"A breed of satin and steel. Pit bulls are a mixture of softness and strength, an uncanny canine combination of fun, foolishness, and serious business, all wrapped up in love."

-D. Caroline Coile

Friday, April 8, 2011

Partnering Up to Help Pit-Bull Terriers

Best Friends launches lifesaving pilot program at five shelters nationwide.

Tiana, like any other shelter dog, longs for a home to call her own.

The pit-bull terrier came to the Rancho Cucamonga Animal Care and Adoption Center in California with a huge metal chain and padlock around her neck, which shelter staff immediately removed with a pair of bolt cutters. They suspect Tiana was used for breeding and then simply discarded when she’d outlived her breeding usefulness.

Despite the hardships she’s faced in her life, Tiana is one of the sweetest dogs you’d ever want to meet. Now all she needs is for someone to give her a home of her own. Thanks to a new Best Friends project, Tiana has an even better chance of finding that home.

Best Friends Animal Society recently launched Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls, a project designed to encourage responsible pet ownership, increase adoptions, reduce euthanasia and improve the public’s perception of pit-bull terriers and similar dogs. Thanks to the myths, many of them perpetuated by the mainstream media, that surround these wonderful dogs, pit-bull terriers, once America’s most beloved family dogs, have become vilified in recent years. The sad result is that many of these dogs end up in shelters and often don’t find their way out again.

Some communities have banished pit-bull terriers altogether by enacting unfair breed-discriminatory laws. Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls is trying to change all that.

“In addition to this program helping to save lives of adoptable animals, I would really like for people to realize that pit-bull terriers are just dogs, like any other dog,” says Jamie Healy, manager of Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls. “They’re fun-loving, loyal goofballs that have the same basic needs and require the same responsible ownership as other dogs do.”

The Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls project is made possible through a $240,000 grant from PetSmart Charities. Along with additional support from Best Friends, the funds support pilot programs in five shelters across the country.

One of those shelters is the Rancho Cucamonga Animal Care and Adoption Center where Tiana is waiting for someone to fall in love with her and take her home. The other four shelters are the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter in Baltimore, Maryland; the Washington Humane Society in Washington, D.C.; Hillsborough County Animal Services in Tampa, Florida; and the County of San Diego Animal Services in Carlsbad, California. Best Friends has hired local coordinators for all five shelters to oversee the programs in their communities, which will include kennel enrichment for shelter dogs, community education and training programs, creation or support of foster and transition home programs, adoption and other outreach events, targeted spay/neuter efforts, post-adoption support and educational opportunities for shelter staffs.

The Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls program is modeled after a very successful partnership between Best Friends and Salt Lake County Animal Services that began back in July 2009. The save rate for pit-bull-type dogs climbed from 57 to 71 percent in the program’s first year, and the number of dogs adopted doubled from the previous year. Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls hopes to mimic that success in the five pilot communities and eventually bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets.

“We can never reach the goal of No More Homeless Pets if we don’t address the disproportionate number of pit-bull-type dogs languishing in shelters,” says Ledy VanKavage, national manager for Best Friends’ pit bull terrier initiatives.

With a little help from their friends
Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls coordinators will get lots of help from dynamic groups of volunteers called “Pit Crews.” Pit Crew volunteers will do everything from walking dogs, to helping out at adoption and other events, to providing basic obedience training. The Rancho center’s Pit Crew, with help from one of the center’s community training partners, is currently holding training classes with 10 adoptable pit-bull-type dogs.

“This is very beneficial not only in helping the dogs become more adoptable, but it also allows the volunteers to get to know the dogs’ personalities, which also helps them promote the dogs to potential adopters and find the perfect match,” says Dana Keithly, local coordinator for the Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls program at the Rancho center.

The Rancho center, with the help of its Pit Crew volunteers, recently held a “Pitcademy Awards” promotion, selecting 10 VIPs – Very Important Pits. People then voted for their favorites. A raffle drawing was part of the fun. The shelter’s next promotion will focus on the pit-bull terrier’s place in American history and how these dogs became war heroes and loyal companions.

The Rancho center is also holding bimonthly adoption events at local businesses, where potential adopters can interact with dogs and see what they’re like outside a shelter setting.

Jamie is hoping more people will visit their local shelters and find out how they can help.

“We can all help in our own way and be part of the mission of No More Homeless Pets,” Jamie says. “Adopt, volunteer, donate or simply be a voice for the animals. You can make a difference.”

As for Tiana, one of the Pit Crew volunteers recently took her to a Basic Manners class at the shelter. It was amazing what she could do. In no time at all, she learned how to “sit” and how to “shake.” She gets along great with other dogs and loves going for walks and meeting new people. She is a perfect example of just how smart, loyal and wonderful these dogs really are. Do you think Tiana might make a perfect addition to your family? Read more about her at the Rancho site.

Pit Crews at each of the five pilot shelters have set up Facebook pages to keep their communities up to date on everything that’s going on. Here are the links to their pages:

Cucamonga, California
Baltimore, Maryland
Washington, D.C.
Tampa, Florida
Carlsbad (San Diego), California

Read more about the Salt Lake County Pit Crew.

Read more about Best Friends’ pit bull terrier initiatives.

By Sandy Miller, Best Friends staff writer
Photos by Dana Keithly and Best Friends staff

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