How Sign Language Helped Bella The Deaf Pit Bull

Did you know that dogs can be taught to understand sign language? Moreover, dogs are being taught to sign right here in Nebraska at the Central Nebraska Humane Society in Grand Island. The shelter took on their first deaf dog in 2014, and since then have continued to develop their program of teaching sign language to deaf dogs. One of the most recent dogs to benefit from the program is Bella, a young pit bull mix. CNHS Volunteer Tracie Pfeifle and Bella’s adoptive mom shared her story with me.

Bella_PJS

Two-year-old Bella came from a small rescue in Oklahoma. She’s mostly white with patches of brown and cream. Her distinguishing feature is her eyes which appear to have eyeliner around them. Those who know her say that Bella has special “looks” that she’ll give to communicate her moods, whether she’s displeased or relaxed. She’s also described as boisterous but gentle.

When Bella came to the Central Nebraska Humane Society, she immediately bonded with anyone who gave her attention. What helped develop her personality more is when she learned the basic signs for: “Good girl,” “Sit,” “Down,” and “Roll over”. And what helped her further cement bonds with staff is when they began to use her signs. Soon, if Bella didn’t receive the attention she craved, she’d demand it with howls and glares.

Bella won the hearts of CNHS staff with her cute ways. Tracie recalls that when Bella would be in the outside pen and the weather was nice, “she would howl at me if I did not come and see her and then take her for a walk. No amount of telling her to be quiet would help. She would then turn her face away when she did not want to see your hands giving her commands.”

In addition, when Tracie would put Bella back in her kennel, Bella “would squeeze out and dash to the door that ledBella_Bed to office area of the building. She had the orneriest/happy look on her face I have ever seen. She never showed any shame.”

In terms of Bella’s likelihood of ever being adopted, her breed was just as much of a disability as her deafness. Bella had come to the right place by being placed at the Central Nebraska Humane Society. According to its website, CNHS serves an area which produces many unwanted pets and stray animals, with a higher number of them being pit bulls. CNHS believes that pit bulls possess many great qualities and make for great, life-long companions.

CNHS was also the right place for a deaf dog. In 2014, Central Nebraska Humane Society started a program to teach deaf dogs sign language so they can better communicate with their owners. The practice began when the shelter took in two hearing-impaired dogs for the first time. According to Nebraska TV, Tracie modified American Sign Language to develop a one-handed sign language that allowed her to communicate with a dog using one hand and hold onto the leash using the other hand. After realizing the process wouldn’t be much different than teaching basic obedience to dogs who can hear, which requires lot of repetition and positive reinforcement, Tracie made this her special project. Her expertise has benefited more than one dog, the latest being Bella.

Bella_BabyCNHS’s commitment to Bella paid off, and a woman expressed interest in adopting her. But by this time Bella had bonded to Tracie and found leaving her to be hard. In addition, Bella can be stubborn. A sign that Bella is now in the right home is that her new pet mom has looked Bella directly in the face and repeatedly told her, “I am more stubborn than you”. However, Bella has faced challenges and simply continues to grow from difficulties that come her way.

Her new family includes two children (a one-year-old and an 8-year-old) and a 9-year-old doxie/lab mix, and various other family members that come and go all of the time. They love Bella dearly, and Bella’s new pet mom says Bella “fits in well with our quirky little family”.

Thank you to Laurie Dethloff, Central Nebraska Humane Society executive director, as well as Tracie and Bella’s mom for sharing her story. The fact that the Central Nebraska Humane Society has a program to work with deaf dogs was exciting news to me, and I’ll be following up with them for more stories and perhaps even visiting the shelter. Keep reading LAA Pet Talk for more stories from Lincoln and greater Nebraska.

Bella_DogAnyone wishing to help pit bulls directly can take advantage of LAA’s special offer to get a pit bull fixed for a reduced price. Until June, the cost is only $25. As the average spay/neuter can cost between $100 to $200, depending on the breed and the vet, the savings to an owner is obviously substantial. Also, please help LAA reach as many dogs as possible by sharing the Mighty/Tiny Project link and by donating to help cover costs. Let’s all work together to help the cause of pit bulls.

Finnegan and Gus: Pit Bull Buddies

When Duana adopted Finnegan in June 2014, he was “a little spitfire” but otherwise a “well behaved dog”. Because she’s active, she’d wanted an energetic dog, and Finnegan fit the bill. Then he hit six months, and Finnegan started chewing. Everything. Especially when he was left home alone. Before she’d adopted him, he had been left tied up as puppy in the woods, and so Duana believed Finnegan experienced separation anxiety. Now making sure she’d burned enough energy to keep his chewing to a minimum “became quite the chore”. Not only was Duana taking Finnegan to the dog park at least three or four times a week, but she was taking Finnegan for LONG walks on the days she couldn’t squeeze in time at the dog park.

FinnGus_WindowInstead of giving up on Finnegan, Duana decided to try the bold approach of fostering another young dog who might serve as an outlet for Finnegan’s energy. She’d fostered before and had found it “a great experience to see the change in a dog when they met that perfect family”. She put in an application with PawsUp and, in April 0f 2015, the group set up a meeting for Finnegan and another pit bull named Gus.

I really wish I had that first meeting on video, because no one would ever believe it.

