Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Saying Thanks Where It's Often Not Heard

This holiday season, I want to ask you to remember some people who rarely get the appreciation that they deserve. Each county in the Atlanta metro area has an animal control shelter. Most of the shelters don't have the staff and resources they need, and operate instead on a shoestring budget. The staff who work at these shelters see the worst in our community - the people who bring in their pets because they are no longer cute or healthy, the stray and abandoned animals picked up off the streets, and the inhumane cruelty cases of pets seized by the county because their owners have abused them. These shelters can't turn anyone away, and in this tough economy, there is rarely any space for incoming pets.

At every shelter, there are at least a few people who really care about the pets and want to see them leave the shelter and head to new homes. At many shelters, the whole staff is committed to saving as many pets as possible, and maintaining as high a quality of life for the pets in the facility as possible. The rescue coordinators at these shelters spend their days, and many of their evenings and weekends, desperately trying to find ways for pets to leave the shelters alive.

I have found that the workers at these shelters are all lumped into a stereotype of the uncaring "dog catcher" with no compassion or respect for the pets in their care. I'll be honest, I know at some shelters in Atlanta, that stereotype rings true. Those shelters deserve our attention to change the way the shelters are staffed and administered. But I honestly think those types of shelter workers are the exception. In my experience, most of the shelter workers in Atlanta are hardworking, compassionate people who would do anything to save the animals facing euthanasia in their shelters.

During this holiday season, take a moment to remember and appreciate the people that work at your county shelter. Tell them that you understand and appreciate the life and death decisions that they are forced to make every day. Take them a box of holiday cookies, or even just a Christmas card to wish them happy holidays. And commit yourself to helping them in their mission by donating supplies, money or time. Their mission is the same as all of ours.

Click here for a list of county animal control shelters.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Please Don't Wait for Someone Else

I want to write something that will motivate every single person who reads this to take one action today. I want to convince you that what you do, or don't do, really does matter.

In the last week, I have been overwhelmed with the battle we are fighting. This doesn't mean I am discouraged, or unmotivated, or even feel defeated. It just means I need to recruit more people to the fight. That means you.

Last Sunday, Michael Vick returned to Atlanta. A few protesters showed up outside the stadium. Unfortunately, his supporters far outnumbered them. People in Vick jerseys, with supportive signs, began tailgating in the early morning. When Michael Vick scored a touchdown during the game, the crowd went wild with excitement. Keep in mind, Vick plays for the Eagles, the other team! The people in the stands were cheering for a convicted dog fighter from the other team! Michael Vick has become simultaneously a victim and a hero to so many people. It's hard for me to even wrap my head around it. But it tells us that we live in a society where dog fighting is still socially acceptable, and punishing someone like Vick can turn him into even more of a hero. On Monday, one day after the game, I got an email about a pit bull that had her lips cut off by her owner after she lost a fight.

Have you taken any action to stop dog fighting, or to try to save pit bulls from the hands of those that have so tortured and abused them? We need you in this fight.

A few days ago, I got an email from a rescue coordinator at a local county shelter. In one day, the shelter received over 40 owner surrenders. That means 40 animals were brought in by their families and turned in to the shelter, knowing they faced almost immediate euthanasia because there was no space. The same shelter sent out a plea for the dozens of cats at the shelter who needed to be rescued or adopted. This morning, that same hardworking rescue coordinator emailed that not one person or rescue group had responded to her pleas for help.

Have you taken any action to save a pet from dying in a shelter? Have you adopted from a shelter, or fostered a pet waiting for a home? Have you sponsored a pet in a rescue organization? Have you donated newspaper or towels to your county shelter? Have you selected just one pet in danger of dying and made it your mission to find that pet a home? We need you in this fight.

And finally, yesterday, I got an email from a rescue coordinator at another county shelter about two puppies that were seized as part of a cruelty case. The puppies were only about 3-4 months old. They were starving and had their legs duct-taped together, so they couldn't even try to escape their cruel situation. The shelter wants to get these two puppies into a home -- they have been trying for over a month, and no group or individual has stepped forward.

Have you taken any action to strengthen laws in your city, county or state against animal cruelty? Have you looked the other way when you see cruelty? Have you supported local shelters or rescue groups that are caring for dogs and cats that have been abused? We need you in this fight.

