Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pit bulls and shelter bankruptcy

Author Alexandra Semyonova recently made some insightful observations about the problems currently facing dog shelters in the Netherlands. I was fascinated by her observations and feel strongly that we in the USA are heading down the same path. I asked if I could publish her comments, and she graciously agreed.


When I worked at ___ shelter during the Netherlands pit-bull ban, the only pit bulls we took in were collateral catch from drug raids or those confiscated because they'd hurt someone. About three or four a year at most, and yes, all slated to be put down. The dog wing was always one-third to one-half empty except in the summer, when people dumped dogs to go on vacation.

Four years after the pit bull ban was repealed here, various Dutch shelters have announced they'll be going bankrupt soon if the government doesn't put (altogether) millions of extra money on the table for them. I took a look at Dutch shelter sites on June 17, 2012. The average at Dutch shelters is now 78% pit-bull type dogs.

 When the 'humanes' were fighting for repeal of the pit bull ban, there were - in the entire country - about 180 pit bulls waiting on death row as owners appealed destruction verdicts. All of them had hurt someone. You see, the ban wasn’t a witch hunt. As long as they stayed under the radar by not hurting anyone (or anyone’s animal) or making some kind of trouble (such as attacking police during a warranted search), no pit bull was confiscated. 

So in 2008, 180 were awaiting PTS in the whole country, all of which had hurt someone. Now that the ban has been lifted, there are thousands of pit bulls in shelters, almost all of which will be put down in the end because no one wants them. Meanwhile, the humane societies can't help the shelters avoid bankruptcy. They say they don't have that much money, and anyway it's the government's responsibility to pay. This even as the humanes are still encouraging people to get a pit bull. I know we know all this and it's all been said before. It's just that it's crazy-making to watch it happen all over again right under my nose. 

A system which had worked well is now broken

The following refers to my time at ____ shelter, capacity: 85 dogs. We had a system that used to work (before the return of the pit bull). Most dogs that came in were re-homed within three or four months. Some stayed longer. We had a resident behaviorist. A lot of the dogs were taken out (off-leash, in groups) by volunteers about three times a week for a free-run hike in the surrounding woods. Dogs not capable of that had time on a fenced field two or three times a week, if possible with one or more other dogs.

Some dogs only got out-of-cage time with the behaviorist (no other staff or volunteers), and not until s/he thought they were ready to work with him/her without bars between them (at his/her own risk). These were dogs with such serious learned-aggression problems that it was clear the board would give a PTS order, never mind behavior modification. The behaviorist's goal with these dogs was to give them some quality of life during the time they did stay in the shelter. 

 Occasionally a dog would come in that turned out impossible to re-home in an urban area (eg, super rambunctious 120lb Newfie). After eight or ten months of trying, we'd do a shelter exchange. Take a more city-appropriate dog from a rural shelter, send the non-city-appropriate dog over there.

These types of dogs were put to sleep:
  • Dogs with serious learned aggression problems.
  • Dogs that had been re-homed and returned four or five times. 
  • Old dogs with pain problems. 
  • Old dogs without pain problems, but still not re-homed after about six months. 
  • Young dogs with incurable pain problems. 
  • Young dogs with diseases (eg, juvenile pancreatic atrophy in a GSD) that meant about zero chance of a new home. 
  •  Dogs that for any reason seriously bit a staff member or volunteer. 

So dogs got more than a couple of weeks, lots of chances, but weren't kept if it looked like being a life-sentence. Without being no-kill, we tried to be low-kill. It worked. About 1500 dogs a year went through _____ shelter, PTS averaged about 15 a year ( 1% ).

 The rare pits were kept strictly in their cages until the court order came through for PTS. They were always from far away, since shelters operated as secret holding addresses while the court decided. A confiscated pit bull was never sent to its home-town shelter. It was always kept secret that there was a pit in the house at all. This was done to prevent the violent, histrionic break-in rescues that the pit bull lobby sometimes organized.

