Tuesday, February 24, 2009

HSUS Policy Shift

Today, we have something more than Mardi Gras to celebrate. Towards the end of the day on Monday, RPB received word that HSUS had introduced an interim policy that, get this, instructs decision makers in bust dogs cases to evaluate the dogs as individuals! Yes, you read right - HSUS' long-standing policy which called for the automatic descruction of dogs seized in fighting raids is being reviewed in April. Thanks to the hard work of Best Friends and other Pit Bull advocacy groups on this one. The internet is abuzz today with talk about this exciting news.

A meeting of the minds

February 23, 2009 : 8:44 PM ET
The Humane Society of the United States on February 23 issued an interim policy recommending all dogs be evaluated as individuals, and is calling a meeting of leading animal welfare organizations concerning dogs victimized by dog fighting.

Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer and president of the Humane Society of the United States, suggested the meeting of major stakeholders in Las Vegas to work through the associated issues. This meeting is in response to concerns expressed by Best Friends Animal Society in December 2008 regarding HSUS policies related to animals confiscated in dog-fighting busts.

Pacelle said the meeting, scheduled for April, will include the participation of national stakeholder organizations that deal with pit bulls. The meeting was in the planning stages before Superior Court Judge Ed Wilson Jr. ruled that 145 pit bulls, including approximately 70 puppies, confiscated from Wildside Kennels in Wilkes County, North Carolina, would be euthanized without evaluation to determine suitability for placement.

The new interim policy announced by the HSUS, pending the outcome of the meeting, recommends that local law enforcement and animal control evaluate such dogs as individuals rather than as a category before any decision is made regarding their future.

“We expect government, corporations, and individuals to constantly re-evaluate how they deal with animal issues,” Pacelle said. “Likewise, we regularly review our own policies and procedures here at HSUS, and we think it is important to talk with professional colleagues in the movement to examine issues related to the disposition of fighting dogs.

“I am pleased to discuss these issues with personnel from Best Friends and other organizations interested in the welfare of pit bulls.”

Julie Castle, director of Community Programs and Services for Best Friends said, “There had been more than enough airing of feelings and outrage that the dogs were not evaluated prior to being summarily euthanized. It was time to hit the reset button on this in order to move things forward in a constructive way. Mr. Pacelle was open and receptive to what we had to say and we are looking forward to our meetings in April.”

Best Friends, through its campaign, “Pit Bulls: Saving America’s Dogs,” is looking forward working cooperatively with HSUS, according to Castle.

The campaign is aimed in part at educating the public and the media about pit bulls in order to help save the breed’s reputation. “Our goal is to bring positive change to lives and image of pit bulls,” she said.

Written by Best Friends staff
Photo of Meryl, a Vicktory dog, by Gary Kalpakoff

We ARE making progress, and this latest victory comes at a much needed time, when many of us are still reeling over the descruction of the Wilkesboro, NC bust dogs. These dogs - and others - haven't died in vain. Not only has this case been the seeming catalyst for change at HSUS, but it gave birth to a fight bust dog coalition consisting of concerned Pit Bull groups - RPB included - with Best Friends at the helm. Is 2009 showing more promising things for Pit Bulls than any previous year in recent memory? You betcha!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rescuing High Profile Dogs

The opinion mill is stirring now that the dogs seized in the raid of Wildside Kennels have been killed and the cries of grief are being heard from rescues, sanctuaries and individuals. While many groups wanted to go out of their way to save these dogs, there is another side of the fence that is saying something doesn't seem right or fair when rescues and other organizations make room for these 'big name' dogs when just as many if not more typical, everyday Pit Bulls are dying locally every day.

RPB's stance is that a group should work within its home base state to rescue dogs and not spend unreasonable time, money, and resources trying to bring dogs in from all over the country because some dog somewhere else has some special appeal. It is the duty, afterall, of a rescue to look after the welfare of the Pit Bulls in its own area.

However, Pit Bull rescue people are in a unique situation, because of the prejudice our breed faces. Sometimes, bending over backwards to accomodate a nice dog from a far-away shelter that hasn't exactly been Pit-friendly up to this point ends up helping more dogs in the long run. The power of a successful adoption and team work between organizations - even across states - should not be underestimated.

