Looking Back on 2015: Service, Play, and Innovation

Looking Back on 2015: Service, Play, and Innovation

From movie stars and public service announcements to service dogs and play yards, Animal Farm Foundation has enjoyed a productive year working to secure equal opportunity and treatment for “pit bull” dogs and their families. As 2015 comes to a close, we wanted to take a look back at the highlights from this year.

We’re very pleased to report that the positive trends we’ve shared with you at the end of 2012, 2013, and 2014 are still in full effect! Towns across the country are continuing to veto and repeal Breed Specific Legislation, states are passing preemptions, shelters are dropping blanket restrictions from their adoption policies, and community advocates are busy connecting under-resourced communities and families with much needed pet services.

This continual positive shift for “pit bull” dogs and their families has allowed us to commit even more resources in 2015 to working with a variety of shelters, individuals, and communities on projects such as:

Assistance Dog Program

In 2015 we trained and placed two new assistance dogs, which brings our program’s total to nine rescued “pit bull” dogs who are now working as service dogs around the country. This year we oversaw the placement of two fabulous new teams: Josh and Koda in New York and Fionna and Tonka in California.

Koda is trained to assist Josh, a veteran, with a number of tasks including retrieving objects, helping Josh transfer into and move his wheelchair, seeking help if Josh falls, and interrupting and helping Josh when he’s experiencing anxiety. They just took their first airplane trip together to visit a friend in the Rocky Mountains and also recorded a song with Mary Gauthier!

Joe and Zen

Joe and Zen

Tonka was recently placed with Fionna, a medical fitness trainer who has Multiple Sclerosis. Tonka is trained to help counter balance Fionna when she’s walking, doing stairs, and standing, and applies pressure to help her when she’s experiencing tremors.

We also saw increased coverage of our program, such as People’s interview with Matthew and his assistance dog Jericho and this terrific piece from NBC News about Joe and his assistance dog Zen.  Zen attends school with Joe, a former Marine, helping him to feel calm and comfortable in social settings. Joe says that Zen “always watches his 6” when in public. They, like the rest of the teams, are perfect partners!

AFF has five dogs who are currently in training and we look forward to seeing the good work they do in 2016!

Detection Dog Program

This year Animal Farm Foundation formed a collaboration with Austin Pets Alive! and Universal K9 so that rescued and sheltered “pit bull” dogs can be considered for Detection Dog work. Potential detection dog candidates are selected from the Austin Pets Alive! shelter system to participate in training led by Universal K9, located in San Antonio, Texas.

Once there, Brad Croft founder of Universal K9, trains and places the dogs in police departments around the country at no charge. Animal Farm Foundation provides a sponsorship to Universal K9 to help cover the costs of the officer training.

K9 Loll and the Chief of Barlette Texas PD

K9 Loll and the Chief of Barlette Texas PD

In 2015 a total of eight “pit bull” dogs were trained and placed in police departments around the country, from Georgia and Texas to right here in our own backyard of Poughkeepsie, New York.

There has been a ton of positive buzz about the dogs and many of the K9s have their own Facebook pages with growing fan clubs! Along with the others, K9 Kiah has received wonderful media coverage, helping to further dispel the myths and misconceptions surrounding “pit bull” dogs.

The Majority Project

In 2015 we relaunched The Majority Project (TMP) with a new website, Facebook page, and a series of Public Service Announcements starring actor Jon Bernthal. The PSAs were aired around the country on radio and television and by mid-November our message had been broadcasted almost 7,000 times with nearly 500,000,000 impressions!

Along with the great news coverage about Jon’s involvement with TMP, this adds up to a very big spotlight on our project. Millions of people got the message in 2015 that the families who live with “pit bull” dogs are everyday people living with everyday dogs.