I know you care. I know sometimes it's too hard to look at, and you want to look away. I know you are touched by the stories. But I also know you sometimes think someone else will take care of it. I know sometimes you are thankful for the groups like ours that take care of these issues, so that you don't have to.

But we need you in this fight. The 4 million pets in the US that are euthanized need you in this fight. The loyal and loving pit bulls who are forced to fight each other, and the thousands of bait dogs and cats that also suffer in the dog fighting world, need you in this fight. The cats at the local shelter, crammed into overcrowded cages because their owners were irresponsible and uncaring, need you in this fight. And those two starving puppies with their legs duct taped together, need you in this fight.

Please, please, do one thing today to make a difference. Don't wait for someone else to do it. Someone else is waiting for you.

I need you to be in this fight.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spay/Neuter Does Make a Difference

For every 1 person born, 15 dogs and 45 cats are also born. Sadly, only one in ten will find a home. Pet overpopulation is the number one problem for domestic animals in America. Some homeless dogs and cats just roam the streets. In Atlanta alone, almost 100,000 pets a year are euthanized in animal shelters. There are just not enough homes for all of the pets.

But surely my one cat or dog can’t make that much difference?

Two uncontrolled breeding cats, plus all their kittens and all their kittens’ kittens, if none were ever neutered or spayed, in the first fifteen years could theoretically add up to:
  • 2 litters per year

  • 2.8 surviving kittens per litter

  • 10 year breeding life for each cat

  • 80 million cats!

Our spay/neuter program, Casper's Fund, subsidizes over 200 spay/neuter surgeries per year for Atlanta's pet owners. Often, these owners don't qualify for the free programs, but don't have enough left over each month to afford the $300+ for a spay or neuter surgery at a local vet. Our participants either volunteer for 5 hours or make a small-copay in exchange for a subsidy for their surgery. We work with local spay/neuter clinics who accept our vouchers.

We want to make sure that every pet owner who wants to get their pet fixed is able to do so. We never disqualify anyone who wants to do the right thing for their dog or cat. In the long run, every pet we help spay/neuter means potentially hundreds of puppies and kittens that won't die in shelters or on the streets.

Help us expand our spay/neuter program to fix more pets, and to help owners afford annual preventative care, such as heartworm tests and rabies vaccinations. Click here to make a donation.

Spay/neuter might not give us the warm fuzzy feelings that our adoption stories do. But I am moved every time I read a survey from one of our participants that says they would not have gotten their pet fixed otherwise. I know that our program is making a difference.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

If You Build It, Will They Come?

We all know the famous line from Field of Dreams -- "If you build it, they will come."

It's a nice idea, really. Sometimes I try to apply that to what we do with AARF, and to the animal welfare community as a whole. If we just do things the right way, if we work with the best intentions and follow the best policies, then pets will be saved. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way at all.

Unfortunately, animal welfare works just like any other business. Those with the flashiest advertisements, the slickest campaigns and the most immediate products get the most customers. What does this mean for animal welfare?

It means no one really wants to hear about the long, hard struggle to make things change. As a community, we want tidy problems and quick solutions. But pet overpopulation and mass euthanasia isn't tidy. And the solutions aren't quick.

So, why is the problem messy? It's messy because we have over a hundred years of a model of catching, housing, and then killing homeless pets. While many unlimited intake shelters have improved dramatically in conditions, adoption rates and euthanasia methods over the past 20 years, we still, as a national community, allow the killing of millions of pets a year. In Atlanta, we kill almost 100,000 pets a year (about 219 a day). It happens usually in a back room of a shelter, and the bodies are never seen. The bins of collars are thrown away or donated to adopters or rescue groups. In many counties, prisoners in the county jail are forced to carry the bodies outside to be disposed. It's a messy, ugly and painful process for those that have to do it. But we don't want to see it, so we don't. We don't like messy.

But there is a better way. And it's not tidy either. It involves protesting, agitating and demanding. Change is often messy and long. No one ever easily gives up the status quo, even when the status quo is clearly wrong.

So, let's start a messy, long change here in Atlanta. Let's go no-kill.