The dogs had completely opposite reactions to each other. “Gus was a sweet guy, but he was NOT having anything to do with Finnegan.  He didn’t even want Finnegan within a few feet of him.” In contrast, “Finnegan has always been the determined stubborn type though and he was going to make Gus like him no matter what it took!  Even if that meant slowly Army crawling towards Gus.” Sometimes determination fails; other times perseverance is everything. “After about two hours, Gus finally decided maybe he’d give in and Finnegan wasn’t so bad.”

About a week later, Duana took the three-year-old pit bull home to foster. The minute she walked in the door, Finnegan showed his pleasure in reuniting with his new friend. “They immediately started wrestling and then after Finnegan gave Gus a tour of the house he took him outside to show him the ins and outs of the yard.”  Within minutes, Finnegan had Gus crawling around under the porch deck, one of his favorite spots to hang out.

FinnGus_WaterBefore long, Duana felt comfortable enough to leave the two dogs alone together. And that’s when the real bonding adventures began. “You could tell Gus was learning things from his younger brother that he’d never been lucky enough to experience, like how to chew on a bone or an antler.” Gus had originally been scared of water and Finnegan taught him how to swim. In fact, the dogs forged such a strong connection that they began to create mischief together. “I started coming home to blankets that were just shredded! I had no idea what was happening until I was sitting at the sewing machine one night thinking they were just wrestling but when I turned around they were playing tug with a blanket…. After that I decided I would need to leave them in a room with nothing that they could destroy!” One day Duana came home to the frightening discovery that the dogs’ rough play had resulted in injuries. Being at wit’s end, she considered returning Gus to PawsUp. But, perhaps sensing Duana’s frustration, the dogs learned their lesson and played safer in the future.

I was convinced at this point that Gus needed to be adopted and there was no way I could keep him. He deserved a home where he could find peace without a bonehead younger brother constantly picking at him to play.

Despite the rapport between the two dogs, Duana felt the time had come to find a permanent home for Gus. Granted, after six months of being together, the dogs might have their moments of acting like siblings, but they were also still so very different. “Gus is an old soul and is very ‘chill,’ while Finnegan is angsty and whiny much of the time. Gus is very territorial and will charge the fence at the neighbor dogs, which is one of the few times he shows much energy.  Finnegan just wants to play and have fun and would allow any animal into his yard! It took about 4-5 months for Gus to actually sit up in the car and smile on the way to our destination. He’s learned that we go fun places when I take him in the car like to the dog park.  Finnegan loves going anywhere in the car and would run to ‘his room’ when I picked up my car keys or when he could tell I was getting ready to leave. And while Gus likes the FinnGus_Floordog park and has learned to interact with other dogs, he sometimes has a hard time there because when Finnegan is playing he feels he needs to jump in and protect Finnegan…. Finnegan just wants to chew on his bones until bedtime and then he needs to ensure he’s the one sleeping right at my side.” The list went on, right down to how the dogs differed in their reactions to Duana. “Gus is my protector and likes to cuddle.  He wants mom’s attention as much as he can get it.  Finnegan just wants to chew on his bones until bedtime and then he needs to ensure he’s the one sleeping right at my side.”

EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE was telling me that I just HAD to keep Gus.

By September 2015, Duana was starting to weigh her options. “Gus had a few potential adopters ask about him and reality was setting in that he might be gone.” Having fostered before, Duana knew letting go could be a challenge. But Duana also knew she had to make the decision with her head, not her heart. Financially, taking on a second dog would be a hard. She also knew that Gus would be okay without Finn because he could have peace and quiet. What she didn’t know is how Finn would do without Gus. It was time to see.

Duana asked a friend to take Gus for the weekend. “Finnegan became more of the Finnegan I had known before: whinier and more angsty.” While Duana knew she could convince herself that he’d eventually adjust to life without Gus, “what I couldn’t take away from him was how excited he was when Gus came back home. Finnegan was just beside himself with joy and I decided that for him I needed to keep Gus.” An unexpected bonus allowed her to pay off her car, which meant she could afford the extra expense of providing for a second dog. She adopted Gus in October.

FinnGus_SofaSince then, the two dogs have “become even more inseparable”. However Gus reacts to a new situation such as a visitor at the door, then Finnegan has to follow suit. They play tug together and chew on the same tennis ball. A normal evening starts with Finnegan chewing on a bone and Gus taking a nap, but then they’ll turn to wrestling. At night, they’ll sleep with Duana on her bed, and the next day Duana will find them together on the couch. Duana often takes the siblings to the PawsUP Microchip clinics so they can see everyone there and get their nails trimmed. “If Gus leaves Finn’s side, Finn is just a whiny mess the entire time! The fact that they are so opposite seems to balance them out.”

I love hearing those who say “your dogs are the best behaved dogs here and they’re pit bulls”.

Duana remains happy with her decision to keep Gus. People think the dogs are related and she receives many compliments about the Finnegan and Gus being a gorgeous pair. It makes her chuckle when she meets people who can’t believe a “female owns two male pit bulls”.

Anyone wishing to help pit bulls directly can take advantage of LAA’s special offer to get a pit bull fixed for a reduced price. Until June, the cost is only $25. As the average spay/neuter can cost between $100 to $200, depending on the breed and the vet, the savings to an owner is obviously substantial. Also, please help LAA reach as many dogs as possible by sharing the Mighty/Tiny Project link and by donating to help cover costs. Let’s all work together to help the cause of pit bulls.