The thousands of new photos we received in 2015 illustrate the many ways that “pit bull” dog families from around the world are making valuable contributions to their communities and families.

photo credit: Humane Society for Hamilton County (Indiana) and Smiling Dog Photography

“I am a NICU Nurse and mom.” photo credit: Humane Society for Hamilton County (Indiana) and Smiling Dog Photography

The PSA is empowering dog owners to stand up against discrimination and breaks down the myth that only criminals and reckless people want “pit bull” dogs (a harmful stereotype that leads to restricted adoption policies, breed specific legislation, and other discriminatory policies). With millions of people meeting The Majority through our PSA we know that this misconception is finally on its way out.

And we’re always accepting submissions on our website, so print out a sign and join us!

Dogs Playing For Life

Dogs Playing for Life! manual

Dogs Playing for Life manual

DPFL kicked off the year with the release of their play group manual which was created with the support of a grant from AFF. The unique manual, which provides shelters with detailed instructions for running play groups, can be downloaded for free from the DPFL website.

To support this life-saving program, AFF awarded more than $30,000 for play yard construction in 2015. Allegany County Animal Shelter in Cumberland, MD, Animal Foundation in Las Vegas, NV, Humane Society of Adams County in West Union, OH, and Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control in West Palm Beach, FL were the main recipients of this year’s play yard grants.

Since 2012, AFF has invested nearly $200,000 for the construction of play yards at 18 shelters across the nation. We believe that play groups change perceptions, save lives, and are a critical component of progressive and humane animal sheltering. We’re proud to fund the construction of spaces that allow these programs to flourish and to support the DPFL team as they travel coast to coast to train shelters in implementing this game-changing program.

Grants and Awards

In 2015 AFF awarded approximately $425,000 in grants to shelters, rescues, and organizations who are committed to providing equal treatment and opportunities for all dogs. We’re thrilled to support innovative work, like the Pets for Life program, as well as the work of many others, such as:

Dogs Out Loud: based in Austin, TX, DOL works to provide training and behavior support services to address the needs of medium and large breed dogs in their local shelters. With help from our grant program, DOL created an innovative new enrichment and training program at Austin Animal Center called The Thinking Walk. Designed to make training and enrichment easy and accessible to all dogs, volunteers, and staff, the walking stations are set up along the front courtyard loop at AAC, a frequently traveled path for canine bathroom breaks and walks.

HeARTs Speak: a global network of photographers, artists, writers, designers, and advocates who work to save homeless animals, HeARTS Speak was awarded a grant from AFF to print one-of-a-kind field guides designed to help shelters boost adoptions. The Shelter Photography Field Guide is now available for purchase with 100% of the proceeds going towards funding HeARTS Speak’s Perfect Exposure Project which provides hands-on photography and marketing training for shelters. Full of inspiration, tips, and tricks for positively promoting pets in shelters, it’s the new must-have shelter resource.

pep

Pit Sisters: based in Jacksonville, FL, Pit Sisters got creative with their pet owner support services and created a Mobile Training Program. By offering free dog training in targeted areas, the program helps to keep pets in their homes and out of shelters. We awarded multiple grants to Pit Sisters for their collaborative, compassionate, and effective work for pets and people in their community, which was extended at the end of the year when they took over the TAILS Program (Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills). Now Pit Sisters helps shelter dogs and inmates learn the skills they need to succeed!

Our grant application process begins January 1st, so now is a good time to take a look at our website and familiarize yourself with our grant programs. We look forward to supporting more of you in 2016!

Dutchess County SPCA

Our yearlong collaboration with our local shelter, the Dutchess County SPCA, has focused on helping them move into their new facilities and revamp their adoption program. To support these efforts our shelter staff transferred over to working directly at the DCSPCA on a daily basis as adoption counselors (for both dogs and cats) and provided support with marketing and outreach. Today, our community collaboration continues, but the time has come for our staff to return home to the Farm!

Are you ready to meet your BFF at AFF? Check out just a few of the amazing new dogs here on the Farm!

Are you ready to meet your BFF at AFF? Check out just a few of the amazing new dogs here on the Farm!

We are once again accepting dogs into our own adoption program and currently have a group of wonderful pups – “pit bull” dogs, small dogs and many others – that have recently arrived. We’re looking forward to seeing them and the DCSPCA dogs go home with adopters for the holidays!

