Wednesday, May 06, 2009

When labels won't stick

Oh holy conundrums. Tuesday brought new faces to a familiar dilemma: Ten 'pit bull type' dogs came into the shelter where only one adoption kennel was waiting to welcome them. The problem grew tougher as we got to know each lovely dog.

Two of the new intakes were a mated pair, brought in off the streets by kind Oakland Police officers. The female (left) - named 'Mamas' - is pregnant, somewhat aloof and workably reactive to other dogs. The male, obviously someone's pride and joy, showed a warmer people-soft personality and desire to connect. As unlicensed strays, they had to be fixed before they could leave the shelter.

The owner was upset about losing out on his litter but after battling the desk staff, finally came to the decision to surrender his female to be adopted out or destroyed, whichever came first. He promised to come back for his pride and joy male - the bubble headed blue - but never returned.

His unlicensed stray problem then became our problem. With only one spot for a lucky Ambassadog, we're faced once again with the hardest question of all: As we work to keep our ambassador program moving forward, what do we do with perfectly good dogs that look like pit bulls but aren't really pit bulls at all?

The mated pair were a 4K investment for their owner. They're registered as American Bully Dogs, a new fangled creation of English Bulldog, Neo Mastiff and, yes, Pit bull - Designed to appeal to a demographic that likes its dogs to mimic low riders in every way.

Low. Ri. Der. Don't drive too fast now.

The personality of these offshoots is anything but pit bull. It's normal for them to be low key and pretty darn aloof ... Not the traits pit bull fans generally go for. This particular pair has the added challenge of edgy dog/dog manners - totally workable, but still. They aren't the love-to-please-you types that help make our job with true pit bulls so very easy.

We bantered back and forth for hours. Do we make room for one of these Pit bull imposters and put some resources into polishing up their manners? They tend to be very desirable because of their looks and - after all - it's not their fault they're mixes! OR do we give the coveted kennel to one of the many wriggly dogs who are practically oozing through the bars to push their fat heads into our laps?

Sometimes you have to just relax and let your answers come to you. In between sussing out an alarming plethora of blue puppies today, this sweet senior made his way into our eval line up. He was so sure that we were there to make him happy that all those 'What do we do?' questions melted away. He is - for lack of a better word - a Real Pit bull. Or, what we want Pit bulls to be: Social, sentimental even. Even keeled. Funny. Cheerful to a fault.

He reminded me that, when we're looking for dogs that get to wear the Pit bull label, we're looking for personalities rather than exteriors. And those personalities tend to match an ideal version of a dog that we've collectively agreed is a Pit bull, DNA be damned.

I'm sorry for the American Bullies. They're a fad breed and will hit a rock bottom as their numbers increase. Until their advocates get busy with rescue (and reducing their production), the unlucky dogs that land in the shelters will be stuck in No Man's Land like a lot of mixy dogs and will either be condemned for looking too much like Pit bulls or, in situations like ours, declined for not being Pit bull enough. We can only hope that the American Bully fanciers heed our call for help for this unlucky pair and throw them and other dogs like them a quick lifeline. Stay tuned for updates.


becky said...

Thanks for posting this Donna, and such a hard choice for you guys, but obviously one you are most qualified to make.

This is timely and I will forward to our local shelter as being in Sacramento, this bully fad is truly showing heartbreaking results in our shelters. We too have not seen any support so far from a pretty large contingent of these BYBers in the area.

Glad your senior gets his shot, we just got a lovely senior pit bull, Hank, into a new home of his own...he too just knew he was too beautiful to not have good things come his way, but he waited quite a while, I got nervous.

You guys are the best...

megan colleen said...

Mojo is a low rider - he looks like a mix of either pit bull and basset or pit bull and dachshund. He has had arthritis issues since I adopted him five years ago this coming May 11th. Fortunately he has not developed any back problems yet. I like my short and long mix, but I detest the looks of the "low riding" pit bulls that are squat and aren't just pit bull enough.

Also why do colors matter in a bully? The color isn't what makes you happy it's the personality that you live with that makes you happy or not as an owner. Mojo is milk chocolate brown with white markings... And his personality is a lot like your older dog above. He can occasionally be challenging but he is easy to live with over all.

Anonymous said...

Awe, how old is he? Can't wait to hear more about him. What a wonderful, hopeful, joyful face! True representation of the breed.

Anonymous said...

How sad that you have to face these kinds of decisions....who gets a chance, who doesn't. Playing "god" should never be easy.
Is there any hope in the future of getting a Best Friends type of refuge out here? Somewhere the dogs can go where they are safe to live out their lives if homes aren't available.
It hurts to think that all perfectly nice dogs don't always get a second chance.


Donna said...