LAA’s Project to Help Pit Bulls

Did you know that, according to Petfinder, the dog breeds with the highest numbers available for adoption are pit bull terriers (over 17,000) and Chihuahuas (over 13,000)? Other than the Labrador retriever, which also runs around 17,000, the closest that any other breed numbers is 5,000 or less.

My heart sinks to see those astronomical numbers. Some other breeds, such as English shepherd, Irish setter, and Japanese Chin each have fewer than a hundred in need of adoption. It’s difficult for me to envision how thousands of pit bulls and Chihuahuas could possibly get adopted.  And yet there’s something that all of us can do to help.

What we can do is take advantage of LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project, through which owners of pit bulls and Chihuahuas, can get their dogs fixed for only $25. These two dog breeds are most at risk for relinquishment and euthanasia.

LAA’s Mighty/Tiny project is made possible by a grant from the Best Friends Animal Society. Who is the Best Friends Animal Society? Why have they awarded this grant? Nearly 30 years ago, this animal welfare group helped pioneer the no-kill movement. At that time, more than 17 million pets were being killed annually in our nation’s shelters. Through the implementation of spay/neuter and trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs to reduce the number of pets entering shelters, and through the increase in the number of people adopting pets from shelters, these numbers have been reduced to around four million deaths per year.

Four million is still too many. The Best Friends Animal Society, along with many other animal welfare groups, are committed to reducing that number to zero. One way they are working to achieve this goal is through their No More Homeless Pets Network partner program with local shelters, which includes Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. Another way is through their national initiatives that focus on animals most likely to enter America’s shelter system. Currently, these are: cats, castoffs from puppy mills, and pit-bull-terrier-type dogs.

The sad fact is that more than 9000 animals are killed in our nation’s shelters. That’s seven animals per minute. More pit bulls are euthanized than any other dog breed. Sadly, pit bulls were once considered a great family dog; now, thanks to a reputation for being aggressive, they are often banned through Breed Specific Legislation. The rest of this week, LAA Talk will share a few personal stories I’ve received about local pit bulls.

The grant that Lincoln Animal Ambassadors received from Best Friends will run out this June. So far, LAA has spayed/neutered about 60 pit bulls and about the same number of Chihuahuas. Please take advantage of the special offer to get a pit bull fixed for $25. As the average spay/neuter can cost between $100 to $200, depending on the breed and the vet, the savings to an owner is obviously substantial. Also, please help LAA reach as many dogs as possible by sharing the Mighty/Tiny Project link and by donating to help cover costs. Let’s all work together to help the cause of pit bulls.

MightyTiny

 

How Can You Help Pit Bulls?

If my research into the pit bull controversy has persuaded me of anything, it’s that instead of arguing about which dog is the most dangerous, we need so start focusing on how we can make all dogs safer. In this article, I will pose suggestions that coincide with the topics covered to date: fear, aggression, and breed-specific legislation. Then I’ll end with some general sound principles.

FEAR

In addressing public fear, proponents of the pit bull encourage people to remember the past. Although I’m still in the process of finding more information about the history of the pit bull, several sources do suggest the pit bull used to be perceived as a family dog, working dog, and celebrity dog. History then should serve as evidence that the problem is not the breed but how the breed is mistreated.

AGGRESSION

The National Canine Research Council recommends that rather than discriminate against select breeds, communities should take responsibility for dog ownership and management practices. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA) both recommend an approach to dog bite prevention that focuses on “improving the quality of human-canine interactions and the care of all canine species”. The AVMA provides online information about bite prevention and hosts Dog Bite Prevention Week. Dogs and people have hundreds of billions of daily interactions. Multiple studies of dog bites to children recommend education about safety around dogs, both for the parents and for the children. According to the AVMA, there are many ways the public can avoid dog bites, ranging from proper training and socializing of dogs to how to approach a dog.

Leerburg Enterprises are among many dog-training groups who contend that an aggressive dog “does not just rear its ugly head one day and become a monster.” Rather, throughout a dog’s life, it has displayed warning signs that it’s not a normal friendly pet. As such, a pet owner has the responsibility to learn how to respond to these warnings. On the Leerburg Enterprises web site is an article about the different types of aggression that dogs will display and how owners should deal with the problems related to those particular types of aggression. According to the article’s author, “understanding where aggression has its roots will help people understand the methods used in controlling the problem.”

BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION

Senior Director of Legislation & Legal Training at the ASPCA offers a couple of concrete suggestions regarding Breed Specific Legislation. First, DNA blood testing should be used to determine a dog’s lineage. The DNA-based breed identification tests currently on the market are not yet accurate enough for widespread use, nor are they cheap or quick. At the same time, DNA testing is sometimes the best solution a pet owner has. One well-cited example is of a man in Kansas who won his eight-month legal battle with the city to keep his dog, after DNA testing proved Niko wasn’t a pit bull. The dog was housed at animal control for the entire eight months, but has since returned home after the ordeal.