We hope that, despite any challenges and setbacks we may all still be facing, the successes and progress made in 2015 will provide inspiration as we continue to move forward in our combined work to create a better world for “pit bull” dogs and the people that love them. We’re excited about the coming year because we know that, with your help, things are going to continue to improve for all pets and their families.

Happy New Year everyone and welcome 2016!

The Good News You Didn’t Hear About in 2013

The Good News You Didn’t Hear About in 2013

It seems like just the other day that we were writing the 2012 wrap up (read that here). But here we are at the end of 2013 already!

We’re excited to report that the positive trends we shared with you a year ago are still in full effect: Towns across the country are continuing to veto and repeal Breed Specific Legislation, shelters are dropping blanket restrictions from their adoption polices, and community advocates are busy connecting families with much needed pet-related resources.

This continual positive shift for “pit bull” dogs and their families has allowed us to commit more time in 2013 to working with a variety of shelters, their staff, and volunteers.

It’s not exactly headline news or breaking research, but getting to work one-on-one with shelters is big stuff! Why? Because shelters are the local animal experts in their community, working with and speaking on behalf of “pit bull” dogs and their families. For that reason, the time we spend working with shelters is always worthwhile (and a lot of fun!).

As the year comes to a close, we couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up 2013 than by sharing a few successes that you probably won’t hear about anywhere else! The following is just a handful of the shelters we’ve worked with in the past 12 months and a small sampling of the good work that’s being accomplished: 


Charlotte Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control, North Carolina: Starts adopting out victims of dog fighting for the first time.

When a group of 27 “pit bull” dogs was confiscated from a dog fighting operation at the beginning of 2013, CMACC saw this case as an opportunity to evolve and dropped their former policy to euthanize all dogs from alleged dog fighting operations.

Rather than making assumptions about the dogs’ future behavior based on their past, CMACC opted to evaluate each dog as an individual. This approach, along with marketing the dogs to potential adopters in their community and partnering with rescues around the country, was a success for many of the dogs.  It’s an excellent start toward treating victims of cruelty as individuals.

Bess, who is seen here graduating from her CGC class, was just one of the dogs who benefited from their policy change. Like many of the victims of dog fighting, Bess now shares her home with another dog (and a couple of cats!).

bess

Bess on Graduation Day


Another North Carolina dog, Mara, is currently with Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue, waiting to be adopted. We think you’ll enjoy her terrific adoption video:


Thank you CMACC for making these new beginnings possible!


Fairfax County Animal Shelter, Virginia: Dramatically increases “pit bull” dog adoptions and begins accepting “pit bull” dogs on transports from other shelters.

FCAS spent 2013 committed to creating fair, equal policies to increase “pit bull” dog adoptions. Despite having a few remaining restrictions on “pit bull” dog adoptions (which the shelter is actively working with the County to remove), FCAS was STILL able to nearly double the number of “pit bull” dog adoptions this year and achieved an overall positive release rate of 93% for their dogs!

King Tut: who can resist this guy?

King Tut: who can resist this guy?


In addition to starting play groups, a weekend fostering program, and a dog walking club, FCAS launched their popular Facebook page this year. And now they’re the ones teaching us a little something about great marketing via social media. Check out their photos, like the one below, designed to help this dog score a home with his ideal adopter (a guy)!

Bambam-6

Bam Bam showing off his moves at football practice


Not only are they dedicating their efforts to getting local “pit bull” dogs adopted, but FCAS welcomes transports of dogs from nearby shelters in Virginia and DC and in 2013 those transports included “pit bull” dogs for the first time. Many shelters that accept transports do not accept “pit bull” dogs, so this deserves recognition.

Thank you FCAS for opening your doors to ALL dogs in need!


Rochester Animal Services, New York: Launched a 100% volunteer run playgroup program.