Start with your local community. Call your mayor, city council member, county commissioner or other responsible official, and tell him or her that killing animals for the simple reason that it's always been done is no longer acceptable. Tell him/her that becoming a no-kill community is important to you, and that you vote.

Then, start with your county animal control. Almost every county in the Atlanta metro area has an animal control facility. The vast majority of these shelters are filled with compassionate people who care about the animals and absolutely hate euthanasia. They would so much rather see each animal leave in the arms of a loving family than in a body bag. They need your help. Volunteer for a day to walk dogs, clean cat cages, post flyers of adoptable pets around town, do laundry, anything that they need. They'll appreciate your help, and so will the animals.

Next, get in touch with an animal rescue/adoption organization (like AARF). Most of us are all-volunteer organizations, which means we rely on people like you. Maybe you can foster a pet. You'll be amazed at the transformation you see in a dog or cat that leaves a county shelter and blossoms in your home. And what a feeling you'll have when that pet finds a home for the rest of his or her life. Can't foster? No problem. We have plenty of ways to get involved. In fact, we have been able to use just about every person that has ever volunteered. We'll find something for your to do, and every minute you volunteer will make a difference.

Finally, take care of your own pets. Make sure all of your pets are spayed/neutered, up to date on vaccines and are wearing tags. You'd be amazed how many pets enter shelters with collars on, but have tags and aren't microchipped. These pets are loved and missed, but sadly, many are euthanized, too, because the shelter workers have no idea how to get in touch with you.

So, if we build it, will they come? If we build the framework for a no-kill community, will our leaders and the rest of our friends and neighbors come with us. I hope, and believe, the answer is yes.

But the building process will be messy, long and tiresome. Roll up your sleeves and pick up a hammer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

So Pets are Good for You!

Read about new studies exploring the health benefits of pets, especially for children. In contrast to the hundreds of emails we get every year that begin with "I just had a baby and now need to get rid of my dog/cat," these studies show how valuable pets can be for children, especially those with physical, mental or emotional difficulties.

A dog or cat, when matched well and trained, can be the best therapist you can offer your child.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Debunking Dominance Theory

Using dominance theory to understand, explain and shape dog behavior is reckless, dangerous, and scientifically out of date. Look through my blog posts -- you'll see that I have talked about this on several occasions.

Why am I so adamant about this? Why do I continue to post comments that often lead to critical, and sometimes, attacking emails from those of you who read my blog? Because I care too deeply about the dogs in our lives. Using dominance theory applications to shape your dog's behavior puts you at risk of an aggressive response, puts your dog through considerable emotional and physical stress, and can permanently damage your bond with your loving companion.

But it works, you may argue. Where have you seen dominant, aggressive training tactics work for long-term success? On TV? Remember, television is an entertainment medium. Do you believe everything you see on television? Are all of those "reality" shows that are so popular really real? Remember the outdoor survivalist who was exposed for sleeping in hotels at night when the cameras were turned off? Not all that is shown on television is complete, honest and truthful. Where else have you seen it work? Does your neighbor use dominant pack theory to train his dog? If so, watch his dog's subtle behaviors. I guarantee that the dog will be nervous, jumpy and never look like confident and completely at ease. Is this the kind of "training" you want to provide for your best friend?

So, you may get mad at me. You may completely disagree with me and tell me I am just plain wrong. But, experience and science back me up. Dominance theory is wrong, and doesn't work. Please read through the links below and really analyze why you believe, and perhaps apply, this incorrect theory on dog behavior.

Using 'Dominance' To Explain Dog Behavior Is Old Hat

Dominance in domestic dogs—useful construct or bad habit?

Debunking Dominance Theory

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Action Alert - Support National Feral Cat Day

National Feral Cat Day (NFCD) is your opportunity to help protect and improve the lives of cats in Atlanta!

We know how much you care about cats and want to help protect them. Now you can celebrate NFCD by reaching out to others with the message that feral cats are healthy and happy outdoors and that Trap-Neuter-Return improves cats' lives. Get involved and show your support for stray and feral cats this year. All donations will be used to subsidize spay/neuter surgeries for feral cats and to buy food and shelter for feral cat colonies.

With your help, we can truly make a difference in cats’ lives. You can be their voice—on National Feral Cat Day, and all year round.