Second, behaviorists should be allowed to evaluate suspect dogs. Senior Director of Legislation & Legal Training at the ASPCA gives the example of the American pit-bull terriers that were seized from Michael Vick. Some animal welfare groups were actually calling for the dogs to be euthanized, under the assumption that pit bulls used in dog fighting were beyond saving. A judge eventually allowed the ASPCA to lead a team of behaviorists to evaluate the dogs. The team concluded that only one dog out of 49 had to be euthanized due to temperament. The remaining 48 dogs were dispersed to rescue groups and sanctuaries throughout the United States, where they now thrive. You can learn more about their sojourn at Bad Rap or Best Friends Animal Society.

RESPONSIBLE OWNERSHIP

All of us can practice responsible pet ownership practices. Simply providing veterinary care, proper diet, socialization, and training is reported to decrease animal bites.

Following leash and licensing laws also falls under responsible practice. Ireland actually mandates that any dog on its Breed Specific list must be kept on a strong, short lead by a person over 16 years of age who is capable of controlling it. Given that one European study, described by National Canine Research Council, also found that all of the bites to children from unfamiliar dogs outside of the home could have been prevented by simply leashing the dogs, Ireland’s law seems reasonable for all dogs. The editor of an online publication called City Journal noted that the Canadian city of Calgary, which had a problem with dangerous dogs in the eighties, cut aggressive incidents in half through strict licensing enforcement.

If you don’t own a pit bull, the web site Real Pit Bull, recognizes that the breed isn’t for everyone. Moreover, it’s typically not the best fit for the first-time dog owner. Pit bulls are energetic, intelligent, and strong-willed dogs who need consistent leadership from their owners, along with a commitment to their training, daily exercise and socialization. Owning any powerful breed of dog comes with this additional responsibility.

If you do own a pit bull, Mutts Matter Rescue notes that you need to be prepared for negative comments and bias towards your dog, and ready to respond to them in a positive way and address them in a positive way. You must also lead by example and make sure your dog is an ambassador for the breed. Actually, what surprised me is how realistic many pit bull groups seem to be. They often recognize that the pit bull (among many other breeds) has the potential to be aggressive, and therefore call to properly prepare for ownership of one. Groups such Pit Bull Rescue were also blunt about how adoption, fostering, and spaying/neutering are essential to the breed’s survival.

SPAY/NEUTER

In regards to spay/neuter, Pit Bull Rescue quotes one rescue in California as saying, “The pit bull population has now risen to 40% of all the dogs in 12 shelters in Los Angeles. That means that almost half of the entire Los Angeles dog population is pits or pit mixes! Most are strays, tossed out like dirty laundry. It’s heartbreaking.” The rescue then puts forth the emotional statement, “Anyone who sees these statistics must agree that not neutering an animal is irresponsible!”

Perhaps a little more objectively, the site STOP BSL writes, “considering the strong correlation between intact dogs and dog bites, it seems wise as a preventative measure to encourage spay/neuter.” The site goes on to note many other benefits to spay/neuter too. For example, those who provide the spay/neuter could use the opportunity to educate dog owners about their responsibilities, discourage the use of dogs for guarding or protection, and provide additional resources for owners who are dealing with a dog’s behavior problems. At the time of spay/neuter, dogs can be reframed as a valuable companion requiring an investment of money and time, rather than a cheap disposable toy.

Best Friends Animal Society believes so strongly in spay/neuter as a solution, it offered a grant for these purposes. As a recipient of this grant, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors has created The Mighty and the Tiny Project whereby the group will spay/neuter Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers for only $25 per dog. As the average spay/neuter can cost between $100 to $200, depending on the breed and the vet, the savings to an owner is obviously substantial. LAA chose these Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers because they are the most difficult breeds for shelters to place.

The tragic fact is that the majority of euthanized dogs are pit bulls. If you have an unaltered pit bull terrier, you owe it to your canine friend to take advantage of the below offer from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. If you aren’t in that situation, please help LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project reach as many dogs as possible by donating. Let’s all work together to reduce the number of unwanted dogs.

MightyTiny

GENERAL INFO

SOLUTIONS INFO

Should Pit Bulls be Subject to Breed Specific Legislation?

Should the American Pit Bull Terrier be subject to Breed Specific Legislation? For those who don’t know what this legislation entails, it’s a law that bans OR restricts certain types of dogs because they are perceived as dangerous. A ban requires that all dogs of a certain appearance be removed from the municipality wherein the ban has been implemented. Restrictions may instead require an owner of a targeted breed to contain, muzzle, spay/neuter, or even hang a warning sign on the dog’s neck.

A main criticism of Breed Specific Legislation when it comes to pit bulls is that the breed is being banned solely based on their appearance. The online website Dog Bites disparage the claim that the average person cannot correctly identify a pit bull. Their basic reason is twofold. First, the pit bull is a class of dogs made up of several close dog breeds and so, in their opinion, “this false claim is designed to confuse the public just like the breed’s history of changing names is intended to do”. Second, they consider the ‘Can you identify the pit bull?’ challenges” are designed to confuse media, policymakers, and the public. In their opinion, “these tests are inaccurate and intentionally crafted to show that the average person cannot correctly identify a pit bull.” To them, if it looks like a pit bull, it usually is.

The problem with this logic is that Dog Bites seems to be deliberately ignoring the existence of mutts. Yes, if all dogs were purebred, it might be easy to spot the pit bull. The reality though is that many mixed breed dogs look similar to pit bulls. As such, there is not a definite profile of what the pit bull is.