In August of 2013 RAS opened the gates to a brand new play yard, launching a play group program run entirely by volunteers and supported by the staff. In addition to using the yard to exercise and enrich more than 240 dogs (of all breeds and mixes) since the gates opened this summer, RAS also uses play groups to increase adoptions.

Throughout the week, the public is invited to view play groups, so that they can see the dogs in a different environment than in their kennels. Potential adopters get to watch the dogs at play and can pick their new best friends right out of the yard!

RASPlayYard-4

Snow doesn’t stop RAS volunteers from running play groups!


“We have made a commitment to marketing and promoting our play groups within our community. We post the weekly play group schedule via social media and we are committed to sharing photos and videos of play yard escapades to help build our brand. With many people expressing hesitation about viewing animals in a shelter environment, play groups provides us with yet another option/venue to capture and engage potential adopters. It is powerful stuff.” – Deb C. Volunteer

RASPlayYard-6

RAS Play Group Winter 2013


Rescues and other shelters are also welcome to watch the play groups. Getting to see the dogs interact in the yard helps them choose which dogs to pull for their own adoption programs. Since implementing play groups in August, RAS has increased their transfer out rate (to rescue partners) by 27%!

“I am thrilled to have this as a resource to make decisions in pulling dogs.  Knowing a dog is doing well in a play group makes it easier to answer questions for potential foster homes to ensure their family pets are safe when pulling a dog from the shelter with little or no known history. It has also shown us a considerable difference in the behavior from kennel to play yard and that the play yard is a much more reliable tool than the shelter evaluations.  Our rescue doesn’t rely on the leashed evaluations now that the play yard program is in place.”  Melissa N. – Going to the Dogs Rescue

Thank you RAS for showing us that a small group of dedicated volunteers can make a huge difference!


Liberty Humane Society, New Jersey: Reduced Owner Surrenders by 30% through Pet Owner Support Program.

LHS, instituted a new Pet Owner Support Program in 2013 and the results have already made a huge difference. In just the first three month, owner surrendered animals have dropped 30%!

Alycia-puppies

LHS tsaff member Alycia and puppies at your service!


The pilot program offers families a $35 stipend (the equivalent that LHS spends to intake a new animal) for shelter services that can help pet owners keep their animals at home, rather than surrendering them.

Donte-puppy

LHS staffer (and former AFF intern) Donte is every dog’s best friend


Services include free vaccinations, training consultations, dog crates and other simple solutions to assist families in keeping their pets at home. LHS reports that the majority of families didn’t need to use the full $35 stipend and the pets did not enter the shelter system.

Thank you LHS for helping families to stay together!


These shelters may not be making headlines, but to us and to their communities, the work they’ve done in 2013 was truly big news. Their accomplishments are indicative of what we’re seeing around the country – shelters are stepping up as the experts and making a difference for pets, people, and especially “pit bull” dogs in their communities. Bravo!

Thanks to the good work being done by these organizations, and many, many others, we’re excited to see what 2014 brings. Stay tuned for more stories, new free resources, and learning opportunities coming soon from AFF…

And Happy New Year everyone!

4 Ways Shelters, Rescues, and Community Groups Are Getting it Right

4 Ways Shelters, Rescues, and Community Groups Are Getting it Right

In our line of work, it’s easy to get caught up in what needs improving out there in the animal welfare world. Despite the work that still needs to be done, there are so many shelters, rescues, and community groups that are doing excellent work right now.

In a wide variety of groups – from large, well-established brick and mortar organizations to small, recently-formed volunteer groups – people are getting together to make a difference for animals and their people. Today, we’d like to share four ways that you guys are doing awesome work!

1. Community Outreach: Groups from coast to coast are recognizing the power of community outreach programs and funneling their energies into providing much needed and much appreciated resources for under-served areas. By providing positive, non-judgmental support to pet owners in under-resources communities, organizations can reach pets that are most at risk.

Paws of Rochester, our neighbor here in New York State, is a non-profit organization focused on providing respectful and compassionate outreach programs in their community. They offer no-cost and low-cost veterinary care and spay/neuter services. Cheers to them for recently signing a lease on a space that will serve as a clinic providing high quantity/high quality spay/neuter services, as well as low-cost wellness services.

paws rochester

PAWS not only provides vet care, but dog houses and other supplies as well.


