Clearing Up Misconceptions about Bully Breeds Key to Increasing Adoptions
Jan 31, 2020 11:00AM
By Vanessa Orr
Autumn at Humane Animal Rescue
Stop into a local shelter to look for a dog, and chances are, you’ll find a good number of pit bull mixes looking back at you. While there are many different types of dogs found in Pittsburgh rescues, the majority are what are labeled “bully” breeds—and they are often there through no fault of their own.
“Pit bulls are often overrepresented in shelters, though there is a misconception of what a pit bull really is,” said Daisy Wise, president and founder of pit bull rescue Hello Bully. “Ask 10 people what a bully breed is, and you’ll get 10 different answers.”
Just as there are misunderstandings about what exactly a bully breed is, there are many myths about the suitability of these animals to make good family pets. For this reason, local shelters and rescues are working to educate potential adopters about these types of dogs and more importantly, emphasizing that each dog—no matter what its breed—is an individual.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about different breeds, but we look at each dog on its own, getting to know its unique personality and figuring out what we need to do to help it succeed,” explained Cody Hoellerman, director of communications, Animal Friends. “You can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.”
“Every dog is an individual, and it’s important to look at them that way,” agreed Meagan Montmeny, chief program officer, Humane Animal Rescue. “The most important thing to do is to spend time with the animal; find a quiet corner where you can sit and visit. With bullies, their reputation proceeds them, and you have to look past that.
“At one shelter where I worked, we removed the breed labels from cages,” she added. “This way, it gave each person the chance to see if the dog might be a good fit for their family without paying attention to the breed.”
Removing Obstacles to Adoption
While western Pennsylvania shelters also have a higher rate of hounds compared to most other breeds, the “bully” breeds are the ones facing an uphill battle.
“The hardest thing about bully breeds is finding them a place to live because some homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies have breed restrictions,” said Montmeny. “If there’s a dog bite incident in the country, one of very first things you see is that the dog is labeled a pit bull in the media, whether that’s true or not. They are perpetuating the myth that these are scary dogs, when in reality, any dog can bite.”
While Pennsylvania does not have breed-specific legislation (BSL), which refers to laws that ban or restrict certain types of dogs based on their appearance, this hasn’t stopped landlords, homeowners associations (HOA) and insurance companies from enacting their own rules. According to Montmeny, a quick search of different “pet friendly” apartments in Pittsburgh finds pet policies saying that breed restrictions apply and include but are not limited to pit bulls, Staffordshire terriers, chows, Doberman pinschers and rottweilers, among others.
“We do not have breed-specific legislation in Pennsylvania; in fact, we have a state-level law that prevents municipalities from enacting BSL,” said Wise. “Still, not every municipality respects that. Three times in the last 15 years a municipality has tried to enact such legislation, and we’ve had to go to court to fight it.”
“Aside from specific breeds being mentioned, the other thing you’ll see is weight limits and high deposits along with monthly rent,” said Montmeny of other ways that regulate where these dogs can live. “Putting a weight limit on the pets you can have is another way of excluding a breed as most bully mixes are over 45 pounds. The high deposits and monthly rent make it inaccessible to a portion of the population, as affording to keep their pets becomes too expensive.”
On the plus side, public perception toward these dogs does seem to be changing.
“When the Michael Vick case broke, it was such a tipping point for pit bulls,” said Wise, adding that part of the reason for the proliferation of these dogs was that they were being overbred for dogfighting.
“A lot of people started seeing pit bulls as the victims, and not the perpetrators of crimes. They realized that the animals weren’t responsible—people were.”
Helping Dogs Find—and Keep—Homes
So what can be done to get more bully breeds adopted? According to Wise, it’s important to look at each animal on an individual basis instead of classifying them by breed.
“First, look at the dog in front of you—get to know it as an individual,” she said. “Then consider its sex and reproductive status, then its genetics and experiences. The last thing to consider is its breed or mix.”
She advises talking to the rescue or shelter about the kind of dog you want and how it will fit into your lifestyle.
“If you don’t want to walk a dog every day, don’t get a young, active dog of any breed,” she said, adding that age and activity levels are far more important factors than breed.
Because owner-surrenders play a large part in why dogs end up in shelters, Animal Friends and Humane Animal Rescue are working to help owners who are having issues with their current dogs, so that these animals can stay in their homes.
“People may be unable to care for their dogs because of money issues, or because they’re having children, or they’re moving or have medical issues, but a lot of times, it’s because they are having trouble managing behavioral challenges,” said Hoellerman. “There are resources out there to help.
“Maybe they’ve worked with a trainer, but a different type of trainer would be better,” he continued, adding that Animal Friends has a behavior hotline. “Spay or neuter makes a big difference because it can really impact a dog’s personality. We also have access to training classes, low-cost vaccines, and flea and tick treatment. The best place for these dogs to be is in a loving home, so we want to give people the tools and resources they need to make that stick.”