A survey conducted by Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine confirmed the unreliability of visual breed identification. In the summer of 2012, an array of dog experts–breeders, trainers, groomers, veterinarians, shelter staff, rescuers and others–offered their best guesses as to the breeds shown in a series of photographs. More than five thousand of dog experts completed the survey. Their visual assessments were then compared to DNA breed profiles of the dogs. Each dog in the survey had at least 25% of a single breed in its DNA profile. A response was considered accurate if it named any of the breeds DNA analysis had detected in the dog, no matter how many other breeds had been detected, and whether or not the breed guessed was the predominant one. Therefore, for every breed detected in a dog, there were that many opportunities for an expert’s guess to be correct. The five thousand respondents were correct less than one-third of the time.

Even if breed identification were one hundred percent accurate, I have other concerns about Breed Specific Legislation. It does not take into account how the owner has raised, trained, or managed the dog. Nor does not take into account the dog’s actual behavior. Dogs are deemed guilty based on their breed and not on their actions.

Something then every dog owner needs to consider is when that legislation might impact them. Consider that the following breeds are known for dog bites: chow chow, collie, German shepherd, Labrador retriever, Saint Bernard, springer spaniel, Siberian husky. One blogger suggests that all dogs over forty pounds should be muzzled in public. An obvious problem with this solution is that many friendly dogs would be subjected to muzzle, simply based on their breed rather than their temperament. Another issue is that while that might reduce bites from the aforementioned dogs, small dogs can also bite. Those known for inflicting serious injuries include: Jack Russell terrier, Lhasa Apso, and shih tzu.

One would think that if a breed is dangerous that the public would always fear that breed. Yet that hasn’t been the case. In different points in our country’s history, the public has demonized many different breeds. For example, a paper published as part of the proceedings of the Annual AVMA Convention, July 2009, pointed out that as public opinion turned against slavery, so too did it turn against the bloodhounds that were often used to catch escaped slaves. Other dogs that have received a bad rap from the public include the Doberman Pinscher (associated with Nazis) and the Rottweiler (portrayed as the guardian of Satan’s child in THE OMEN). Now it’s the pit bulls turn, or so contends another paper that notes that in 1976 the Federal government amended the Animal Welfare Act to make trafficking in dogs for the purposes of dog fighting a crime. The pit bulls instead of the drug lords made headlines.

From the bloodhound to the pit bull, which breed will be demonized next? Will it be yours? These questions may make you think twice about Breed Specific Legislation.

GENERAL INFO

BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION INFO

Is the Pit Bull one of the most Aggressive Breeds?

Is the American Pit Bull Terrier one of the most aggressive breeds? At the heart of this question is the contention that the certain dogs are more likely than others to bite and that pit bulls are considered the most guilty. As with the debate over whether pit bulls are to be feared or not, my online research found arguments on both sides.

Dog Bite Law Center states there are approximately 800,000 dog bites per year in the United States that require medical treatment.  Most of the victims are children, and they are most often bitten on the face. Dog bites cause an average of 18 deaths a year. Almost $165 million is spent treating dog bites each year and 70% of dog bites occur on the owner’s property. Regarding the latter, the American Veterinary Medical Association actually puts the cost higher, saying the average price for insurer in 2013 was $28,000 and the total annual price was $483 million.

Where does the American Pit Bull Terrier fit into this picture? According to Dog Bites website, pit bulls and Rottweilers together accounted for 74% of the total recorded deaths in 2014. Moreover, this same combination also accounted for 74% of all fatal attacks during the 10-year period from 2005 to 2014. In breaking these statistics down further, Dog Bites contended that pit bulls cause one-third of dog-bite related fatalities despite accounting for less than 2% of the dog population. A release compiled by the editor of Animal People from press accounts seems to back up the argument that the American Pit Bull Terrier is responsible for more bites than any other breed. According to Dog Bites, this breed is variously cited as being responsible for nearly a third of all fatal dog attacks in the United States, in part due to its tenacity in a fight.

Naturally, these statistics are a concern. However, part of my frustration in trying to research this article was how often opinions weren’t based on reliable studies. For example, while Animal People itself might be a trustworthy organization, I question their methodology of relying simply on media reports, when there is a debate over the accuracy of pit bull identification. Also, unlike the below reports, Animal People’s research doesn’t take into account a dog’s background.

A report from the National Canine Research Council, about the results of study that seems to have had much more robust methodology, concerns standardized temperament testing in Lower Saxony, Germany. The government had placed restrictions on the owning of fourteen dog breeds thought to be “especially dangerous,” but allowed owners of these dogs to apply for an exception. Over four hundred dogs of the targeted breeds were tested in 21 situations of dog-human contact and 14 situations of dog-environment contact.  The dog’s behavior in each situation was rated from 1 to 7. At the aggressive end of the spectrum were biting with preceding threat signals, biting with no preceding threat signals, and biting with no preceding threat signals and unable to calm within 10 minutes. The dogs’ scores were compared to those of golden retrievers, a breed which is notably underrepresented in bites. The results showed there was no significant difference between the volunteered golden retrievers and the dogs from the targeted breeds that were required to  submit to the test. The report notes that, “This study contributed to the repeal of breed specific legislation in Lower Saxony,” and recommends that “rather than regiment dogs by breed, more emphasis should be put on the dog owners’ education.”