To learn more about feral cats and other ways you can get involved, visit Alley Cat Allies.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Action Alert - Help Support HR 3501

A bill pending in Congress would give pet owners tax deductions for having pets. H.R. 3501 introduced by Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter (R-MI) is also known as the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years or HAPPY Act.

The bill notes that according to the "2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey, 63 percent of United States households own a pet" and "Human-Animal Bond has been shown to have positive effects upon people's emotional and physical well-being".

Under the bill, H.R. 3501, pet owners could deduct expenses for the care, including veterinary care, of a pet up to $3,500 per year. Pet is defined as a "legally owned, domesticated, live animal". Animals used for research or held in conjunction with a business or similar use don't count.

This bill will save animal lives and help keep them in their homes.


Help pass the HAPPY Act, H.R. 3501 by contacting your U.S. representative found here and urging him or her to co-sponsor or vote yes for this bill!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Vick Can Show "Genuine Remorse"

I am a football fan. And I am a pit bull fan. And I am from Atlanta. So the Michael Vick "case" is personal to me.

Michael Vick admittedly and undeniably bankrolled, organized and participated in the abuse, torture and killing of countless dogs, many of whom are now rehabilitated and have left behind the years they spent under Vick's cruel thumb.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has conditionally reinstated Michael Vick to the league
. While I disagree with this decision, and had hoped that he would be banned for life from the NFL, the truth is that Vick brings a lot of publicity, and publicity makes money. He will play again in the NFL, despite our outrage and disappointment at the decision. The NFL rarely bans anyone for life, including those convicted of domestic violence, drunk driving, and battery. Vick won't be banned for hurting "just dogs," acts that he simply describes as "mistakes." (Read Peggy Drexler's thoughts on Vick's possible return to the NFL, too.)

So, how do we, as a community of animal welfare activists and pet lovers, respond? Part of Goodell's conditions insist that Vick must show "genuine remorse" for his actions. How exactly should he do that? Let's help Goodell with suggestions. The Animal Law Coalition has developed an extensive list of actions that Vick can take to attempt to show remorse. If you are angered and disappointed by Goodell's decision, turn that anger into action.

If the team in your city shows even the slightest interest in signing Michael Vick, let the team owners and managers know your opinion. The owners of the New York Giants, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys have already said they have no interest in Vick. Send them a note of appreciation for their decisions.

Do something locally. Does your city have even one dogfighter? In Atlanta, we have more than our fair share of breeding and training for dog fights, and our city and surrounding areas boast a highly hospitable environment for fights. The HSUS offers a $5000 reward for tips that result in prosecution of dog fighters. Make the call.

Turn in people who are breeding and selling "game stock" pit bulls. In Georgia, it is illegal to breed and sell dogs without a license from the state Department of Agriculture. A quick perusal of Craig's List on any given day will give you contact information for several pit bull breeders (among others). Report them as unlicensed breeders to the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Don't assume that someone else will take action, so you don't need to. They won't. So, if you don't do it, probably no one will. Take 5 minutes each day to do something to make a difference. They depend on us for that. They depend on you.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Nip and Tigger at Camp Kitty

Check out what AARF kitties, Nip and Tigger, have been up to at Camp Kitty. These two wonderful cats have been patiently waiting for a forever home where they can be together. Let's get these two boys into their forever home!

To fill out an application for Nip and Tigger, just click their names.

Go the Extra Mile for Homeless Pets!

A $1 bill in your wallet may not go very far these days, but it can really go the distance for homeless pets. Help Atlanta Animal Rescue Friends raise a FULL mile of dollar bills, with all the proceeds going to support our Foster Program and Silver Paws Program by the end of2009!

We know in this current time, thousands of pets are the unseen and unheard victims of economic hardship. The number of pets in need is increasing every day, while the resources and spaces are dwindling.Look around your own streets and you’ll see the need. Visit a county shelter, and you will be overwhelmed by the desperate faces that plea for help behind the bars of the cages.