The Pet Project, a nonprofit in Delaware, takes a holistic approach to community outreach by empowering pet owners in under-served areas. They offer affordable access to spay/neuter and wellness services as well as training and behavior assistance to families in need. Their monthly Kibble Kupboard serves as a free pet food bank for their community.

pet project de
A Rotta Love Plus, a rescue and education nonprofit in Minnesota, offers community programs such as Dog Safety for Children, a therapy dog program that serves youth in crisis, dog training classes, and multiple Get Your Fix! Fairs every year to provide spay/neuter and vaccination services. This proactive group uses a “nose-to-tail” approach to address the issues faced by Rottweilers, “pit bull” dogs, and their owners. In doing so, they’ve become a powerful force for change in their community.

rotta

A dog rests in his owner’s arms as he recovers from his neuter surgery.


2. Pet Retention Programs: One of the most effective ways to save lives is to prevent pets from entering our shelter system in the first place. Behavior issues, medical problems, landlord and housing issues, family crises, etc. – these are just some of the challenges pet owners face. With help from shelters and community organizations, many families are able to keep their beloved pets safe at home.

Downtown Dog Rescue: DDR in Los Angeles, CA implemented the Animal Shelter Intervention Program this year at the South LA Shelter. In just the first four months alone, this innovative program prevented 1,000 animals from entering the shelter system. The program offers a variety of services and resources to low income families, including free spay/neuter, wellness care, basic medical care such as mange treatment, ear infections, simple wound suturing, free dog food, and dog training. From fixing fences to assisting with pet deposits required by landlords, DDR always looks for a way to keep pets at home, with the families who love them. You can read more about their work here and on Facebook.

downtown dog

A family is reunited with their lost dog after DDR helped pay the shelter’s impound fees


SPCA Florida: SPCA Florida’s Ani-Meals program provides supplemental food, supplies, vaccinations and spay and neuter services to animals belonging to elderly and home-bound clients of their partner agencies: Meals on Wheels, Polk County Elder Services, and other food pantry organizations. By bringing services to community members and partnering with local social service organizations, Ani-Meals take a proactive approach and enables pet owners to keep their beloved companions at home. Ani-Meals serves more than 160 guardians and their 300 animals, which include dogs, cats, birds and even goldfish.

spca fl

Food and supplies packed up and ready for delivery


Pets Are Wonderful Support, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, began offering services to support the human-animal bond more than 25 years ago in response to the AIDS/HIV epidemic. Today, they provide many services, including in-home care to more than 1,000 pets. Their work enables some of the city’s most vulnerable pet owners – those that are chronically ill, frail, and isolated by disease or age -to keep their companion animals at home with them.

paws

PAWS provides support to more than 800 disabled and elderly pet owners in their community.


3. Shelter Enrichment: Shelters are stepping up to increase the quality of life for their animals through a variety of programs. Keeping pets well, both physically and mentally, during their stay at the shelter not only keeps animals healthy, but it also helps them to make a good impression on adopters. Calm, happy dogs go home faster!

Playgroups are up and running in shelters across the country. Not only do the dogs enjoy and benefit from their time playing together, but shelters have discovered that playgroups are an effective, efficient way to exercise and enrich many dogs at one time, instead of (or in combination with) working with the dogs individually. In addition, staff and volunteers learn more about each dog’s dog-dog social skills. This important piece of information can help dogs go home faster.

Here are just a few organizations that are finding ways to increase the quality of life for shelter dogs by using regular playgroups:

Kansas City Pet Project
Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control
Chicago Animal Care and Control
Indianapolis Animal Care and Control
Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter
Idaho Humane Society

And many, many more from Rochester, NY to Oakland, CA!

cacc

Two new buddies at a Chicago ACC Playgroup

 

The Monster Milers: This Philadelphia non-profit organization connects local runners with shelter dogs at the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and other area shelters and rescues. While the dogs wait to be adopted, this partnership with The Monster Milers offers them the chance to go on running adventures with dedicated volunteers. Through their runs in the city, the dogs not only burn off energy and have fun, but they learn manners and social skills. Plus they get great exposure to potential adopters!

