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Plenty of homes for ‘all the pitbulls’

Some shelters say no one wants to adopt “pitbull dogs.” Here’s why those shelters are wrong.

When I write about the pet overpopulation myth, dog lovers come back at me with a tough argument.

“There may be enough homes,” they say. “But there aren’t enough homes willing to take a pitbull.” (Or senior dog, sick dog, dog with behavioral problems, etc.)

Is this true?

Or is it simply a matter of mindset within the shelters and rescue groups themselves?

You already know what I think: Pitbulls are popular dogs, and people love pitbulls. That’s why they’re everywhere. People like pitbulls, and they do want to adopt them.

So why are there ‘so many pitbulls in shelters’?

Boy the brindle and white pitbull

1. There are a lot of pitbulls in shelters because pitbulls are popular dogs right now.

This is also why the Midwest has tons of “Lab mix” dogs in its shelters and Southern California has tons of homeless Chihuahua mixes.

2. Shelters are “filled with pitbulls” because shelters use the pitbull label generously. (This isn’t necessarily good or bad, it’s just a label.)

“Pitbull” is an extremely general label that could include anything from a purebred American Staffordshire terrier to an American bulldog mix to Lab and mastiff and boxer and pointer mixes. Heck, my dog Ace could be given the pitbull label by some shelters.

3. Some shelters make their jobs harder by making it more difficult to adopt a pitbull compared to the other dogs.

Some shelters place extra adoption requirements only on the pitbull adopters. For example, they may not allow pitbulls to go to homes with others dogs. Or they may not allow pitbulls to go to homes with children.

While these extra requirements are usually meant as extra precautions to keep the dogs safe, they are:

Want to help pitbulls? Don’t make special adoption requirements based on their “breed.” Some dogs shouldn’t go to homes with children, but this should be based on the dog’s actual behavior, not her “breed.”

What can shelters do to promote pitbulls (and all the other dogs too!)

1. Ask for volunteers to walk, train and spend time with the dogs.

I volunteer at a local humane society, and we volunteers can show up at any time to walk, play with or just sit with the dogs. All the dogs at this shelter are much more relaxed than dogs at other shelters I’ve been to.

2. Foster homes.

Some shelters have no fostering system in place. Others only have foster homes for specific animals such as pregnant or sick cats. But fostering should be considered for as many animals as possible.

Foster homes would benefit the dogs with pent-up energy, dogs in need of training, anxious dogs, fearful dogs. Pretty much any dog will do better in a foster home vs. a shelter.

3. Doggy playgroups.

This is becoming more and more popular in shelters. Animal Farm Foundation often covers the importance of dog playgroups on its blog.

Playgroups are just as they sound – allowing appropriate dogs to socialize, run and play in fenced areas under supervision.

Imagine what this does for a shelter dog who craves interaction. Playing with other dogs helps him:

– keep up on his social skills

– relieve stress

– stay relaxed when he has to go back to his kennel

And perhaps most of all – It allows potential adopters to see him interacting with other dogs. People generally want to adopt dogs they believe are friendly and nothing screams out “friendly” more than two or three dogs romping and playing and having a blast.

4. Bringing the dogs out into the community.

Some people don’t visit shelters because they view them as depressing. Others (like me) have trouble leaving the dogs behind so it’s just easier not to see them.

So, shelters need to either find ways to attract people to the shelter (like this Furry Valentine event) or they need to bring the animals out into the public.

You’d be surprised how all the sudden someone starts thinking about adopting a dog just because of the sweet shelter dogs she saw at the mall or at PetSmart or at the farmer’s market.

5. Put out special requests for what your shelter needs most.

If you need foster homes without other pets, specifically put out a call for those types of homes. Use Facebook, local news media, fliers, blogs, other rescue groups, etc. I’d even use Craigslist (everyone has to pass your screening process anyway).

Do you need a strong, experienced handler to train or at least walk your more challenging dogs? Ask for that person. This is one of my specialities – handling the more difficult dogs – and I love to be asked to help.

There are a lot of people like me. They just don’t know their specific skills are badly needed.

Do you want a serious, professional trainer to help a dog that’s being considered potentially dangerous? Then ask for a professional trainer to volunteer some time to help.

Need someone to donate some Kongs or other puzzle-type dog toys? Ask.

People truly want to help, but they need to know exactly how to help.

Tell people one or two specific ways they can help, and I guarantee they will come forward.

  • Specific (and welcoming): We need 20 people to each donate $5 so we can pay for a professional trainer to work with Heidi, a Lab/pitbull mix who is fearful of other dogs.
  • Not so specific (and also negative): We are overflooded with pitbulls, and many of them have behavioral problems. Donate today so we can help more dogs in need.
  • Specific: Bailey is a black and white pitbull mix who does OK with dogs but not cats. He is kennel trained and housebroken and would like a foster home for a few weeks so he can take a break from the shelter. He’s a quiet dog and won’t mind waiting in his kennel while you go to work.
  • Not specific (and not welcoming): We NEED more foster homes. We will require you to submit to a home visit first. We will require you to pass an application process with references. Must not be gone for more than 6 hours.

Yikes! I’d be running the other way!

We’re talking about saving dogs’ lives here. Like, literally some of these dogs will be killed if they can’t get into foster homes. Let’s not scare potential foster homes away.

If we want to help more dogs, we need to stay positive and welcoming with all our marketing materials, whether it’s to recruit more foster homes, to promote fundraising or to attract new adopters.

What are some ways your local shelter promotes pitbulls and other dogs?


Thursday 30th of January 2014

I love that the community I live in has no BSL. They do have a few pit bulls up for adoption from time to time. They used to have very strict adoption requirements for pit bulls, but not any more. They are promoted like any other animal at the shelter.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 30th of January 2014

Oh good to hear!


Wednesday 29th of January 2014

Well said. We are over-runth here with Pits or bully breeds...