Voices in Animal Welfare: The Problem with Pit Bulls
In our Voices in Animal Welfare series, AAPP shines a light on the many issues animal welfare professionals face in saving lives. In several cases, companion animals are dying due to a lack of resources, community support, or funding. In others, families are forced to relinquish their beloved pets due to financial hardship or a crisis situation–since pets are not yet widely included in social services, as I discuss here–which further crowds high-intake shelters and puts animals in grave danger. Other causes of euthanasia are cultural and ideological. In the case of dogs, people both inside and outside of the sheltering system perpetuate outdated stereotypes and notions that certain breeds–namely “pit bull types”–are fundamentally unwanted, undesirable, or a public menace. In reality, racism, classism, and ableism are at the core of these attitudes and lead to discriminatory policies and housing laws that kill amazing pets everyday. Kristen Hassen, MA, is the Maddie’s® Director of American Pets Alive!, overseeing the Human Animal Support Services project, the Maddie’s® Learning Academy, and AmPA!’s life saving initiatives. She is working hard to save good dogs by changing hearts and minds and asking fellow animal welfare organizations to revise the language they use to talk about these dogs. She wants to have meaningful conversations with the public about breed discrimination, and ultimately, to transform the narrative. Written primarily for her colleagues, this brilliant piece, originally published on the Human Animal Support Center website, offers an intimate look into how animal welfare as a field is evolving and pledging to do better by all pets. –Courtney Wennerstrom
Kristen Hassen and her dog
The Problem with Pit Bulls
–by Krisen Hassen, MA
“We need to talk about pit bulls again. It’s not doing them or us any good to pretend that they don’t exist, and aren’t the dogs still dying in shelters.
They need us to see them, talk about them, advocate for them. They need us to render them visible.
I don’t know about you, but I spent this summer finding myself missing the days when there were organizations in our industry putting breed discrimination at the front and center of all conversations. They were in our faces constantly, challenging our beliefs and practices, and showing us, with science, that looks don’t equal behavior. At one point, I almost got one group’s tagline tattooed on my arm: All dogs are individuals.
That conversation began to change over the last decade when animal welfare started talking more critically about the discourse around pit bulls, as much as the animals themselves. Many of us came to believe that even using the word pit bull could be harmful and misleading.
The term pit bull, of course, refers not to any specific breed of dog, but to dogs who belong to several breeds or who merely share some physical traits, and not even specific traits at that; it’s a highly subjective guessing game of what does and doesn’t qualify as a pit bull, with no correct answer since visual breed identification of this sort comes down to a matter of personal opinion, and not objective standards.”