Apr 10

Should Pitties face shelter discrimination?

Virginia Governor says "no" to breed discrimination in shelters

Should a shelter be allowed to make euthanasia decisions based on breed alone?  Governor Bob McDonnell today sides with animal advocates who say no to this practice, but shelter directors are not all in agreement....

Here is the press release from the Governor's office:

Governor McDonnell Amends Bill to Prohibit Breed Based Euthanization of Dogs in Public Animal Shelters--As Attorney General, McDonnell Issued Official Opinion against Practice

RICHMOND-Governor Bob McDonnell has amended a bill passed by the General Assembly to insert a prohibition banning breed-based killing of dogs in the Commonwealth.

In 2006, then Attorney General McDonnell issued a formal opinion that public animal shelters could not euthanize dogs based solely on breed. A bill introduced this session to codify McDonnell's opinion into state law, HB 429 patroned by Delegate Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), was narrowly defeated in the House Agriculture Subcommittee. During the bill review period the Governor decided to take the language of Griffith's bill and insert it as an amendment to HB 281, patroned by Delegate Dave Albo (R-Springfield), which was a successful bill increasing the penalties for animal cruelty in Virginia. The Governor's amendment will add the following language:
"No pound may euthanize, or prohibit the adoption of, any dog based solely on   breed..."
Speaking about his amendment to prohibit breed based killing of dogs, Governor McDonnell noted, "No dog should be euthanized solely because of their breed. As Attorney General I issued an opinion that this practice was not legal under Virginia law. However, there have continued to be questions regarding this matter. Therefore it is important that legislation be passed making it the clear law of the Commonwealth that no dog can be euthanized solely because of their breed. This is a humane amendment, and I urge the members of the General Assembly to accept it when they return next Wednesday."
Virginia Kilmer, President of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies noted, "The Virginia Federation of Humane Societies supports efforts to eliminate breed discrimination.  If enacted into law the amendment to HB 281 will compel the few remaining public shelters that kill solely because of breed to end the euthanasia of otherwise healthy, happy and completely adoptable animals and truly change the future for all sheltered animals in Virginia." 
Other groups that have publicly supported this measure are The Virginia Animal Control Association, the Virginia Dog Breeders Association, the Richmond SPCA, the National Federation of Humane Societies, Henrico Humane Society, Ring Dog Rescue, Animal Rescue of Tidewater, Loudoun Shelter Watch, Virginia Voters for Animal Welfare, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the Charlottesville SPCA, the Humane Society of Franklin County and the Floyd County Humane Society.

McDonnell's 2006 opinion can be read here: http://www.vaag.com/OPINIONS/2006opns/06-078_Alexander.pdf
So is this a good thing, or a bad thing, in the long run, for the animals and for the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia?

It is a good thing for adoptable Pit Bull Terriers who may be in shelters or animal control facilities in Virginia.  it may though, be a bad thing for other types of adoptable dogs who end up in these same shelters.


To get a clear picture, let's look at an example of what happens often in "open admission" shelters (versus private no-kill facilities).  The shelter's capacity is 30 dogs. They are full, and animal control comes in with over a dozen more dogs, all of which are strays which have a minimum hold period.  Of the 30 that are presently there, let's say that 10 of them are Pit Bulls, 5 are large Hounds, 5 are Lab mixes, 3 are Chows, 2 are medium sized mixes and 5 are small dogs of various varieties.  None of the dogs that are in the shelter have shown aggression towards humans in the shelter environment.

If you had to pick 10 dogs to put down, to make space for the ones coming in, which ones would you pick?  The majority of public shelters would choose to first keep the small dogs, then the medium sized dogs, then probably the Lab mixes. The Pitties and the Chows would probably be put down, at least some of them, to make room for the incoming stray dogs.  If more space was needed, the large Hounds would be next.   Why?  For the simple reason that  these particular types of dogs would be the hardest dogs to adopt, because only certain types of pet owners are able or willing to do what is necessary to meet their needs.

Shelter personnel want to be able to keep the right to make decisions based on what they feel is most adoptable.  They do not want to have to make a decision based on which dog was there first.  Let's take another example.  The shelter is full, as per the dogs mentioned above.  An owner comes in and surrenders six very adoptable Cocker Spaniel mix puppies, but there is no space.  Owner surrenders may legally be put down right away.  Does the shelter director legally have to keep the Pitties and Chows because they were there first....and put down the Cocker mix pups due to lack of space?  Or can he or she put down what she considers the dogs that, due solely to their breed, are less adoptable, and keep the ones that are more adoptable?

This is a tough issue, particularly with shelters who choose to keep the most adoptable dogs to be adopted locally, versus allowing them out to rescue groups.  If small dogs, puppies and the most adoptable dogs went immediately (as soon as they were turned into the shelter, or as soon as their stray holding period was up) to rescue groups, there would be more room at the shelter for the dogs that take longer to get adopted. This should translate to less dogs overall (including Pit Bulls and large Hounds) being put down.

But shelters do not want to be seen as places that only have special needs or larger dogs available for adoption. They also want to have dogs that the public really desires...the dogs that may have more applications and be adopted more quickly.  Otherwise, they fear losing potential adopters and, in the case of public shelters run by local humane societies, possibly even potential donors.  If the shelter is known for only having large Hounds, Pitties and Pit mixes, why would people looking for other types of dogs come to the shelter?  And shelter directors will also explain that they feel it is unfair to house these dogs for months on end, because public shelters typically do not have the space or the personnel to give larger dogs the exercise they need.  They feel it is inhumane; that death is a kinder option.

This issue is complex. I have mixed feelings, primarily because there really is a difference among breeds, as far as which breeds have a higher percentage of individual dogs in them that are likely to be good companions for homes with children.  We need to think not only with our hearts, but also with our heads. Decisions about dogs that are more likely to be aggressive towards other dogs or people should be made very carefully. A typical Pit Bull Terrier has very different needs than a typical Labrador Retriever. Yes, there are individual dogs in every breed that do not fit the norm, but this cannot always be easily determined in a shelter setting. Plus the fact remains that even the sweetest Pit Bulls often do not have potential adopters in certain areas of the country. Send them to rescue?  The rescue groups that will accept Pit Bulls rarely have an opening.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject - comments welcome!


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Comments (2)
  • John

    Pit Bulls are just as sweet as other dogs as long as they have never been fought. It is totally unfair to kill them in order to make room for something smaller and cuter.

  • Melanie S

    John, unfortunately Pit Bulls are not the same as other dogs. They were not originally developed to ever be kept as pets in homes with other dogs.
    I agree that large dogs should not be "killed in order to make room for something smaller and cuter". But if choices have to be made, then I feel that dogs which will make the best, i.e. the SAFEST FAMILY COMPANIONS, are the dogs that should be chosen to live.
    In a population where there are multiple dogs to choose from and only a few can be kept, it is rare that the few that will make the best pets would be those of Pit Bull heritage. I do not condemn all dogs that are Pit Bulls. I hate to "condemn" any dog. But it is also unfair to the adopting public to encourage them to adopt dogs that are too strong for them to handle, and who may attack their other dogs or their neighbor's dogs. I don't understand why people refuse to admit that this is what this breed of dog was ORIGINALLY BRED TO DO...FIRST, TO TA...

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