I've worked several jobs in my life. In each of those jobs, I learned from other experts in my field.
When I worked at an advertising agency, I followed the work of the leading agencies and looked for mentors in my field. Now that I work mostly in sales, I read and watch online training programs designed by people with a track record of success. When we began running the KC Pet Project, I immediately sought out advice on medical best practices from the University of California Davis shelter medicine program, and the Maddies Fund Shelter medicine program, and advice about best practices in life-saving from shelter directors that had been successful at life-saving in their own shelters.
This seems like the natural course of action to take -- if you are in a field, learn about what the experts in your field are saying and doing and build on best practices.
Unfortunately, it appears that animal control in Aurora, CO has taken a different approach.
Earlier this month I noted tha the city of Aurora was considering a possible repeal of its 8 year old ban on pit bulls. In that blog posting, I noted that there was a memo written by the Aurora Animal Control that specifically stated that the current "ban on pit bulls continues to effectively work as intended," and they recommended the city keep the ban. This statement was made in spite of the reality that dog bites have gone up in the community, and more than 1,100 dogs have been killed at taxpayer expense. If this is "effective" and "as intended" it seems like maybe someone is missing the point.
Well, Aurora Animal Control has missed a lot of points it turns out. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, I was able to obtain a full copy of the of the memo crafted by animal control and it is, well, embarrassing.
It leads me to question not only where they get their knowledge base of information, but also if they've actually ever interacted with a pit bull beyond sticking a needle in it to kill it.
First of all, let's think for a minute about who you would look to for knowledge and advice if you were the head of an animal control department.
If it were me, I might first check in with the National Animal Control Association -- an association that if they are not a part of, they should be. NACA of course thinks dangerous or vicious dogs should be labeled as a result of their actions or behavior and not because of their breed.
Or, maybe they would seek out the advice of the veterinary community. The Veterinary Community understands how health and behavior work together, and their members have millions of hours of hands-on experience with dogs, so they would have a good point of view. Here too, the AVMA notes that "by generalizing the behaviors of dogs that look a certain way, innocent dogs suffer and may even be euthanized without evidence they pose a threat." The AVMA also has a well-written document that is a decade old about a community approach to dog bite prevention that also recommends a behavior-based approach.
Or maybe, they might check with the Center for Disease Control. The CDC has long been established to help governing bodies deal with disease and health issues across the US and has taken an interested in protection from dog bites. The CDC is also against targeting breeds of dogs. The CDC recommends the AVMA papper mentioned above as a best approach for dog bite prevention.
Or, maybe they could have looked to the dog training community. Obviously dog training community has a strong understanding of dog behavior, and breed traits, and would be a good resource. Here too, the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and the International Association of Canine Professionals all unanimously agree that targeting breeds is an ineffective approach.
Or maybe they would have looked to the sheltering community, who also handles millions of animals per year, and would know how to end the mass slaughter of the dogs in their shelter. And here too, the Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society and others all agree that targeting breeds is ineffective.
But strangely, none of these resources were included in the memo written by Aurora Animal Control to the city officials. In their six page memo to the city council, the Animal Control Department included NINE citations from THREE different resources. The resources were:
1) A website created by a web developer who's sole experience with dogs is having been bitten by one
2) An article written by a city attorney
3) An article written in the 90s in a trade magazine for city officials.
So in a six page article, the animal control division for Aurora cited three sources with zero of them having any expertise in canine health or behavior, and one of them an article that was written more than 15 years ago. So the information contained in it is neither current, nor credible.
I wish I was joking, but I'm not.
And worse, there are many statements that were made without attribution that are designed solely to scare people into trying to keep the ban, and a few that make you scratch your head and wonder -- have the people who have written this even handled dogs before?
The is a lot in the memo, but here are a few of the highlights lowlights:
"The number of pit bulls euthanized continues to decline. The number of dogs released due to DNA Testing or by court order....remains relatively steady and has even increased over the past two years."
