Myths about pit bull adoption

Many potential pit bull owners run across conflicting and confusing statements about where they should get a pit bull or how to choose one.

  1. Adopting a pit bull is dangerous because you don’t know anything about the dog’s genes or history.
  2. Dogs end up at animal shelters because there’s something wrong with them (i.e. bad behavior or poor health).
  3. The “no adopt” policy for pit bulls, seen in many shelters, is proof that rescued pit bulls are too dangerous for adoption.
  4. I should get a puppy rather than an adult dog because a puppy will bond to me better than an adult dog and I can’t train or change an older dog.
  5. Purebred dogs are less likely to develop health or temperament issues than mixed breed dogs.
  6. You can’t find purebred dogs at the animal shelter.
  7. An adopted dog is more likely to “turn” on its owner than a dog bought from a breeder.
  8. If rescue groups were really not trying to make a profit, they would give away their animals for free.
  9. The screening process for pit bull adoption is an invasion of my privacy.
  10. Two dogs are better than one.
  11. Certain colors or types of pit bulls are “rare” or “special.”

1. Adopting a pit bull is dangerous because you don’t know anything about the dog’s genes or history.

The risk you face by adopting a shelter dog—of any breed—is no different than the risk you face by purchasing a dog. It is always possible that the dog you are bringing home, whether from a shelter or a breeder, has a compromised temperament or has been mishandled in its previous home. The only way you could reduce the risk of the unknown is by hanging over the breeder’s shoulder and confirming the entire process—from mating to whelping to puppies—has been done “correctly.”

Fortunately, you do not really need to know about a dog’s genes or history in order to adopt a safe and friendly dog. At a reputable shelter, dogs with obvious temperament flaws are not offered for adoption. Dogs with behavior challenges are almost always identified. It does not benefit the shelter to hide a dog’s temperament or behavior issues, because the dog will probably get returned to them.

Before you adopt, you can and should carefully evaluate adoptable candidates. Watch the dog while he is in his kennel. Walk the dog past some other kenneled dogs. Play with him. Try to train him. Ask if you can see him interact with another dog on and off leash. Ask the staff questions about him: why is he here, are there any known issues, what kinds of animals and people has he been around? Find out if you can foster him for a while or take him for a “sleepover” at your house. These are just some of the many ways you can decide for yourself whether the dog(s) you are considering is suitable for you.

After adoption, you can also reduce the likelihood of behavior problems through proper training and socializing. This is something you should do regardless of whether you bought or adopted the dog.

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2. Dogs end up at animal shelters because there’s something wrong with them.

Most dogs end up at a shelter due to human factors. The top ten reasons why dogs are surrendered to the shelter (according to the National Council on Pet Population and Study) are: moving, landlord issues, cost of pet maintenance, no time for pet, inadequate facilities, too many pets in home, pet illness, personal problems, biting, and no homes for littermates.

As you can see, 8 out of 10 of these reasons have more to do with human inability to take responsibility for a pet, than with anything wrong with the pet itself. The other two reasons (pet illness and biting) could also be caused by human irresponsibility rather than something inherently wrong with the dog. In cases where the problem is correctable (e.g. illness is treatable, bite was preventable), the pet really just needs a good, caring owner. In rare cases where there truly is something terribly wrong with the dog (e.g. extreme aggression), these dogs would not be offered for adoption.

The vast majority of dogs are at the shelter because their previous owners failed in their responsibilities and commitments, not because there’s anything wrong with the dog itself.

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3. The “no adopt” policy for pit bulls, seen in many shelters, is proof that rescued pit bulls are too dangerous for adoption.

Shelters that have this policy typically cite the following reasons for it:

  • The area has breed-specific legislation or a breed ban; it is illegal for the shelter to adopt out pit bulls.
  • The area has a problem with dog fighting; the shelter does not have the resources to properly screen potential pit bull adopters to be sure they are not really dog fighters.
  • Nobody wants to adopt a pit bull. It would be a waste of space and energy to put pit bulls up for adoption, and desirable dogs would have to be euthanized or turned away.

Whether these reasons are truly reasonable is another matter altogether. This policy is less about safety and more about supply and demand and the proper use of limited resources.

Shelters that adopt out “pit bulls” have not found that this makes the community any less safe. Quite the opposite: by giving “pit bulls” the same chance that other dogs have, by showing “pit bulls” as precious family pets rather than fighting dogs or undesirable trash, and by encouraging responsible dog and “pit bull” ownership alike, these pit bull-adopting shelters help create safer and more humane communities.

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4. I should get a puppy rather than an adult dog because a puppy will bond to me better than an adult dog, and old dogs can’t learn new tricks.

