I am writing in regards to the article in this week's Reporter titled "Is Pit Bull the Problem?" I wanted to give another side of the story to consider in hopes that it could make it into print.
I'm sure you have, or will shortly receive, a lot of flack from the animal rescue and advocate community about the article in this week's Reporter that helps to portray pit bull type dogs in a negative light and even though my stance on the issue was made clear in the Niagara Gazette article published recently with quotes also used in the Reporter article titled 'Is Dyster's Proposed $3.2 Million Animal Shelter for the Pits?', I want to both expand on my stance and comment specifically on the SPCA's reasoning to cease our contract for not only dog control services, but the sheltering of animals for the City of Niagara Falls.
It is true that when walking through our building you will find a pit bull type dog in almost every kennel and most of these dogs do originate from the City of Niagara Falls. We at the Niagara County SPCA are not bothered by the fact that we have "too many pit bull type dogs", but that there is not enough space in our shelter to accommodate the number of animals that need our help. Whether those kennels are filled with pit bulls or golden retrievers, the kennel is still occupied and we don't have enough space to accommodate all of the animals that come in by way of municipal contracts. This we have found is one of the challenges of becoming a newly No-kill shelter.
Certainly, there is an overabundance of pit bulls here in Niagara Falls, but this "problem" effects many areas in the US and is not exclusive to pit bull type dogs nor to Niagara Falls. If you take a look at the type or breed of dog in many shelters in the South, you will find that they have an overabundance of hounds and hound mixes. Each region has unique challenges. We fully realize that overpopulation is a problem and that irresponsible breeding plays a major part, but again, this problem is not exclusive to Niagara Falls. The only way to get ahead of the challenge is to embrace what we have and promote the dogs by dispelling the myths, being responsible about their placement, implementing spay/neuter programs and thoughtfully advocating for the breed.
There is a lot of information out there that demonizes pit bulls. The Shelter and local rescues work diligently every day to better educate the public and to help them see these dogs as individuals who should not be judged by the actions and behavior of another dog just because they have a similar appearance. Most of these dogs' genetic make-up when tested is a mishmash of several dog breeds that often times doesn't include "bully breeds".
As pits bulls should not be judged as a whole based on the actions of a few, it should also not be assumed that people who own pit bulls are drug dealers. I own a pit bull. I foster pit bulls from the shelter on a regular basis. I am not a drug dealer. My dog lives with me in my home. She does not guard a "stash" or a junkyard nor is she tied up in my front or backyard. She sleeps with me at night, we snuggle while we watch TV and she is part of my family.
The idea for the article in the Gazette came about when Gazette reporter Michele Deluca came to the SPCA for the opening of our isolation room and while touring the shelter she commented on the number of pit bulls available and wanted to help promote their adoption. The article serves as a kick off to a year long marketing campaign to promote pit bull type dogs. We have to work with what we are given and pit bulls are what we are given and what better task than to promote the underdog?
As it is no secret that the Niagara County SPCA has an abundance of pit bull type dogs, it is no secret that relations with the City and the SPCA have been strained in the past, but we are in a much better position now than we have been since negotiations began in late 2012.
Both the City and the Shelter realize that dog control and sheltering is an issue that we must work through together. Although sheltering stray animals is traditionally a municipal responsibility, I do believe that the SPCA is better equipped at this time to perform this function as we have been providing sheltering services to not only the City, but to many other municipalities in Niagara County for many years.
The issues with our municipal contract with the City is twofold: even at $198,000 annually the SPCA is subsidizing the City's dog control function which means that financially, we are strapped and even though the animals are given the best care that we can provide, we are spread very thin.
The other side to this is that our building was not designed with No-kill in mind and thus cannot accommodate the number of animals we take in.
Lack of space makes it difficult for the Shelter to perform our true mission: being there for animals when their owners can no longer care for them and focusing on animal cruelty investigations.
There is a very delicate balancing act occurring at the shelter right now between our obligation to our municipal contracts and our obligation to the community that supports us.
Currently we have 85 dogs. The shelter has permanent kennels to house 74.
That means that we are forced to set up temporary crates in our garage and we house small dogs in baby cribs in our adoption lobby.
Something has to give.
We cannot continuously operate at overcapacity. Either we cease services with our largest customer (the City of Niagara Falls) or we build a larger shelter.
With no extra funding coming into the shelter, building a larger facility or adding to the existing structure seems a mere pipe dream.
So to answer the question: Is Pit Bull the Problem?
Money and space is the problem.
The solution is continued discussion with the City to come up with a plan that benefits both parties.
The pit bull "problem" is not really a problem, but more of a challenge.
As with the space and financial issues, the solution to this challenge is also a collaborative effort. The City, local media, advocates, rescues and shelters need to work together to thoughtfully promote these dogs through education and spay/neuter programs.