Pima Animal Care Center — the county's animal shelter — has crossed the line when it comes to finding homes for undesirable dogs.
This summer, the facility decided it would no longer include dog breeds on its kennel cards. That means people looking to adopt a dog and want to know the breed will officially be told, “We don't know.”
That's not a lie, but it is a deception.
Of course, we can't positively know the breed because most dogs— and humans, for that matter — are mutts. But we can give it a pretty good guess, which goes a long way in helping people decide on the best dog for them.
So why the change? Because dogs tied to the “pit bull” label are often the last to find a home, if they find one at all. PACC finds that distressing enough to put your safety at risk.
PACC would have you believe pit bulls are left behind because they've been vilified and stigmatized by the media, not because they attack humans and other animals at alarming rates in comparison to other breeds.
Kristen Auerbach, PACC's Director of Animal Services, arrived after the labeling decision was made, but she supports it. She can produce paper after paper, study after study, that insist we can't really know the true mix of a dog, and that “pit bull” isn't even a true breed.
“(A)s animal shelter professionals, we have an obligation to be as honest and transparent with the public as we can be when it comes to describing the animals in our care,” Auerbach wrote to me. “Assigning an inaccurate, arbitrary label is not only misleading, but it doesn’t help our adopters learn important things they need to know to find the right match for their family.”
So instead of breed, kennel cards will include commands the dog knows, what it likes to do and personality traits — does it get along with other animals, is it cuddly. All important, but not nearly enough information.
Auerbach points to Jacksonville, Florida, where the Humane Society is just one of many organizations nationwide to drop kennel labels. Jacksonville's Humane Society director told a reporter, “We can't tell just through visual identification what a dog's breed, predominate breed or even mix of a breed is. That is not reliable in the slightest.”
She added that “other shelters in America have tried it and have seen positive results.”
Those positive results apparently didn't reach to Albuquerque, where a whistleblower in the city animal shelter revealed what can happen once you start down the slippery slope of deceiving prospective pet owners. For two years, Albuquerque has been in an uproar over two animal facility directors who've done everything possible to get animals adopted — even those who pose a demonstrated risk to the public. There have been numerous attacks as a result of the poor decisions that favor dogs over humans. The whistleblower was the second in command at the shelter.
One of the directors was strikingly honest when he said he valued “live animal exits” (adoptions) more than public safety.
It sounds like they hired animal activists instead of animal professionals.
A professional realizes the power of information — even if incomplete. Telling a family with young children that a dog might have some pit bull in it is better than Pima County's shrug-of-the-shoulders response.
Are all pit bulls — also called Staffordshire terriers — bad? No. But the studies Auerbach isn't going to send your way are consistent in the message that they are dangerous beyond any breed.
•There were 31 dog-bite related fatalities in the United States in 2016; and 22 were by dogs identified as pit bulls.
•A 2016 study of 1,616 dog bit victims at an Atlanta children's hospital showed the most prevalent biter was pit bull, at 38.5 percent. No other breed was even close. They also had the strongest bites and were much more likely to bite in “multiple anatomical locations.”
Those stats don't scratch the surface of the hard-data indictment of the breed. Are we surprised that more than 900 cities, counties and military bases have legislation targeting pit bulls? No, but you might be surprised that Arizona last year became the 20th state to prevent cities from passing ordinances that target certain dog breeds — a law aimed at pit-bull bans.
Chalk that up to good lobbying, which in the end leaves us with lots of confusion and few clear answers.
What will happen now? We'll see pit bull attack stats go down as fewer dogs are tagged with that label. That will, over time, pull the rug out from under those who see them as volatile, unpredictable and dangerous. Soon, the damage done by pit bulls will be cloaked under “other” in reports.
But that won't change reality — which we find in the county's own numbers: Pit bulls were responsible for 319 bites last year in Pima County, more than 50 percent higher than No. 2 German Shepherd (197). On a more personal note, those in Sahuarita won't soon forget two vicious attacks this year by one pit bull. In the second incident, it escaped its home and ripped a small dog from a little girl's arms and killed it.
What's the answer?
PACC has a problem on its hands, and not sharing information during adoptions will only add to it. What's the answer? I see two. First, reverse the policy and tell people everything you know — or through professional experience suspect — about an animal. More information is always good.
Next, the county should do a mandatory DNA test on all dogs it takes in, and pass the results — and costs — on to prospective owners. They can be done for about $75.
Final word of advice for Pima County: Consider hiring animal experts guided by common sense and data rather than activists wearing blinders who are easily swept away by emotion.
You're dealing with peoples' lives. Start acting like it.