There are many groups around the country that offer similar running programs for shelter dogs.

monstermilesr

A volunteer hits the streets with a shelter dog in Philadelphia


4. Dropping Restrictions: Instead of relying on blanket policies and restrictions, shelters and rescues are dropping these ineffective barriers to adoptions. Progressive organizations recognize that all dogs and adopters are individuals and create adoption procedures that reflect this philosophy. Their fair, effective approach increases adoptions and saves lives.

Washington Humane Society, located in Washington D.C., has done a complete turnaround in their policies regarding “pit bull” dogs. Just a few short years ago any dog with the label “pit bull” was automatically euthanized. Today, under the leadership of Executive Director Lisa LaFontaine, all dogs are treated equally and “pit bull” dogs are available for adoption without restrictions.

chuck

Once banned from the adoption floor, “pit bull” dogs like Chuck are now the pick of the week!


Charlotte Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control dropped their former policy to euthanize any dog from alleged dog fighting operations. When a group of “pit bull” dogs was confiscated from a local fight bust this year, the shelter saw it as an opportunity to evolve. Rather than making assumptions about the dogs’ future behavior based on their past, CM ACC opted to view each dog as an individual. These recent victims of cruelty were given fair evaluations and many were made available for adoption – a most excellent first for this North Carolina shelter.

photo (4)

These two girls, both victims of cruelty, were evaluated as individuals AND allowed to play together at CM ACC


This is truly just a small sample of the many organizations that are doing incredible work  around the country. Thanks to the dedication, perseverance, compassion, and progressive policies of these groups, companion animals and their people are finding the support they want, need, and deserve. AFF is sending out a standing ovation to all of you who are on the front lines, doing this live-saving work. Bravo!

Moving Animal Sheltering Forward: Individuality Takes the Lead

Moving Animal Sheltering Forward: Individuality Takes the Lead

Shelters are in the business of sending pets home. If our goal is to provide shelter dogs with the best care during their stays, save more lives, and make better matches for adopters, we have to focus on their individual pet qualities first and foremost.

That’s why we were discouraged to read the latest blog from the ASPCA, directed at shelter workers and adoption counselors, which advised them to, “…make clear the breed traits of the dogs when we can identify the breed or breed mix.”, suggesting that knowing a breed trait would help shelters predict which dogs were appropriate for play groups and various types of enrichment.

In response, we wanted to remind shelter staff why it’s crucial to get to know dogs as individuals first, as well as the overwhelming good news about playgroups for dogs of all kinds.

CACC playgroup photo

Successful adoption programs recognize that all dogs are, first and foremost, individuals. Every dog is an individual with a distinct set of needs and behaviors that are determined by a wide variety of factors, including: genetics, breeding, socialization, training, management, and past experience and current environment. The only way we can accurately determine what a dog needs are is to look at the individual dog in front us for the answers.

We owe it to all shelter dogs to see them for who they really are, free from assumptions that are based on a known pedigree, a breed label guess, or physical appearance. Read more here.

This does not mean breed traits don’t exist or that they have no place in adoption counseling. Breed traits most certainly exist, but how they present themselves in dogs, particularly in mixed breed dogs of unknown origins, varies tremendously. Therefore, a guess at how a breed trait may or may not manifest itself in a dog is not nearly as reliable as the information shelters can gather by observing the dogs in their care.

No matter what a dog’s breed or mix may be, we should never allow our speculation, biases, or guess-work to stand in the way of providing the best care, socialization, and adoption matches possible. When we give equal or more weight to breed traits (particularly when it pertains to mixed breed dogs), rather than focusing on what we’ve observed about a dog’s individual needs, we are potentially denying them a range of positive experiences.