We need your help to save morelives! Since a $1 bill is approximately 6 inches long, we will need10,560 bills to raise a mile of money. You can help us save more lives,one step at a time ($4 per step). And you will have the opportunity toremember your pet or a loved one with every step along the way. We’lltrack the progress on our website, and every person who takes a stepwith us (with a minimum $4 donation) will be listed on the site. Thetop finisher who completes the most steps will be recognized when wereach our goal.

Ideas to donate:

1) Save your $1 bills for a month. Keep $1 from yourchange in restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, etc. At the end ofthe month, contact AARF to pick up your envelope of “steps.”

2) Keep ajar of change for a month, and at the end of the month, visit a coinprocessing machine at your local grocery store. You’ll be amazed howmany “steps” you can help us take with the coins in your pocket.

3)Transfer one “step” into a savings account with each paycheck. At theend of the year, you will have taken several “steps” toward the mile.

4) Make a commitment to donate one step per week online.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Update on Casey

I want to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to all of you who have donated toward Casey's care. The past several weeks have been very scary for Casey's Silver Paws mom, Bette. As many of you remember, Casey's initial diagnosis suggested bladder cancer, and we were all very sad about the prognosis. Instead, Casey had a very bad infection that was producing gas in her abdomen, giving the appearance of a mass on the x-rays. Casey was also collapsing and having seizures, and having issues with regurgitating her food.

I am so happy to tell you that Bette reports that Casey is feeling so much better. The vets are fairly certain that the infection is gone, and her new anti-seizure medication and blood pressure
medication appear to be controlling the seizures. We know that she will have a daily regimen of medications for the rest of her life, but it seems that that life will be just as enjoyable as it has been for the past few years with Bette.

We could not have given Casey the chance for a proper diagnosis and recovery without your help. You are truly her heroes, and have literally saved her life. I am grateful to each and every one of you for your generous support of Casey and our Silver Paws Program. Feel free to email anytime for an update on Casey.

** Casey's monthly medications will cost approximately $100 a month, and she'll need follow-up visits to the vet. Please consider continued support for Casey by clicking the "Just Give" button on the right.**

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Veterinary Behaviorists Take a Stand Against Cesar Millan

Many of you may know by now from reading my blog and from reading the AARF weekly e-newsletters that I am an ardent supporter of positive training methods and completely against punishment-based, aversive training methods.

My views and perspectives are based on the most up-to-date science of dog behavior instincts and reinforcement. As we have learned that spanking a child is not a long-term solution for bad behavior, so too we have learned that choke collars, shock collars, remotes and other punishment methods are not only ineffective in the long-term, they are cruel and do often irreparable damage to the dog's physical and psychological well-being.

I learned recently that one of the most popular and successful dog training facilities in Atlanta now includes a shock collar as a standard part of basic training. I have heard of dog owners using the shock collar like a remote control for the television. Say "sit" and push the button. The dog gets shocked and sits. Imagine the horror and pain that the dog must learn to feel every time he or she hears the word "sit:. I am horrified and sickened to think of people who love their dogs pushing a button thinking they are "training" a dog to do a behavior, and each time they push they button, waves of electric shock pulse through the dog's body.

Unfortunately, this punishment-based method also has a large entertainment following through the shows of Cesar Millan. While I am usually careful to not directly criticize one particular person, group or organization, I have to be explicit in my absolute concern over the damage done to dogs by well-meaning and caring owners who try to replicate his "successes" at home. We often forget that his 1-hour shows are edited from hours of taping, and we are never going to be shown the entire process that the dog goes through in punishment-based training. Millan's methods are based on pack theories half a century old, theories that no longer hold any weight among certified, trained professionals.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior released a position paper - a condemning position paper - in February on the use of punishment for behavior modification. There is no doubt that this well-respected, professional organization and their members absolutely disagree with the use of force and punishment to train a pet.

Please, please, for the health, happiness and well-being of your dog, don't use punishment-based methods to train. Don't be fooled by training facilities that tell you they can make your dog 100% obedient and that they can do it in 2 weeks. They'll hurt your dog in the process. Effective, humane and long-lasting training takes patience, love and consistency.

If you are looking for a trainer in Atlanta, please talk to one of these following trainers. And if you have questions about a particular trainer, feel free to email me directly. I am more than willing to help you research your options for a trainer that will treat your dog like the loved member of the family that he or she is.

