The Shelter Advisor
AnimalSheltering.org is a program of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). In a May/June 2000 magazine article, the program addresses the question of why not placing fighting dogs out for adoptions is the safest and most humane policy for the dogs and members of the community. DogsBite.org strongly agrees with this policy. The article goes as far to say that, "while these animals may seem friendly, all too often they are ticking time bombs."
Other key points the article addresses include: pit bulls (dogs that have been trained to fight) are unpredictable; attacks by pit bulls frequently come without warning; the serious liability the shelter would face if they adopted out a fighting dog that subsequently attacked a person; and the danger a shelter faces for even storing pit bulls -- criminals involved in dogfighting rings break into shelters to steal these dogs and may steal the from families that adopt them as well.
The article comes in response to the difficult question that many shelter groups faced in 2000 and continue to face in 2009: "We don't place dogs who have been used for dogfighting, but a few people are pressuring us about this policy. What should we do?" -- F. B., South Carolina
"Answer: Once dogs have been bred and trained to fight, they may become dangerous at any time in the future, killing or injuring another dog, cat, or even human. The cruel training inflicted upon these animals makes them unpredictable -- and unsuitable for placement into new homes.
Understandably, dog lovers who aren't aware of the sad facts of dogfighting may want to make up for the dogs' tragic existence by taking them in and providing them with a better life. The best way to counteract public pressure from these well-meaning folks is to do a little educating. Help people understand that while these animals may seem friendly, all too often they are ticking time bombs.
Pit bulls seized from dogfighting rings are particularly worrisome, notes dog trainer Sue Sternberg, who operates a shelter at her Rondout Valley Kennels in Accord, New York. Attacks by pit bulls frequently come without warning—unlike attacks by other dogs who often growl or bark first. "When a pit bull [is about to attack] he looks friendly and outgoing.... It's not that recognizable," says Sternberg.
Though many shelters do not place pit bulls, others choose to evaluate the animals on a case-by-case basis. If the dog in question is scarred and obviously aggressive, the decision may be fairly simple. The difficulty arises when a shelter takes in a well-mannered stray with questionable scars. Shelter staff may have no idea whether the dog has been used for fighting, making it difficult to evaluate the animal's potential for aggression.
In cases such as these, shelters should always err on the side of caution -- for both humane and practical reasons. Not only can dangerous dogs be deadly; they also present a serious liability concern to shelters. In the event of an attack on an adopter -- or an adopter's neighbor, friend, or relative -- the shelter could be held legally responsible. The publicity that follows an attack could be disastrous to the shelter's reputation and to its ability to promote adoptions of other animals. In addition, criminals involved in dogfighting rings may try to steal adopted fighting dogs.
The results of dogfighting are heartbreaking, and it can be difficult to reject the pleas of potential adopters who have fallen in love with a seemingly friendly ex-fighter; to prevent such heartbreak, sheltered fighting dogs should be kept out of sight of the public. Unfortunately, euthanasia is the only responsible option for almost every animal rescued from this brutal bloodsport. When the plight of these animals upsets the citizens in your community, let them know that you are equally devastated. Explain to them that your policies are based on concern for the well-being and safety of everyone, including the animal. Remind people that when a shelter makes animals available for adoption, the staff must make every effort to protect both the animals and the public.
By taking the time to explain the reasons behind your policy, you can help potential adopters understand that the dangers involved in adopting out fighting dogs far outweigh the possible benefits -- and you can also encourage people to adopt other dogs in need of loving homes."
09/08/08: Each Humane Society is a Separate and Distinct Organization
11/03/08: Flashback: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary Refuses Care of Pit Bulls
06/02/08: ASPCA Pushing Pit Bull Adoption: Adopt-A-Bull Contest