In these fight bust cases, the overall message that gets sent when these dogs are given a chance is that Pit Bulls, regardless of where they came from or what their breeding is, are worth something and are dogs that can live within society; they aren't the monsters of media infamy, nor do they deserve to die just because HSUS or PETA says they do. The success of the Vick dogs surely has made some people stop and notice. What if no one stepped up to help those dogs? We would be short a heck of a lot of really powerful media that would have never been generated by rescue of those 'everyday' dogs. One reason RPB joined the other groups that had filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Vick dogs was specifically to help future bust dogs - big name or not, here in NJ and beyond - get a chance. If the Vick dogs could get a lot of positive press, proving that fight bust dogs could certainly make wonderful pets, what could that do for other dogs down the road? And the Pit Bull breed in general?

Although from the vantage point that allows one to see the grand scheme of things, the BYB bred dog whose owner just got sick of and dumped at the shelter is worth the same as any of the Vick or Faron dogs, rescue people need to make difficult decisions about rescuing some dogs over others. Every ethical rescuer asks themselves before making these decisions, "Which action ultimately has the most positive, far reaching effect on the breed as a whole?"

On a more everyday, mundane level, rescues make choices like this all the time - when they choose the happy, correct, friendly Pit Bull over the adorable, sweet, but extremely fearful or reactive Pit Bull. Why? Not because one dog has more or less worth, but because rescue is NOT just about *that dog, in the moment* - it is about all future Pit Bulls that are effected by the actions of every rescue, and the actions of rescued dogs.

Pit Bull rescue isn't straightforward. All dog rescues deal with issues of money, limited time, and limited resources. But additionally, Pit Bull advocacy groups must deal with breed image, public scrutiny, anti-breed laws, and the powerful large-scale humane organizations like HSUS and PETA often preaching very anti-breed rhetoric, all as they juggle their ultimate goal of helping as many dogs as possible and reclaiming the dignity of and a future for the APBT.

Rescuing a Pit Bull is never just about rescuing 'a dog'. It is about saving all Pit Bulls that come after; it's about saving a breed. And the actions of ethical Pit Bull rescuers reflect that reality.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Temperament Evaluation & The Essential Pit Bull Booket

Temperament evaluation for Pit Bulls that will be placed into homes is of utmost importance. It truly is important for ALL dogs no matter the breed. Although humane adoption groups are advocates for the dogs first and foremost, they should ethically also be advocates for humans and hence look to place dogs that have the temperaments that would make them good companions and productive canine members of society. Making exceptions or shrugging off troubling behavior very often ends badly for all parties involved – including the dog!

The situation with Pit Bulls is dire. The breed is under a microscope and hence every negative incident that occurs is a nail in the breed’s coffin. When a Golden Retriever or a Dachshund or a Dalmatian bites someone seriously, there is no concerted effort to destroy the breeds or ban them from society. But when a Pit Bull lays teeth on a human, all hell breaks loose. So while it is of course necessary to carefully evaluate and THEN place ANY breed of dog into a new home (a bite is a bite, after all, no matter the breed – they all hurt, they all are potentially physically and mentally scarring), with Pit Bulls, organizations need to go the extra mile just to safeguard the breed’s future.

In order to help shelters and rescues struggling to do right by their dogs, The Essential Pit Bull was written. The booklet aims to help organizations identify sound, normal dog behavior and specifically behavioral traits known to be demonstrated in temperament-correct Pit Bulls. The evaluation in the booklet is typical in many ways, but broken down in such a way as to describe ideal – and not-so-ideal – behavioral responses as they pertain specifically to Pit Bulls. And since we all know that no breed is for everyone, The Essential Pit Bull offers plenty of suggestions for placing Pit Bulls into homes that would do best with the breed.

The booklet also categorizes dogs based on responses to tests. Instead of a simple pass/fail grade, the EPB evaluation breaks behavioral responses down further in order to help organizations make the very best decisions when placing their dogs.The categories are A (suitable for novice homes), B (typical Pit Bulls), C (dogs best suited to very experienced homes), and X (dogs not suitable for adoption that should be humanely euthanized).

A breed-specific temperament and evaluation booklet could have been written about any breed. All breeds have unique quirks and traits that define Breed Essence. This booklet just happens to be about Pit Bulls.

The new booklet The Essential Pit Bull, is now available to rescue and shelter groups through RPB’s shop @