K9U Training & Behavior Modification
Paws-a-tive Results Dog Training
Canine PhD Dog Training

Monday, July 13, 2009

Saying Goodbye to a Life Worth Saving - Do we owe them all more than that?

In the same week that the biggest raid on pit bull fighting ever took place, AARF mourned the loss of one of our former AARF dogs, a beautiful and amazing little pit bull named Owen.

Owen was rescued in the inner-city of south west Atlanta. He had clearly been used as a bait dog and was covered in infected bite wounds. He was emaciated, and was starving both literally and psychologically. He had never felt the touch of a kind hand or a soft bed, and it's an amazing wonder he actually survived through the first year of his life.

When he joined the AARF program, he went into a foster home with our current foster director and long-term foster, Starr. Within a matter of weeks, Starr knew that she couldn't let Owen go, and this decision was cemented when, while she was on vacation and Owen was in boarding, he stopped eating and became so depressed that we weren't actually sure he would make it until she returned home. From that moment on, there was no doubt that Owen was in his forever home. He accompanied Starr to law school, on vacation, everywhere. He truly became an ambassador for pit bulls everywhere, and was one of the absolutely sweetest dogs I have ever met.

On July 6, 2009, Owen passed away in his sleep, next to his mom and best friend Starr. We mourn his passing with

Two days later, on July 8, the ASPCA, federal and state law officials completed the largest dog fighting bust in history, spanning 8 states. Almost 400 dogs were seized, with a mix of fighting, breeding and bait dogs in the seizure. The question now arises - what will happen to these dogs? What do we, as a community, owe them? Is it enough to save them from their lives of fighting, forced breeding and suffering as practice dogs, only to them "humanely" euthanize them? Or do we owe them more than that?

Below is a statement from the No Kill Advocacy Center regarding this seizure. I think, as a community of self-proclaimed pet lovers and advocates, we must sincerely and seriously question our community's response to this seizure, and to our attitudes toward pit bulls in

general. How, and why, have we allowed such an American icon to become so demonized? Could Helen Keller's beloved companion Sir Thomas and the goofy and gentle Petey from the Little Rascals really be vicious killers at heart?

We have allowed an entire breed of dog, once a symbol of loyalty, faithfulness and gentleness, to be hijacked and represented as vicious killers. It is time we save the pit bull from their undeserved and unfair image that we have given them.

Helen Keller and Sir Thomas

For more information about the history of the pit bull, visit Animal Farm Foundation.

We owe them more than a "humane" death
No Kill Advocacy Center

Authorities in Missouri seized almost 400 Pit Bull-type dogs as part of a multi-state raid designed to break up dog fighting rings across the country. It was the single largest effort of its kind in the history of humane law enforcement. But while the dogs were “rescued,” they are not yet “saved.” At issue is whether the dogs will live or will be killed by the shelters if and when they ultimately are awarded custody of the dogs by the Courts.

Unfortunately, some statements that are coming out of the agencies involved in the decision-making process are ominous. According to Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, most of the dogs will likely be killed: “I think it’s pretty certain that a lot of those dogs will not pass a behavioral test.” Meanwhile, the Humane Society of Missouri, which is housing these dogs, isn’t talking except to say that in a recent case, they killed half of all Pit Bull-type dogs they seized. Is that a bellwether of things to come?

Some see a modicum of hope. Randall Lockwood, who was part of the ASPCA team that evaluated and passed the vast majority of the dog victims of Michael Vick, the 2007 case of the then-Atlanta Falcons Quarterback that took the issue of dog fighting to national prominence, is on the scene in St. Louis. In that case, the vast majority of victims were saved. Unfortunately, Lockwood himself made statements to the media about this case that the Vick outcome may not be “replicated.” He also made statements that we should not focus on our differing opinions about what to do with the dogs, but focus on blaming the dog fighters.

No one questions the need to rescue these dogs from the abuse they faced. And the articles appearing on blogs across the country such as one that was aptly titled “scumbags,” adequately convey what we think about the perpetrators. But Lockwood is wrong. The case is in the hands of the U.S. Attorney. So there is nothing more to do on that score. The only choice now is whether, when granted custody of the dogs, the Humane Society of Missouri will kill them or whether the Humane Society of Missouri will not kill them. In fact, that is all we should focus on.
If the Vick tragedy taught us anything, it is that our most basic assumptions about dogs, pit bull-type dogs, and dog aggression, were wrong. In short, it showed we can save virtually all the dogs, even when they were raised for dog fighting and horrifically abused.

