Last week, Dr. Emily Weiss wrote a really interesting blog about pit bull adoptions and shelters.
Before I go into the details of the post, I will note that Dr. Weiss has been doing a great job of writing for ASPCA Pro over the last several months including a lot of data-driven information and I would recommend putting the ASPCA Pro blog in your "must read" list if it's not already.
But last week, Dr. Weiss wrote an article entitle "Filling up the Pit" -- talking about pit bulls, which according to most shelters are the dogs that are most likely to be "at risk" in their shelter.
In the article, she pulls data from 30 shelters (she does not say which shelters, or even what region the shelters are in).
Based on the data she collected, Pit bulls were the 3rd most popular breed of dog adopted from these 30 shelters (Chihauhuas were #1, Labrador Retrievers #2). In total, 11,376 pit bulls were adopted from these 30 shelters, which is nearly 7,000 more than German Shepherd/Shepherd mixes which were #4 on the list.
This isn't really surprising. All three of these breeds are extremely popular and as such, are very common in shelters. It would make sense that more would be adopted from shelters because that is what is most commonly available. It's not like shelters are overflowing with Wheaton Terriers.
What I do think is interesting is that it factually debunks a common mantra about pit bulls in shelters in that they are somehow unwanted or not desireable. It's simply not true. We've known that pit bulls are one of the most popular types of dog throughout the United States, now we also have the data to show people want to adopt them from shelters also.
She then pulls the information for intake of those shelters. I this case, it turns out that pit bulls are also the most popular dog to come into the shelter with nearly 53,000 intakes.. The combination of being #1 in intake (by a large margin), and #3 in adoptions, pit bulls ended up unfortunately being the most commonly euthanized breed/type by a very large margin. In total 25,142 pit bulls were euthanized, compared to 7,837 Labrador Retreivers.
Based on Dr. Weiss's research on reasons people surrender their pets to the shelter, she hypothesizes that we don't necessarily have a pit bull adoption problem (I agree, to a point) but that we have a pit bull intake problem -- much of which is being driven by the difficulty in finding housing for pit bull-like dogs.
I know from our shelter experience, housing issues are a leading driver in why owners surrender their pets. Sometimes it's due to size, breed requirements for renters, but also by a person's own insurance company denying coverage.
This becomes even more problematic in many areas of the country where breed-specific legislation further causes pit bulls to enter shelters in spite of having owners who care about them and want to keep them.
But the problem doesn't just stop with the high intake of pit bulls at shelters. The same housing/insurance/breed ban issues that cause pit bulls to come into shelters at a greater clip than other types of dogs also impact a shelter's ability to adopt them back out on the back side -- as many potential adopters will not be able to adopt a pit bull for the same reason the dogs ended up in the shelter in the first place.
In that way, I also believe that we also have a major pit bull adoption problem as well. Then tack on some shelter-specific policies that may preclude pit bulls from adoption, or a false belief by a shelter that adopters aren't looking for them (which often results in really bad profile descriptions).
It's a complex circle to be sure, but one that is infinitely solveable if we focus on what the data tells us, which is this:
1) Pit bulls are very popular dogs. People want them. People will adopt them. We should treat them accordingly.
2) Pit bulls enter shelters at a higher rate than other dogs. Obviously pet retention programs are a must, but what breed specific things cause pit bulls to enter shelters at a higher rate?
Just raw numbers would be one factor - -the high number of pit bulls in general would be why there are so many in shelters (the same is also true for Labs & Chihuahuas). Restrictive housing & insurance policies, laws targeting breeds, etc would also be a factor.
This would call for eliminating breed bans and other breed specific policies. It would call for the blanket removal of breed-specific landlord policies, insurance requirements and home owners association rules.
And it would call for elimination of breed-specific adoption policies that make pit bulls harder to adopt and artificially prevent pit bulls from finding homes when they inevitably do make it to the shelter.
So in many ways, we still have a pit bull adoption issue as well. Because as long as there are more coming in, than going out safely, there is the need for us to come up with innovative solutions to finding more of them homes. Many shelters are doing this already, but many are not which is helping contribute to the problem.
It's all inherently manageable, but it takes focusing on the data to help drive our decision-making practices.
Love to get your thoughts.