if you were to say that you disagree with their policy. Sad! I really wish things were different there.

PittieBoo said...

As mom to a 2 year old who is raising him along her 90+ pound American Bulldog and 125 pound Anatolian, kudos to you. I could not have said it better and I fight the same fight daily. When bowled over, my kid always laughs as he picks himself up and tells me that "she/he got me". I know our kids will be stronger humans for loving and being loved by their beasts.

PittieBoo said...

ps- I started a blog for my friends on how I prepared the dogs for baby plus the challenges and triumphs we have had along the way if anyone wants to read it. I'm no expert, just a mom muddling through.
www.babiesandbeasts.blogspot.com

Bambi said...

"I'm no expert, just a mom muddling through."

Aren't we all....

MichelleD said...

Excellent post Bambi! Some of the worst offenders are pit bull rescues that actually discourage shelters from adopting out pit bulls. The big concern: Dog fighters will adopt them, fight them and/or use them for bait dogs. And since municiple shelter can't/won't screen a blanket policy of no adoptions is better. (And every pit bull with a scratch on its nose is a bait dog as well.)

I say poppycock. Dog fighters are not going to spend $100 on an altered dog to use for fighting or bait when you can steal one or buy one on the corner for less than $50 all day long around here. Breed discrimination is breed discrimination and its wrong no matter who is doing it.

What is your take?

Thoughts said...

Great post, so on point. We had a pittie who passed away but he was great with children.

MichelleD said...

Your thoughts on "Dog fighters will adopt them(from shelters), fight them and/or use them for bait dogs."

Obviously you agree that breed discrimination is wrong.

Bambi said...

MichelleD, I think that the majority of the folks looking to adopt a shelter pit bull are looking for a good family pet. Screening tools like applications, interviews, home checks and 'gut feelings' help us, and shelters, weed out potential adopters not prepared to be responsible dog owners.

Michelle said...

We have a Pit rescued from badrap seven years ago. Since his adoption, we have had three children (now 6, 3 and 16 mths) and he loves each one of them (as they do him). We couldn't think of a more perfect breed for our family.

Vinitha said...

Its very nice to see the family photos

Work from home

BillStauss said...

I'm glad HSUS is rethinking its program. Animal rescue and rehabilitation, especially for the Pit Bull breeds, is of great importance to me. I have recently had a novel published, "Billy’s World", about an American Staffordshire “Pit” Bull Terrier who was rescued and came to live with my wife and me years ago. We had many adventures together and he never met a person he didn’t love. My Blog about the book is http://billybobworld.blogspot.com.
I hope the book will help nudge people’s negative perception of the breed back to the positive and stimulate more individuals into helping animal rescue and rehabilitation organizations and groups like yours to change the attitudes about the breed.

Bill Stauss, Billy’s World

Saya25 said...

I love all breeds of dogs. I have met the sweetest pit-bull terrier living next door; all she wants to do is cuddle and be loved by anyone. You will sit down and she will drape herself in your lap. She is better than my dog, who is a Labrador, with kids very gentile and unassuming. I have to say my lab Scotch is the most adoring fellow, however he is a brute and I have to watch him super carefully around kids ( not just little ones anything under 80 lbs) because he is not aware of his size and really flattens them with his tail or when he shoves his nose in there face.

I really think space awareness depends on the dog not the breed. Most big dogs do not know there size and will almost always accidentally knock over a kid. Big dogs don’t know how big they are and little dogs don’t know how small they are. The difference is when it’s a Labrador or golden retriever that flattens a child no one makes a deal out of it, but if it’s a pit-bull or a Rottweiler the dog is vicious. It’s simply media biased and education is the only way to combat that.