This past weekend our rescue ran an educational booth at a dog show. It was our first event of the year and a good reminder of why education is such an important component of rescue – perhaps even more critical than the actual rescuing part.
If that last part sounds a little backwards, let me explain…
A good analogy would be recycling and its impact on reducing the amount of waste we produce. If all you ever did was dig through people’s trash and pull out any recyclable materials you could find, you’d be facing an uphill battle that was impossible to win. Even if you miraculously managed to round up every piece of recyclable material, come next trash day, there would just be more recyclables going into the trash. The only way to really make headway on reducing the amount of waste is to teach people about recycling so they can all do their part to help.
Now, I hate to compare a living creature to trash, but let’s face it, many dogs that end up in shelters or rescue have been discarded as such. Sure, we as rescuers try our best to find homes for them, but without educating people, we’re facing an uphill battle we can’t win. There will always be more dogs. Here are some stats that illustrate the enormity of this problem:
- In the US alone, shelters euthanize approximately 5 to 7 million pets per year
- Only half the animals who enter our country’s shelters this year will be adopted
- A homeless pit bull stands a 1 in 600 chance of finding a home
- Pit bulls and pit mixes make up about 30% of the dogs in our shelters
- About 1/4 of the dogs in shelters are purebred
Shelters and rescues work hard to find homes for the dogs who have been discarded like yesterday’s trash, but clearly rescuing alone isn’t working. We have to educate people about responsible, lifelong pet ownership. I addressed this at length in an earlier blog post, but in a nutshell, with very, very, very few exceptions, getting rid of a pet should never be an option. If everyone viewed pets as for life, then we wouldn’t need rescues and shelters except for the most dire of circumstances.
In addition to the epidemic of homelessness that dogs in general are facing, the stigma attached to pit bulls especially isn’t helping their cause. Did you know pit bulls were once considered the all-American family dog? That’s right, pit bulls were once the equivalent of today’s lab or golden retriever (think Petey from the Little Rascals).
So what’s changed? Well, the dogs themselves haven’t changed much since then, but the owners sure have. Instead of a playful Petey romping with the kids, you’re more likely to see a thug with a cropped-eared status symbol on the end of chain. That image builds exponentially as it attracts like-minded dog owners and scares off your average family.
And the media only make things worse. Those of us in the pittie community are well-aware of a phenomenon called the pit bull paparazzi, whereby pit bull attacks are much more widely reported than attacks by other breeds. But I suppose I can’t even really blame the media. They make money on advertising. And advertisers spend money where the most viewers/readers are going to see their ad. No matter which side of the pit bull debate you’re on, you can’t deny that a pit bull article online is pretty much guaranteed to get a gazillion comments. No other breed evokes such emotion, both for and against.
Back to education and this weekend’s event – one of my favorite parts about these types of events is the chance to win people’s hearts before they have a chance to judge. Our rescue’s name doesn’t have the words “pit bull” in it, which means sometimes people don’t make the connection right away that we are a pit bull rescue group. They’ll walk up to our booth to admire our wall of photos of past and current adoptable dogs, or pet one of our available dogs in their “adopt me” vests. When they ask us what kind of dogs they are, they learn that they have just been loved on by a pit bull! This usually presents a great opportunity to give them more information and dispel some of the myths they’ve heard.
Though some people back up and run away awkwardly when they find out it’s a pit bull, I would hope they would at least think twice next time they are presented with misguided or biased information about the breed.