Angel, an American Staffordshire Terrier, and Roxie, Labrador Retriever,Pit Bull Terrier, get ready for an afternoon walk at the NCSPCA in Westport.
The dog breed with the highest volume in the United States is also the dog breed with the highest volume in shelters across the country.
For National Pitbull Day, Oct. 27, the North Country SPCA will be waiving all adoption fees from Oct. 26-28 for their pit bull and pit- mix dogs. They only ask that people see the breed for its loyal and loveable qualities without the sensationalized image of a fighter.
National Pitbull awareness day was created to bring awareness, appreciation and education and designed to change perceptions and stereotypes about pit bulls and their responsible owners.
At North Country SPCA in Westport, the Elmore SPCA in Peru, and the Adirondack Humane Society in Plattsburgh, shelter managers said on average the pit bull and pit mixes stay weeks, and sometimes years longer than other breeds before they are adopted.
“On average we will have a dog for about 24 days before it’s adopted, pit mixes however on average are with us for three-and-a-half months,” said Rebecca Burdo, Shelter Manager of the Elmore SPCA.
According to Jessica Hartley, Board member at the North Country SPCA in Westport, families will take one look at the pointed ears and rounded foreheads of a pit bull mix and say: “Oh no, not a pit bull. I just couldn’t.”
“People come in and dismiss these very adoptable dogs just because of some of the stereotypes about pits,” Hartley said.
Angel, a brown and white staffordshire pit bull, has been at the Westport shelter for more than a year.
Pam Rock, shelter manager at NCSPCA, has labeled her the “Volunteer Favorite” for her wonderful manners on a leash and her absolutely happy demeanor.
“When someone comes to take her, she walks with everyone and she doesn’t really pay any attention to other dogs,” Rock said. “She would be the perfect dog to cuddle up with her owners at the end of the day and go for long walks and hikes during the day.”
Rock said Angel needs to be an “only child,” with all the attention and she’ll give you so much love back.
At the Westport shelter, like any other no-kill shelter, Rock said there are some dogs who stay for a long period of time due to temperament or health related issues. But pit bulls, she said, face an even greater challenge of finding a home to take them in.
“People should know a dog is a dog and it’s going to always need boundaries and discipline, just like any other dog,” Rock said.
Pit bull is a term often referring to the American Pit bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terries, and Staffordshire Bull terriers. The dogs are marred by the recent “Michael Vick” stigma attached to dog fighting.
“Michael Vick and all that ridiculousness, the only good that came from that was the awareness that affluent people were doing this,” Burdo said.
In cases of dog fighting, owners use the pit bull’s loyalty and strength to train them into an aggressive dog, Burdo said. But Hartley said unfortunately media reports have fueled the stereotype by giving more coverage to incidents of an aggressive pits.
“Out of millions of pitbulls the breed has the least probability of attacking someone,” Hartley said. “Unless people are an advocate for the breed or have taken the time to understand the breed the only stereotype people know is they are aggressive. Because of this pits stay in shelters longer or are euthanized first before more aggressive dogs of favorable breeds.”
NATURE VS. NURTURE
Aggression in a dog is subject to its nurturing and how the dog is raised to be. David Goldwasser, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and owner of the Adirondack Veterinary Hospital in Westport said he does not like to make generalizations or develop any preconceived notions about breeds. Each dog is an individual, and should be treated as an individual.
“I have seen aggressive behavior in some Labrador Retrievers and some Golden Retrievers. No breed is immune from aggressive tendencies,” Goldwasser said. “I have known many purebred Pit Bulls, i.e. American Staffordshire Terriers, that were loving and trustworthy family dogs.”
Goldwasser said pits and pit bull mixes make up a large quantity of his patients. He said he has seen studies which rank dog breeds with regard to aggressive behavior (i.e. reported dog-to-person aggression) which showed that pit bulls rank quite low on those lists.
“On the whole, pit bulls tend to be outgoing, they crave attention and affection, and they are steadfastly loyal to their people. They also can be aggressive toward other dogs, although this is not universally true,” Goldwasser said.
RIGHT FAMILY FOR RIGHT DOG
Zachary, John and AJ Baker of Plattsburgh play with their newly adopted pitty mix Chaos at the Elmore SPCA in Peru.
The pitbull breeds in America used to be attached to a completely different type of stigma. For over 130 years in Europe and North America, the pitbull was referred to as the Nanny dog.
“When National Pitbull awareness day came around we wanted to do something to bring awareness to this breed that was called the Nanny Dog in America,” Burdo said.
Burdo said the early 1900’s the pitbull was labeled as the dog to have if you wanted to keep your children safe, it was the most faithful, strong, loyal dog that loved children.
, a pet pharmacitucal company, the American Pit Bull Terrier scored 86.8 percent out of 100 percent for favorable qualities. The Golden Retriever scored a close second with 85.2 percent.
Lillian Cassidy of the Adirondack Human Society said an ideal pet owner for a pit mix would be an active family with the time and patience to train their dog. Cassidy said she would not suggest the dog to be an apartment pet
“I would ask are you active? Do you have sufficient time to exercise and care for it,” Cassidy said. “It’s all about having the right owner with the right discipline and heart.”
In the Elmore shelter, old photos and facts about the breed have been hung on all the walls for visitors to learn more during in the days leading up to National Pitbull Awareness day.
Burdo said when people come in and ask for a pitbull she simply asks them “What do you love about them?”
“After reading up on the breed I saw that the pit bull was a loyal family dog and I thought it would be a great dog for us,” Greg Roy of Plattsburgh said.
On Oct. 13, Roy brought his family to the Elmore SPCA to see a young male pit mix named Chaos, so named by the Elmore staff for his “chaotic love for humans.”
With Roy were his stepsons; Zachary, John and AJ Baker. When the boys went into the kennel with Chaos, they smiled, kneeled down to be near the dog and as Chaos wagged his tale and rolled over for them to scratch his stomach, Zachary asked Roy “When are we going to bring him home?”
Chaos, one pit of four at the shelter was able to find his forever home. According to Petfinder.com, an online searchable database of animals in need of homes, nationally there are 20,230 “pit” dogs in need of a home through their database alone, and over 187,734 of all breeds of dogs in need of a home through their database.
The month of October is both National Adopt a Shelter Dog month and National Pit Bull awareness.
Rock said anyone interested in finding the right dog for their family should ask a shelter worker.
“We wouldn’t give someone a dog if they weren’t the right fit,” Rock said. “We want to do whatever we can to make forever homes. We’ll ask you about your lifestyle and see if we can match people with the right dog.” .