All dogs, young and old, want to be part of a family. Dogs also have crummy long-term memories and tend to live in the “now” rather than the past or future. An older dog will soon act as if he has lived his entire life with you.

Whether you get a puppy or an adult, “bonding” depends on what you do with the dog and how you treat it. If you get a puppy or adult dog and throw it out in the backyard for the rest of its life, it will not bond with you, regardless of its age. But if you spend time with your new dog, handle him, walk him, train him, and share adventures with him, then your new dog will bond with you, no matter how old or young.

Your lifestyle should inform your choice between a puppy and an adult dog. Puppies are cute, but they are also a lot of work. They need to be housetrained (requiring a trip outside every few hours), socialized, and obedience trained. They chew on things, relieve themselves on the carpet, bark and yelp, and generally cause chaos. And you will not know exactly what a puppy will grow up to be.

With an adult dog, you face fewer surprises. You already know the dog’s adult size and temperament, and possibly even the dog’s quirks and talents.

What can you handle? What do you not want to deal with? Carefully consider your lifestyle when making the choice between puppy and adult dog.

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5. Purebred dogs are less likely to develop health or temperament issues than mixed breed dogs.

Purebred dogs may be prone to certain genetic defects that cause health or temperament problems. This increased risk is offset by the ability to better predict which dogs will develop problems when compared to mixed breeds. For an interesting discussion about the differences between purebred and mixed breed dogs, check out this link (you can disregard the book sales pitch):
http://www.yourpurebredpuppy.com/tutorial1.html

Many if not most of the “pit bulls” you will see at an animal shelter are mixed breed dogs with unknown genetic traits. It is impossible to predict a shelter dog’s possible health or temperament issues based solely on the dog’s physical appearance and possible breed makeup. Only if and when those health or temperament issues manifest will you know that your dog has those issues.

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6. You can’t find purebred dogs at the animal shelter.

Yes, you can! You can also find purebred dogs at breed-specific rescue groups across the country.

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7. An adopted dog is more likely to “turn on” its owner than a dog bought from a breeder.

This is a myth without any science or fact to back it up. The incidence of a dog—any dog—attacking its owner without warning is very, very rare. Most dog bites and attacks (on owners and other people) can be traced back to owner irresponsibility or negligence. Owners should always be responsible and careful with their dogs, whether the dogs are adopted or purchased.

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8. If rescue groups are not trying to make a profit, they should give away their animals for free.

“Non-profit” isn’t the same as non-income. Without any sort of income, rescue groups could not afford to take in and care for so many homeless animals. Rescue groups depend on donations and volunteers to help run their operations, but they also face per-animal expenses like food, medicine, shelter, and vet bills. All pets need the basics (food, water, shelter), vaccinations, a spay/neuter operation if that hasn’t been done, and perhaps even a microchip. An animal that arrives sick or injured may cost even more than average.

In order to make sure that the pets offered for adoption are healthy, clean, and happy, rescue groups charge an adoption fee to help cover their expenses. The fee also discourages unsavory individuals who are on the lookout for “disposable” dogs.

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9. The screening process for adoption is an invasion of my privacy.

Whether you adopt or buy, you should still face the same scrutiny from the person or organization offering the dog. A responsible breeder will also screen potential buyers heavily. This is true for all dogs, not just “pit bulls.” Responsible breeders and rescue groups want to be absolutely certain that their dogs end up with a loving, caring, committed, responsible owner.

If you apply to adopt or buy a dog and are asked a lot of questions, this means the person who is offering the dog genuinely cares about the dog’s future. That person will be around whenever you need assistance or advice; they want the dog to have a happy life no matter what it takes!

If you offer to adopt or buy and the person seems content to just shove the dog off on you, no questions asked, this is a warning sign. They might be glad to be rid of a sick or aggressive dog; or they might be more interested in making money than being a responsible breeder or rescuer.

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10. Two dogs are better than one.

Before you get a second dog, you should 1) make sure you are getting the dog for you, not your other dog, 2) understand what it takes to manage a multiple dog household, and 3) realize that you may someday need to institute a crate-and-rotate routine. If you are not prepared for and willing to accept future possibilities, do not get another dog.

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11. Certain colors or types of pit bulls are “rare” or “special.”

There are no “rare” or “special” colors or types of pit bulls out there. “Blue” pit bulls and “red nosed” pit bulls are frequently touted as unique and expensive dogs, but it doesn’t take me more than a few seconds to find hundreds of each on Petfinder (a database of adoptable pets).

Don’t fall for the hype about these fad dogs. More often than not, a breeder that advertises his or her dogs’ physical attributes (coat color, size of head, shape of body) rather than the dogs’ sweet and friendly temperament is a breeder you should avoid.

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Next Page: Too many pit bulls
Previous Page: Where to get a pit bull

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