Bully for You

May 2011

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Pit bulls and pit mixes were languishing at the Erie County SPCA and the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter. These Maddie's® Pet Rescue Project partners knew there had to be a solution, but what?

It's a tough problem, and one that faces a lot of communities. In Erie County, NY, pit bulls and their mixes make up the highest percentage of all breeds entering the shelter, but tended to have the longest stays. Behind these statistics lie the many myths and misconceptions about pit bulls.

So the two organizations pulled together and launched a series of "Bully for You!" adoption events. Two have been held to date, the first in March of 2010, showing 30 dogs from three of the coalition partners, and the second on February 12, 2011, with 25 dogs available for adoption.

Twenty-six dogs found new loving homes through these two events. Held in the auditorium at the Erie County SPCA, each drew about 200 people. One person who was having fun visiting each dog said, "I love this event. It is so important to educate people. Some of my favorite dogs are pits!"

A local dog trainer and animal behaviorist greeted each person who came to the February event, asking questions about the potential adopter's lifestyle in an attempt to match a particular dog to that family. Upon exit, families that had adopted a new best friend were given a training tools checklist from the dog trainer with recommendations like using a certain harness, or obedience training suggestions. Each adopter was also given a free certificate for a private training session redeemable through twelve area dog trainers. Of all the pit bulls and pit mixes adopted, none have been returned to the shelters, indicating that they have integrated well with their new families.

In combating the huge image problem that hurts pit bulls' adoption chances, Barbara Carr, Executive Director of the Erie County SPCA, says, "Pits and pit mixes make wonderful family pets and guardians. If you Google ‘pit bull saves', you will find tons of information on these extraordinary animals saving human lives. But all the public hears is the bad news about this breed."

The Erie County SPCA does a great deal of work with these particular animals. Along with all dogs, the bully breeds at the SPCA and the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter are evaluated for temperament by a staff of seven animal behaviorists. The bully breeds that are put up for adoption face a much more thorough examination than other dogs, and if there are any behavior issues that can be corrected, the dogs are given training modification sessions with a behaviorist and are socialized with other dogs and people by a cadre of volunteers.

Not only does "Bully for You!" bring out people who are familiar with and love the loyalty of these dogs, the pre-event publicity gives shelters the chance to educate the public about the great qualities of the dogs and to smash the stereotypes.

"We want the pet loving public to understand that we have some wonderful bully breed dogs, and that they make wonderful family pets," says Carr. She would like to challenge shelters in other parts of the country to do what they have done to bring attention to these much maligned dogs. "With some attention and training, it is possible to find homes for many of these remarkable dogs."

The Erie County SPCA, the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter, and Black Dog Second Chance, a new partner in Maddie's® Pet Rescue Project, are planning two "Bully for You!" events in 2012 (February and November) to ratchet up the positive exposure for these great dogs.


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