Most people react like I did before I started working and volunteering in animal shelters, I’d hear the name “Pit Bull” and I would cringe. Yes, see!  You just did.  Don’t change the channel, please!!  Don’t you want to learn??!!  Please read on for the sake of all dogs because the Pit Bull issues involve all dogs.

The Pit Bull population in the U.S. is growing rapidly. And so is Pit Bull euthanasia (actually, euthanasia is not the right word – killing is more accurate), for the shelters are bulging with them. Few people are aware of this fact unless you work for a shelter or are involved in the animal rescue world.

Animal shelters in the U.S. kill millions of animals every year.  There is a “no-kill” movement which is thankfully gaining momentum to reduce the number of pets killed in shelters. Some of the solutions to advance the no-kill movement are: education about and access to low cost spay and neuter, regulations on breeding and selling puppies, trap-neuter-release programs for cats, access to training and behavior resources, and development of large foster home networks.

While these solutions provide hope to reduce pet overpopulation, the no-kill movement doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance at success until the proliferation of Pit Bulls is confronted. Pit Bulls are overwhelming most shelters. As a result, the shelters need to euthanize dogs to make space. Yes, the Pits are usually the first to die but other dogs have to go too – the ones who are deemed less adoptable: older dogs, large black dogs (stay tuned for a future post about this issue), unruly untrained dogs, and very shy dogs. 

So, where are the Pits coming from and why do they end up in shelters? Here are the bare facts based on experience from working and volunteering at shelters:

–          Pits are desirable possessions by certain cultural groups. They can be a symbol of toughness or just “the dog” to have.

–          Pits are bred by people in their backyards and basements and the pups are either sold or given away, usually at very young ages – 2-4 weeks –  which is illegal. Teenaged and young adult males are most often the perpetrators. 

–          The Pits’ owners rarely train the dogs. Because the pups have been taken away from their moms and littermates at such a young age, they do not learn bite inhibition and are often not properly socialized with other dogs. They consequently can be quite nippy and will become dog aggressive due to the lack of socialization. Many people who get Pits also have children. Nippy puppies grow up to be larger Pits with big teeth and even bigger jaws which can hurt children, even if it’s just playful nipping. The dogs end up chained in the yard to keep them away from the children.  Or they go to the shelter.  Untrained Pits are difficult to adopt out, and dog aggressive ones immediately get euthanized.

–          If the dogs’ owners fail to understand proper training methods, they will do things that cause aggression. To try to stop the nipping, they will hit the dog to correct it. An Animal Control Officer recently told me that she witnessed a man slapping an 8-week-old Pit pup across the face when he was jumping and nipping. When the dog didn’t stop, the man picked up a stick and was going to hit the dog – until the officer stepped in and stopped him.  Predictably, that dog will eventually get tired of being beaten and will become aggressive to defend itself. But if it is a submissive personality, the dog will get very fearful and may bite from fear.

This discussion has not even broached the subject of dog fighting which is another complicated subject altogether. The question remains: What can we do about this problem? I’m hoping that shelters are reaching out with humane education to children in these cultural groups. But shelter budgets are so tight that many of them have eliminated their humane educator positions. As concerned animal welfare advocates, all we can do is raise awareness of the problem and remind people that Pit Bulls can be such nice dogs. I don’t know the answer to the Pit overpopulation issue but I hope that someone, somewhere is working on a solution and that I stumble upon it soon so that I can share it with all of you.

Thanks for reading 🙂