Yet another report comes in December of 2013, from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Covering all incidents that occurred during a recent ten-year period, the study identified seven factors potentially within the control of dog owners that co-occurred, in various combinations, in the overwhelming majority of dog bite-related fatalities. Four or more of those factors were found to have co-occurred in 80.5% of the incidents. Breed wasn’t among the factors identified. Instead, the researchers identified a striking co-occurrence of multiple, controllable factors including:

  • no able-bodied person being present to intervene (87.1%)
  • the victim having no familiar relationship with the dog(s) (85.2%)
  • the dog(s) owner failing to neuter/spay the dog(s)(84.4%)
  • a victim’s compromised ability, whether based on age or physical condition, to manage their interactions with the dog(s) (77.4%)
  • the owner keeping dog(s) as resident dog(s) rather than as family pet(s) (76.2%)
  • the owner’s prior mismanagement of the dog(s) (37.5%)
  • the owner’s abuse or neglect of dog(s) (21.1%)

Backing up this research, according to the National Canine Research Council, the fatal dog attacks that occurred in the United States in 2006 had these commonalities:

  • 97% of the owners did not neuter or spay their dogs.
  • 78% of the owners did not maintain their dogs as pets but instead used them as guard, breeding, or fighting dogs.
  • 84% of the attacks involved reckless owners whose dogs were abused or neglected; were interacting with unsupervised children; or were not humanely controlled or contained.

While none of these studies argue against the possibility that a pit bull might bite, the Humane Society of the United States does report the interesting data that pit bulls were involved in 25 percent of reported dog-abuse cases.  The cited studies echo the conclusion by the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention in their report published in 2000 on breeds of dogs involved in fatal attacks: “…. fatal attacks represent a small proportion of dog bite injuries to humans and therefore should not be the primary factor driving public policy. Many practical alternatives to breed-specific legislation exist and hold promise for the prevention of dog bites.”

GENERAL INFO

DOG AGGRESSION

Should We Fear the Pit Bull?

Should we fear the American Pit Bull Terrier? At the heart of this question is the contention that the pit bull used to be the most popular dog in America, and that media hype rather than reality is the true reason for our fear. One frequently-posted article (the origin of which I’ve been unable to track down) states that the first pit bulls were brought to America by English and Irish immigrants before the Civil War as prized family possessions. General purpose herding and working dogs, they earned their keep as herders, hunters, guardians and household pets.

According to this article, by the 1900s, the pit bull had risen to fame. It was embraced as a family dog. Because of their loyalty and temperament, the pit bull even earned the nickname “nanny dogs,” entrusted to watch over and protect children while parents worked on the farm. In addition, the breed was embraced by popular culture, with highly-respected companies using the pit bull in advertising and as mascots. The beloved dog with the ring around his eye from The Little Rascals was a pit bull. It is also the only breed to have appeared on the cover of Life Magazine three times. Finally, the breed became a symbol of American pride. Pit bulls were used in posters to recruit soldiers and sell war bonds, and a Pit Bull mix named Sgt. Stubby was the first dog to be awarded Army medals.

One opponent of the pit bull, the Dog Bites web site, claims that no sources are ever cited to legitimize the pit bulls’ right to the title of America’s sweetheart dog. Dog Bites states that in 2006 the publication Animal People tested this claim. By searching the classified dogs-for-sale ads between 1900 to 1950 on NewspaperArchive.com, despite “generously” searching for pit bulls under three different breed names, Animal People discovered that the husky and the St. Bernard were the most popular dog breeds during that period; pit bulls ranked 25th out of 34.

Whether Dog Bites is right or wrong, I do find some flaws in its logic. For example, proponents only contend that the pit bull was popular in the 1800’s, noting that the pit bull’s popularity began to decline after World War II as other breeds came into favor. Thus, it seems unfair to say that no evidence can be found of its popularity between 1900 and 1950. In addition, I don’t necessarily accept that the study was skewed. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus of the origins of the pit bull, with the ASPCA even describing today’s pit bull as being a descendant of the original English bull-baiting dog, and so using multiple names seems natural not generous.

Proponents recognize that only a century ago the pit bull breed had a mixed history in Europe. Pit bulls were being misused for savage sports (an act that was outlawed in the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835) just as they sometimes are today. However, proponents also contend that pit bulls were being used as working dogs to protect the family and field. This falls in line with the opinion of the ASPCA that behavioral variation exists among individuals in all dog breeds. Thus, while I understand how individual pit bulls (just like many other types of dogs) could become dangerous in the wrong hands, I still remain puzzled why the entire breed receives such terrible press.

GENERAL INFO

The “Mighty” Breed

Prior to the 1900’s, the pit bull was not only considered “one of the most popular breeds, highly prized by a wide variety of people,” but was even labeled as “America’s sweetheart breed, admired, respected and loved.”Now, many communities have bans against owning pit bulls, on the grounds that the breed is too dangerous. How did this happen? How did pit bulls go from beloved to reviled?

According to the United Kennel Club, the American Pit Bull Terrier has a lengthy history as an active, agile, and muscular breed. Its essential characteristics are confidence, strength, and enthusiasm for life. Due to extreme friendliness, even to strangers, UKC does not recommend the breed as a guard dog. In addition, UKC notes that American Pit Bull Terriers make excellent family companions and have been well-noted for their love of children. However, UKC also cautions that most American Pit Bull Terriers can exhibit some level of aggression. Because of its powerful physique, the American Pit Bull Terrier requires an owner who will carefully socialize the dog and train it to be obedient.

