On Wednesday, May 26, the Roanoke Times ran a deeply irresponsible opinion piece entitled “Beware of Rescue Dogs.” According to the Roanoke Times, it was written by a “semi-retired registered nurse who has never been without a family dog.” That is a bit like allowing me a platform to pontificate on brain surgery because I have had a brain all my life.
Ms. Lee’s ignorance with regard to shelter dogs, pit bull type dogs and the responsible use of statistics is shocking. She provides dubiously sourced statistics on the numbers of human deaths from dog attacks in terms like “13 and counting” in 2015 – counting what exactly? Even more troubling is that she leaves the reader with the suggestion that all of these deaths were caused by a breed of dog that she appears to be afraid to actually mention but it is apparent that she is talking about pit bulls, which of course are not even an actual “breed.” She keeps referring to “rescue dogs” throughout the piece, as does the headline, when not all rescue dogs, not even most rescue dogs, are pit bull type dogs. In saying this, I am in no way suggesting that pit bull type dogs should be considered dangerous, just that shelters provide a vast array of wonderful dogs of all sorts including pit bull type dogs.
Then come some appallingly reckless statements from Ms. Lee. “A parent considering adoption of any ‘rescue’ dog should see the online data.” This statement is followed by a citation that does not yield any visible page but it indicates it was about the “dangers of pit bulls.” So, we are actually not able to see any data and the data that may or may not have been there in the past related only to one type of dog – pit bulls. And then she says, “Busting at the seams with these breeds and still euthanizing 600,000 to 800,000 a year, no other breed has this much advocacy.” It is challenging to parse such miserably poor writing. Who exactly is she saying is busting at the seams? It is not at all clear due to the misplaced modifying clause, but I suppose she means shelters. And, those killing statistics for the breed that shall not be named by Ms. Lee but that, according to her, has such advocacy – where were they sourced and what locations or facilities are being referenced? Public shelters, private shelters, all shelters across the nation? None of this is clear.
A responsible news paper such as the Roanoke Times should not have published such a crudely written, irrational and unsubstantiated piece. Animal welfare professionals like me work every day to help the public to understand that shelters are the only responsible place for them to acquire a new four-legged family member. “Rescue dogs” come in all varieties, temperaments and sizes and they may be pure bred or mixed breed. Most of them will make wonderful family pets. Similarly, not all families are alike. There are without doubt some dogs, of all types not just pit bull type or bully breed dogs, who are not well suited for a home with small children. That certainly does not mean that these dogs should be killed, only that a responsible shelter will place them in an appropriate home where they and the human occupants will understand each other and be happy.
Pieces such as this one damage so much of our good work and progress on behalf of animals that are sweet, loving, and well behaved in a shelter somewhere. Through inaccuracies and lack of proof, they mislead the public and hurt the enormous progress we have made to encourage people’s commitment to shelter adoption. Shelter dogs are waiting for a loving home and they have the potential to make their adopters very happy for years to come. There is no more chance that a dog bought from a breeder or a pet store will be any better behaved or safer than a shelter dog, whether or not that dog is a pit bull type dog, but patronizing breeders and pet stores inarguably contributes to the needless deaths of wonderful animals in shelters all over this country who could have been saved through an adoption rather than a purchase. Rescue dogs, like people, come in all sorts of sizes shapes and personalities. Yes, Ms. Lee, assuming that all rescue dogs or all pit bulls are dangerous is canine racism.
Robin Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. To read her biography or that of our other bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires both your first and last name to be used as your screen name.