After the arrest of former national football league quarterback Michael Vick and the seizure of almost 60 pit bull-type dogs raised for fighting, many animal protection organizations called for the dogs to be killed, arguing that these dogs were vicious and beyond our ability to help them. None made this argument after evaluating the dogs, but based on assumptions about pit bull-type dogs, dog aggression, and dog fighting. After deceptively fundraising off of the dogs, for example, the Humane Society of the United States lobbied to have them killed. Because they believe all Pit Bulls who enter shelters should be slaughtered, it was no surprise that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also asked the court to put them to death.

In 2008, the court thankfully said “No.” Only one dog was actually killed for aggression after evaluation, and the remaining dogs were placed in either sanctuaries or in loving new homes. Two of the dogs are now even therapy animals, providing comfort to cancer patients. The results forced even dog lovers-but more importantly the humane movement-to question their most basic assumptions about dogs, pit bull-type dogs, and dog aggression. In short, it showed we can save virtually all dogs in shelters.

Secondly, it showed that there is a real, practical, and potentially widespread “third door” between adoption and killing-the network of foster homes, sanctuaries and long term care facilities to provide for animals who may not necessarily be immediate adoption candidates, but can enjoy a good quality of life which would make their killing neither merciful nor ethical.
As a result, we should no longer assume the dogs can’t be adopted or for the ones who are traumatized, rehabilitated first because the vast majority can. In addition, some of the dogs were “bait” dogs because they were not aggressive, or others were used as “breeder” dogs, so have no history of fighting. Moreover, those that were are often very friendly to people. Finally, we do have the ability and skill as a movement to rehabilitate those who are traumatized. As a result, we should assume the opposite: they are savable unless a rigorous, fair, and comprehensive evaluation proves otherwise, which it might—but only for a small number of the dogs. And we should no longer assume there isn’t a sanctuary or even homes for these dogs, since HSUS and the ASPCA have the public relations power, financial wherewithal and global reach which easily prove otherwise.

Given this, we must stop talking about how these are “often broken dogs” or how there might be difficulty finding “available homes.” We need to stop speaking the language of defeatism, the language which frames the debate in a negative light, that condemns some of the dogs without all the facts, that assumes killing may be inevitable, and thus may actually help pave the way for their eventual slaughter.

In other words, we need to put aside unfounded biases and consider the victims of these cruelty cases the way we talk about the animals in other cruelty situations—with regret and condemnation for what they have suffered and with the expectation that whatever agency now has power over them will give these dogs what they deserve. We must assume—as the facts in the Michael Vick case proved—that condemning them as vicious simply because a dog fighter possessed them is guilt by association and unfair. That they were abused doesn’t make the dogs abusive. That they were subjected to violence doesn’t make them violent. That they were unloved doesn’t make them unloving.

In short, we must not echo the unfounded biases which plague our movement and have harmed animals for far too long, with no evidence to support such claims. Instead, we must adopt a language that is optimistic about the dogs and uncompromising in defense of their lives. We must put the ASPCA and the Humane Society of Missouri on notice that we expect them to save these dogs. Because anything short of that clears a path for those who appear bent on destroying them.
Instead, we must start demanding outcomes—outcomes that include rescuing, rehabilitating, and ultimately saving these dogs. A fair, rigorous evaluation will lead to lifesaving for the vast majority of these dogs and given HSUS and ASPCA wealth, media power, membership in the tens of millions, America’s dog loving culture, and the vast number of available homes, these are not barriers. Even the slide show of photographs from the law enforcement raid shows the
rescuers handling the dogs with little restraint, fear, or concern for their own safety
. Because, at the end of the day, while rescuing the dogs was crucial and for which we are all grateful, we must also demand a commitment to saving them. After all they have been through, the dogs deserve nothing less.

For further reading:
No Kill Advocate Special Pit Bull Issue (2008)
Temperament Testing in the Age of No Kill
Failing Pit Bulls