These two shelter "pit bull" dogs are in training to become assistance dogs

These two shelter “pit bull” dogs are in training to become assistance dogs

How does seeing dogs as individuals FIRST and foremost make a life saving difference? Here’s one of many examples from the shelters we work with around the country:

After attending a recent play group workshop, run by Aimee Sadler, we heard from the Canine Services Manager at the Norfolk SPCA, who wrote:

“It was an absolutely life changing experience and we have already begun building playgroups here at the Norfolk SPCA. One of the most valuable pieces of this workshop was the focus on the individual dog. There wasn’t any focus on breed. This really hit me. I stress daily to my staff that we must treat each dog as an individual…After participating in Aimee’s workshop, I realized that I had been making so many assumptions based off of breed. Until now.

Now, we will be truly focusing on each individual dog. I look back at all of the dogs that could have benefited from these playgroups. There were many dogs that weren’t allowed to go home with other dogs because it was too much of a “risk”. It brings tears to my eyes to think of all of the dogs that have been held back. But in the spirit of the dog, we are moving forward!”

We may look like we're from the same litter, but we're not related and we're both individuals!

We may look like we’re from the same litter, but we’re not related and we’re both individuals!

This forward thinking approach echoes what Alexandra Horowitz, a researcher of dog behavior and cognition and author of “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know” recently wrote for the NY Times:

“…breed standards include personality descriptions. Unfortunately, personality is not genetically determined: just as a person’s personality derives from more than her genome, a dog is not merchandise whose behavior (outside of a few hard-wired ones, like pointing) can be predicted ahead of time.

While many owners may see breed-typical personalities in their dogs (we humans do tend to spot just the evidence which supports our theories), there is simply no guarantee that a dog will behave just so. Witness the cases of cloned — genetically identical — pets who have, to their owners’ great surprise, quite different personalities.

Since the vast majority of dog owners are not showing their dogs, but adding them to their families, the alleged predictability of personality is problematic. When a dog does not behave in accordance with her “billing,” owners call this a “behavior problem” — the single greatest reason for relinquishment of a dog to a shelter. Thus, inadvertently, breed standards lead potential adopters to treat them more like products with reliable features. Dogs are individuals, and should be treated thusly.

Read more here.

If there’s any doubt that recognizing dogs as individuals first is saving lives and increasing adoptions, take a look at what’s happening at Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC), an open admission city shelter with a large number of pure breed and mixed breed dogs labeled “pit bull.”

chicago play group 2 dogs

Last year Aimee Sadler, creator of the Success Through Socialization program, provided a multi-day hands on lesson for volunteers and staff members to learn how to run play groups. We followed up with Cynthia Bathurst, the Executive Director of Safe Humane Chicago, to find out how the Court Case Dogs (a Safe Humane program that supports dogs who have been relinquished by defendant owners charged with animal abuse or neglect and are housed at CACC), are doing and how the play groups at CACC have impacted their lives.

Here’s what Cynthia told us in a nutshell: play groups are saving lives.

Cynthia says, “All dogs who are social or comfortable with other dogs, or with particular dogs (depending on play styles and compatible personalities), can participate in play groups. It depends on the individual dogs. Any restrictions are set by the play group volunteers themselves and are the result of individual observations or individual limitations, such as a dog’s medical condition or play style or lack of social skills.”

They do not use breed or breed mix to determine which dogs are allowed to participate in play groups.

Read the full interview here.

Dogs playing at AFF

The fact is that we’ve all been relying on breed traits – accurate or not – for too long now. It’s a step backwards to advise shelters to use physical appearance as an equally reliable tool for evaluating a dog or to determine their suitability for various kinds of socializing and enrichment. This old-fashioned, fear-based, reliance on possible breed traits in sheltered dogs has denied countless dogs the chance to socialize in stress-reducing play groups, to go home with adopters who have other pets, and to discover the pet qualities that will truly make the best match for an adopter. It’s time to move forward in our approach to adoptions and enrichment by focusing on dogs as individuals FIRST.