Extremely friendly, but aggressive. And thus the controversy over the breed. Debate seems mostly to revolve about whether we should fear the American Pit Bull Terrier, whether the breed is truly aggressive, and whether Breed Specific Legislation should exist. In a series of upcoming articles, I’ll discuss the arguments of both proponents and opponents, and I’ll look into how the breed has become of the most at-risk dogs for ending up in shelters and euthanized. At the end of my series, I’ll also share potential solutions.

For now, let me share some of the alarming statistics and one solution. A study by the organization Animal People Online reported that in both 2011 and 2012, pit bulls accounted for 30% of the dogs admitted to U.S. animal shelters and 60% of the dogs euthanized. Of eleven major shelter systems providing pit bull data, the average pit bull death toll among the 11 systems was 80%. According to a report by Rocky Mountain News, a shelter representative at El Paso County, made the observation that pit bulls were harder to place with families than other breeds taken in by the shelter. Backing up her opinion is the study by Animal People. It reports that there is only a 1 in 600 chance that a Pit Bull who even manages to find its way to a shelter will find a forever home.

Many other animals welfare groups, including Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, believe that one solution is to spay and neuter. Indeed, many groups contend that the biggest risk factors for dog aggression are malicious or neglectful dog owners, and dogs that have not been spayed or neutered. Executive director of the Animal Assistance Foundation in Colorado specifically notes a lack of spay and neutering among pit bull owners.

Best Friends Animal Society believes so strongly in spay/neuter as a solution, it offered a grant for these purposes. As a recipient of this grant, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors has created The Mighty and the Tiny Project whereby the group will spay/neuter Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers at only $25 per dog. LAA chose these two breeds because they are the most difficult breeds for shelters to place.

If you have an unaltered pit bull terrier, please take advantage of the below offer from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. If you aren’t in that situation, please help LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project reach as many dogs as possible by donating. Let’s all work together to reduce the number of unwanted dogs.

MightyTiny

GENERAL INFO

The “Tiny” Breed

Ranked as the 24th most popular breed by the American Kennel Club. Described as “a graceful, alert, swift-moving, compact little dog with saucy expression and with terrier-like qualities of temperament.” At the same time, targeted as being one of the most at-risk dogs for ending up in shelters and euthanized. Meet the Chihuahua, one of the two breeds that falls under the scope of The Mighty and the Tiny Project, whereby Lincoln Animal Ambassadors will spay/neuter Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers at only $25 per dog.

A search of Petfinder reveals more than 13,000 Chihuahuas are in need of homes at the time of this article. In light of the positive description of them by AKC, why are animal shelters being overrun by Chihuahuas? Through my research, I found these main reasons: popularity in the media, over-breeding, and uneducated owners.

CELEBRITY STATUS

Time and time again, articles pin the blame for the Chihuahua’s predicament on pop culture. The movies Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Legally Blonde, as well as Taco Bell commercials, have been blamed for contributing to the breed’s popularity. Celebrities Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus are also believed to have played a role, by fueling the perception that small dogs make adorable fashion accessories.

Is it true that media exposure of a breed can bestow a breed with celebrity status, increasing its popularity with the public? This question interested me enough that I decided to do some digging. Turns out, public perception is correct. A study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found that movies do significantly increase the popularity of breeds they feature.

What’s wrong with movies and commercials and celebrities increasing the popularity of certain dog breeds? As I’ll explain, the problem is that increased popularity leads to increased demand and over-breeding. And the problem with that is that much of the increased demand is based in ignorance, which results in a lot of unwanted dogs being dumped on shelters.

OVER-BREEDING

An independent magazine dedicated to the companion animals and their caretakers, Pets in the City, offered the opinion often voiced by others involved in animal welfare, “Backyard breeders and puppy mills produce as many puppies of the popular breeds as possible for income. They don’t care who purchases the puppies, let alone do any health, temperament or genetic testing on the sire and dam. This results in dogs having health, temperament, and genetic issues, as well as dogs going to the wrong homes.” Many animal experts note that over-breeding also often happens because of the failure of owners to spay and neuter. The sad consequence of all of the above is that animal shelters and breed-specific rescue groups become inundated with these fad breeds.

What I found most intriguing about the over-breeding issue is that it seems regional. Nationally, Animal People, an independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide, found that Chihuahuas were 18.5% of the June 2012 U.S. open admission shelter dog inventory, with a whopping 93% of them located in California. Moreover, according to the shelter operations manager at the Arizona Animal Welfare League and SPCA, Chihuahua were one of the most common breeds euthanized there. Most recent available statistics show that in 2013, the two largest shelters in Phoenix received 10,535 Chihuahuas and euthanized 2,100.

Although the over-breeding of Chihuahuas seems greatest in the southwestern United States, Chihuahuas can be found in high numbers elsewhere. In its Spring 2015 issue, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors reported having spayed or neutered 1,715 pets. Of those, Chihuahuas were the most represented breed.