A grim outlook

In any event, it's clear that this system can't possibly work any more, now that up to 80% of urban shelter dogs are pit-types and shelters everywhere are over-full. I hate to even think about how shelter boards are now making PTS decisions, since the boards have been packed with pit-believers. [BTW, none of them -- not the shelter board members, not the SPCA board members -- have chosen to actually own a pit bull themselves as far as I can find out. They want *other* people to please empty the shelter of pit bulls.] Dutch shelters still do non-local exchanges with each other, but no shelter will take a dog from a private person who doesn't live in the city or town the shelter services. 

I'll be curious to see what happens if various local shelters do go bankrupt and close. All the dogs there at that moment will have to be put down unless some other shelter can take them. It'll be interesting to see whether, after that, we end up with a plague of stray pit-bull type dogs, once there's no shelter for local residents to dump them at anymore. We had an intelligent system in place that effectively made the entire country low-kill to the extent possible. Now it's completely dysfunctional because the SPCAs et al were so anxious to get other people (anyone but themselves) to keep pit bulls.

The shelters are blaming their near bankruptcy on: 
  1. Fewer donations
  2. More dogs coming in and more of those being long-stay dogs
They blame both these changes on the world-wide financial crisis. I don't think this is true. I know that a lot of people have stopped donating because they don't much want to donate to keep mostly pit bulls alive, and because they object to shelters pit-bull pushing as far as adoptions go. No idea what proportion of all (former) donors this would be.

We can also calculate that the sudden rise in dogs coming in is directly related to the pit bull ban being lifted, which has nothing to do with the world crisis. If you removed all the pit bulls from the list of 'adoptable' dogs, only 22% would be left - i.e
, the shelter isn't suddenly full of 78% more normal dogs, which would indicate the world financial crisis maybe does have something to do with it.  It's specifically pit-bull type dogs that are being massively bought then abandoned, flooding shelters and bankrupting them. It makes me angry that the SPCAs fought for the return of the pit bull, but are now saying 'not our responsibility' when it comes to paying for the results.

But of course it is wonderful that they saved those 180 pits that had hurt someone and were waiting to die when the ban was lifted - never mind that now thousands are being euthanized as unwanted every year. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Walk for pit bull victims announced

A walk for the victims of pit bull attacks has been organized for this coming October in Tucson, Arizona. Please come out and support this worthy cause. More information can be obtained here

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dog attack report by breed - June 2012

The animal people have been updating their comprehensive dog attack report, and we thought it might be informative to share the latest stats and take a look at the trends and differences from the report we shared last year. 

The most obvious trend shows pit bulls continue to increase the distance between themselves and other types of dogs, widening their lead as the number one killer. Since last year's report, 25 Americans were killed by pit bulls and close pit mixes, bringing the total to 226 mauled to death by pit bull since Sept 1982. 

This continues the upward trend in violent pit bull attacks over previous decades. Rottweilers were responsible for 2 deaths during the same period; most breeds caused zero fatalities, and a handful of breeds each caused a single fatality. 

Pit bulls and close mixes also increased their huge lead in non-fatal attacks on humans with 230 documented attacks causing serious bodily injury since last year's report. Unfortunately a great many, perhaps most, pit bull attacks go unreported, so what we're seeing here is unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg.

It's important to consider not only those who died from pit bull attacks, but also those who have suffered life-changing injuries, maiming and disfigurements. Just because someone survives a pit bull attack does not make everything fine. The physical and mental damage from a mauling stays with a person for the rest of their life, adversely affecting the quality of that life.

When a pit bull attacks it is typically not a quick fatal bite, but rather a prolonged mauling, pulverizing and macerating of whatever part of the victim it happened to clamp down on. If a pit bull attack victim cries out for help and others come to his aid, it is possible to cause enough damage to the attacking pit bull to pause or redirect its attack, giving the victim a chance for emergency treatment. If help does not come, the pit bull continues to maul the victim, tearing flesh from bone, and after 20 minutes or more of this torture, the victim mercifully loses consciousness. Death follows after further mauling, blood loss and tissue damage.

Here are highlights of the 30 year study of serious dog attacks -

You can download the full report here