I think this was intended to be a positive, but really, after killing 650 dogs in 2006, and another 200 in 2007, of course the number killed will go down because you've already killed them all. Meanwhile, this also acknowledges the amount of taxpayer resources getting tied up in court orders for dogs that shouldn't have been prosecuted is increasing, and that their ability to breed ID dogs isn't very reliable.
"To date, the number of issues stemming from Pit Bulls has not increased, and the intent of the ordinance remains effective."
The number of dog bites are up. The number of animals killed has increased. And the amount of money being spent in court that are being overthrown due to DNA and false breed IDs is going up. "Effective" seems like not the right word.
"Staff is concerned that if Aurora's ban is repealed, it is liekly the pit bulls banned in Denver, Commerce City, Lone Tree, Castle Rock, Louisville, & Fort Lupton will move into our city and the serious injuries might resurface."
Fear mongering much? Over the past 3 years more than 50 communities have repealed their breed-bans and guess how many have reported this issue? Zero.
If this were true, surely a city like Boulder, CO, which has never had a breed ban, would have seen an influx of aggressive dogs coming into their city from the same cities mentioned and yet their number of dog bites per capita in Boulder is 1/3 of that of Denver (which has a ban). Heck, Aurora itself repealed a ban on 7 breeds of dogs 2 years ago and is not seeing any influx of those breeds taking over the streets of Aurora. This has never been documented to have happened, even in their own city.
And then, more fear-mongering recalling back to when the ordinance was enacted:
"At that time, pit bulls were the dogs of choice for gang members....breeding them, fighting them and abandoning them....For safety reasons, Animal Care Officers could not respond to service requests at addresses for known gang members or in areas heavily frequented by gang members withou an accompanying police officer."
Wow. But now animal control officers feel safe around gang activity now?
Here's the thing folks, if someone is involved in gang activity, which usually involves felony gun and drug activity, your misdemeanor dog law isn't going to solve it. Nor should animal control be the ones to take the lead. Leave that to the SWAT team.
"At any given time, 70% of the kennels in the Aurora Animal Shelter were occupied by pit bulls with pending court disposition dates or with no known owner. That number has dropped significantly and now only 10-20% are occupied at any given time by pit bulls."
This is because you've killed 1100 of them in the past 6 years and are making no attempt to save them. Killing them instead of them being in kennels looking for homes isn't a success story.
There is more there, including some strange behavioral information that anyone with any dog handling experience (at all) would just laugh at...including:
"Pit bull breeds, unlike other dogs, often give no warning before they attack" - This myth has been around since the early 80s and continues to get perpetuated even though no dog trainer/handler would agree with this sentiment.
"Pit bulls, compared with other breeds, generally have a higher propensity to exhibit unique behavioral traits during an attack". -- Aggressively being attacked by a Germand Shepherd, or Akita, or Rottweiler, or a pit bull, all are the same unsocial, not normal behavior.
"In the legal case against Denver, the court cited one study which reported that over 13% of pit bulls attacked their owners, as compared to just over 2% for other dog breeds." Cory Nelson was the source for this one (go figure). I don't know where this study comes from, but it is a direct contradiction to peer reviewed studies that show much less owner-aggressive response from pit bulls than most other breeds such at this study and this one. But hey, don't let peer-reviewed science get in the way.
It's a really frustrating memo because they have abandoned listening to any actual expertise and instead have relied on an old article, a propaganda website and a city attorney as their basis for information. It's now up to the council in Aurora to actually dive into the sources used to cut through the utter BS that is this memo.
I'd also hope they'd ask their animal control who they look to for training to do their jobs and best practices. I wonder if they'll answer the expert sources but then get questioned or why they didn't get feedback from those sources on their stance on breed bans? Or maybe they do get their professional advice from an attorney and a non-professional website...which would dramatically decrease any credibility they might have.
It's a lot to ask a city official to challenge their paid staff on something like this....but given their research and choice of sources, now seems like a really great time to do so.