As noted in its Summer 2015 issue, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors received a grant of $3,750 to be used toward providing alterations for the “Mighty” dogs of this project, pit bulls and pit bull blends, allowing LAA to provide spay or neuter procedures for pit bulls and pit bull blends for just $25 per dog. Lincoln Animal Ambassadors decided to also include the “Tiny” dogs of this project, Chihuahua and Chihuahua blends, for the same low price. Your donations will increase the number of dogs LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project can reach.

HIGH MAINTENANCE

The downside of turning a breed into a fad that everyone must follow is that many of those caught up in the fad don’t bother to research the health, temperament, or energy level of the breed. Many owners expect their newly-acquired dog to behave just like it did in the movies and, when it doesn’t, they discard it.

Hollywood tends to depict Chihuahuas as cute portable dogs that can owners can cart around as if they were dolls or even purses. They don’t talk. Nor can they perform amazing tricks with no effort from their owners. Like all dogs, Chihuahuas need to be fed, groomed, and housebroken. They need to be taken outside to potty, played with, and more.

Chihuahuas may also have additional needs, as several dog forums describe the breed as high-maintenance. Some agree with the AKC that Chihuahuas are very bright, very social, and very protective of their people and territory. To obtain these positives, however, requires extra effort. Owners must establish routines, check in on their dog throughout the day, and recognize that Chihuahuas will act reserved around strangers.

Although Chihuahuas can be high maintenance, the guilty parties are those owners who choose them for the wrong reasons and fail to take the breed’s characteristics and their own needs into consideration. When that happens, the Chihuahua ends up at an animal shelter or put up for adoption.

One should put the same amount of care into deciding on a pet as one might a car, house, or even marriage partner. You’re investing in a living creature with individual needs, traits, and personality. No pet should be purchased on a whim because of its celebrity status, but rather should be obtained only after thoroughly educating oneself. With that in mind, check back later in the month for a post where I interview those with more experience than myself with Chihuahuas.

SOLUTIONS

One creative answer to Chihuahua overpopulation has come from rescues in the United States and Canada that are redistributing the breed from locations with more supply than demand to ones with more demand than supply. Senior vice president of the ASPCA adoption center in New York City told NBC News, “We never have enough supply for the huge consumer demand for small dogs”.

How do the rest of us best help the Chihuahua, labeled by the AKC as “graceful, charming, and sassy”? If you have an unaltered Chihuahua, please take advantage of the below offer from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. If you aren’t in that situation, please help LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project  reach as many dogs as possible by donating. We can all work together to reduce the number of unwanted dogs.

MightyTiny

The Mighty and The Tiny Project

Did you know that according to Petfinder that two of the dog breeds with the highest numbers available for adoption are Chihuahuas (over 13,000) and pit bull terriers (over 17,000)? Other than the Labrador retriever, which also runs around 17,000, the closest that any other breed numbers is around 5,000.

My heart sinks to see those astronomical numbers. Some other breeds, such as English shepherd, Irish setter, and Japanese Chin each have fewer than a hundred in need of adoption. It’s difficult for me to envision how thousands of Chihuahuas and pit bulls could possibly get adopted. Yet there is something that all of us can do to help.

As the recipient of a grant from the Best Friends Animal Society, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors has created The Mighty and the Tiny Project whereby the group will spay/neuter Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers at only $25 per dog. LAA chose these two breeds because they are the most difficult breeds for shelters to place. We can support their efforts.

Who is the Best Friends Animal Society? Why have they awarded this grant? Nearly 30 years ago, this animal welfare group helped pioneer the no-kill movement. At that time, more than 17 million pets were being killed annually in our nation’s shelters. Through the implementation of spay/neuter and trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs to reduce the number of pets entering shelters, and through the increase in the number of people who adopt companion animals, these numbers have been reduced to around four million deaths per year.

Four million is still too many. The Best Friends Animal Society, along with many other animal welfare groups, are committed to reducing that number to zero. One way they are working to achieve this goal is through their No More Homeless Pets Network partner program with local shelters, which includes Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. Another way is through their national initiatives that focus on animals most likely to enter America’s shelter system. Currently, these are: cats, castoffs from puppy mills, and pit-bull-terrier-type dogs.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll overview the reasons why Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers are most at risk for relinquishment and euthanasia, and I’ll talk to rescue groups and owners of these breeds. For now, let me leave you with some stats from the Best Friends Society (and others) and a copy of Lincoln Animal Ambassadors’ The Mighty and the Tiny Project flyer.

The sad fact is that more than seven animals per minute are killed in our nation’s shelters. That’s 9,000 per day and 4 million per year. The majority of euthanized dogs are pit bulls. Sadly, pit bulls were once considered a great family dog; now, thanks to a reputation for being aggressive, they’re often banned due to Breed Specific Legislation.

The breed coming second to the pit bull in numbers euthanized is the Chihuahua. According to Mill Dog Rescue, the Chihuahua population has increased as rapidly as the pit bull population. By 2010, largely due to Taco Bell advertising and other media influences, the Chihuahuas accounted for 2.4% of the dogs offered for sale or adoption. Yet overbreeding has saturated the demand for these tiny dogs.

If you have an unaltered Chihuahua or a pit bull terrier, please take advantage of the below offer from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. If you aren’t in that situation, please help LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project reach as many dogs as possible by donating. Let’s all work together to reduce the number of unwanted dogs.

MightyTiny