Thanks Becky. I was sorry to learn that you had such a large AmBully seizure case in your shelter. Looks like they're starting to replace pit bulls in more ways than one.

Anonymous said...

Thank you as always for the timely posting. I awoke this morning and rather than logging into my email, went right for your blog! Another sleepless night stressing about a wonderful, pit bull mix gal who is a bit too dog-reactive for the shelter's comfort, and we're plumb out of available, responsible foster homes. In my mind, there had to be a way - there had to be somewhere for her - your blog was a quick reminder that these types of decisions are just a part of our reality - and that we just to take a deep breath and keep our eyes on our successes. Thank you -
Lynn in N.Cal

2 Brits, 2 Yanks, 2 Dogs said...

Oh your senior looks just like one of my seniors without the white paws - he has that same goofy smile. I am glad he got the space (sorry you other goofs), I don't envy your everyday decisions Donna. When we got our boy from Monterey SPCA - I cried all the way home for all the other pits I left behind. (In fact it still makes me sprout tears in my eyes).

Anonymous said...

This whole bully thing is so tough. When we get an American Bulldog in, it's the same situation as adopting out a pitbull. Landlords won't allow them, insurance agencies won't allow them, all of these dogs are lumped into one category with such different personalities. Thankfully we have not had any American Bullys yet. As our area's pitbull numbers become manageable, it seems that every other shelters increasing. We try to help as many out of area pitbulls as possible, but it seems never ending.
Our shelter is not allowed to neuter a stray, ever, no matter how many times it comes in. Even if that stray is declared a dangerous dog, which makes this whole situation so frustrating. Sometimes I just want to scream at these breeders. One man was breeding his aggressive dog with some bad genetics going on, with another aggressive dog.

Donna said...

Ugh -- the homeless American Bulldog situation deserves a whole other blog post. They've been breaking our hearts all over the place in the shelter. Too many, never enough options.

Lynn - You are wise and so very good at keeping a level head on top of that big heart of yours. Stay the course, as you have been for so long, and your successes will carry you through.

Something for you today:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Donna! I so needed that lift!! Wonderful song and photos!
- Lynn

Kristi said...

Here in Minnesota we are trying to find a foster for a single, super nice bully girl who looks like a Staffy Bull who got growth hormones. Red and white, 52 pounds and 19-inches at the shoulder. Doors are shut everywhere. Organizations either won't take "pits" or have 20 calls a week asking them for foster spots.

I see a real trend now on Petfinder: Puppy Mill rescues, filling the pages, both older breeding animals and older pups. We tell people these dogs are going to be fearful, mentally stunted and have health problems when bought at the pet store, but we are pushing them as rescue dogs while we put to sleep or refuse to take in the bull breeds that can be the best family dogs in the world. I would take a fight bust puppy over a puppy mill foster for temperment and stability any day.

I can see the impulse in "rescuing" these poor unfortunates, but is it in the best interests of the families who adopt them? Could they pass a temperment test? If we could only look at preferred size, health and temperment to place a dog.

Chelsea said...

It's hard to tell from the picture, but that female looks destined for some health problems. Just looking at the concave curvature of her spine and big ole body propped up by stubby legs is making my back hurt. Plus, two of the three breeds in the Am Bully mix are dogs plagued with health problems.


Martine said...

Thank you for this post, I wasn't aware of the American Bully situation. This is a reminder to me that no matter how much one group does, there are still so many dogs that need help and situations that are unfortunate. This also leads me to feeling very upset with dog owners that don't take caring for their dogs seriously.... I can't ever imagine my dog being picked up as a stray, going to the shelter and not leaving with them. That breaks my heart.... maybe I'm too much of a softie, but I worry that Sugar's kennel blankets and pillow are not soft enough and constantly think how to make her extra comfertable.

I'm so sad....

Pam said...

Bless you for having the strength to persevere in making gutwrenching life and death decisions every day. The dogs are so fortunate to have people who truly have their (and the breed's) best interest at heart. I recently had to make such a decision for just one dog and it was a devastating process. Reading your entry is a reality check for me that these choices are made every day, countless times over in shelters all over the country.

Anonymous said...

As far as those 2 American Bullies... Can someone foster them? Or can someone take them and find a great forever home for them? I am just curious because I do have a soft spot for all different types of bully breeds. Donna, I rescued a dog through you that was on death row at the Hayward Animal Shelter and found him a WONDERFUL forever home! His name was Mikey and you had posted him on a forum that I was a member of. Anyways, please let me know if these dogs can be adopted or fostered.


HugABull Group said...

what a hard decision, but I'm glad it came easier for you... and you made the right choice.. look at that face!
Donna, you write so beautifully! Thank you!