Monday, 15 August 2022
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Finding the right homes: Humane societies see increase in bully breeds


Princess has been at the Lakeland Animal Shelter for four years.

She’s not a bad dog, but she has three significant strikes against her.

First, she’s afraid of strangers, and it takes a couple of visits to get to know her. Those visits need to take place in the presence of somebody Princess already knows and trusts.

Second, she’s one of 30 dogs up for adoption at the shelter.

And third, out of those 30 dogs, Princess is one of 15 bully breeds.

Lakeland and other shelters are dealing with an influx of bully breeds. The terms “bully breeds” and “pit bulls” are used to describe variety of dogs including American bulldogs, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers.

Other dog breeds, such as boxers or Rottweilers, sometimes are included in such lists.

Such breeds have earned a reputation as unpredictable and violent, making people wary of adopting them. If Princess were a shy Lab or a nervous beagle, she would have more luck finding a home.

Bully breed owners insist the dogs make faithful and loyal pets. Organizations have been formed to counter what they see as media, landlord and governmental bias against such dogs.

But Lakeland Animal Shelter Executive Director Kristen Perry says such dogs aren’t for everyone.

“They need extra time and attention,” Perry said. “They need to be socialized with other dogs, and they need both physical and intellectual stimulation.”

Libby and Greta

Greta and Libby live with Ann Marie Ames and Ray Adkins, two people who fit the description of “the right owners.”

Libby is a sweet dog but tends to be passive aggressive. She and Greta will go out to play in their fenced-in yard. When Greta is completely absorbed in chewing on a stick or racing around the yard like a lunatic, Libby will go into the house and eat the rest of Greta’s food.

Greta is the younger of the pair, the dominate dog and very, very smart.

Both dogs know the eight basic commands, but Greta also knows the difference between the red ball and the green ball.

Libby has a 10-minute stamina for learning, even if cheese is involved. Greta will work until she has her master’s degree.

Experts say that’s what bully breeds need most: Mental and physical stimulus, especially when they’re young.

Ames and Adkins did their research before they adopted Libby from the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin in 2015.

They adopted young Greta in January.

Adkins has worked with Greta every day.

Consider: Before letting Greta loose at the dog park, Adkins would take her there during off hours and, if it was empty, let her chase the ball in the small dog section of the park. That was to get her used to the environment.

The next step was to take her into the large dog section on a leash.

“We introduced ourselves to every single dog,” Ames said.

Adkins would pet the new dog and then pet Greta. It helped her learn “this is how we greet other big dogs.”

Both dogs have been to obedience classes. Those classes are often more about the owners than the dogs.

It’s all about understanding what a dog is trying to communicate, and that’s especially important when you own a dog that’s big and strong, experts say.

“I did a lot of work with Greta. But after about two months, I thought maybe there was still stuff I wasn’t picking up on, so I taught her how to sing,” Adkins said. “She knows that when she’s stressed, she doesn’t need to bark, she sings. That lets us know that she’s agitated or doesn’t understand what’s going on.”

At a recent trip to the dog park, Greta and Libby were on their way back to the car. Adkins and Ames stopped at the gate to chat. When other dogs came into the park, Greta started to make a warbling noise in her throat. It was her way of saying “Why aren’t we leaving?” and “Who are those new dogs coming in and should I be worried about them?”

For Adkins and Ames, these are the perfect pets: Smart and funny dogs that want to be a part of the family.

Popular dogs

Out of all the dogs licensed in the city of Janesville, about 280 are listed as one of the bully breeds or simply as “pit bulls.”

They are second only to a group that includes Labs, Lab mixes and Labradoodles. About 600 such dogs are listed in the city’s licensing records.

As a breed group, pit-bull-type bulldogs and terriers are popular. So why do so many of them end up at humane societies and rescues?

“There’s a variety of factors at play,” Frazier said. “We did a study a couple of years ago and found that there’s an inability to find pet friendly housings. There are places that won’t allow certain breeds of dogs and places that won’t allow certain sizes of dogs.”

In addition, many insurance companies won’t offer homeowners’ or renters’ insurance to people who own such dogs.

When people’s circumstances change, and they have to find new housing, the dog has to go.

Check out any bully breed rescue website and one of the most common reason for giving up the animal was “circumstances changed.”

The dogs’ reputation for violence and unpredictability makes them a bad risk.

But the American Veterinary Medical Association has found that a “dog’s tendency to bite depends on at least five interacting factors: heredity, early experience, later socialization and training, health and victim behavior.”

The association also reports that children are the most common victims of dog bites, and “most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.”

In its educational materials, the association states, “Even the cuddliest, fuzziest, sweetest pet can bite if provoked. Remember, it is not a dog’s breed that determines whether it will bite, but rather the dog’s individual history and behavior.”

Perry agreed but advised people not to gloss over bully breeds’ reputations. To say that the bully breeds are just like other dogs is “gross oversimplification of the facts,” Perry said.

“Terriers are the most tenacious of all dogs. They’re the strongest, the most muscled,” Perry said. “With these dogs, there are no small mistakes.”

It aggravates Adkins and Ames that dogs are often blamed for their owners inability or unwillingness to train their dogs.

“We don’t want to criticize the person, we don’t want to put it on the owners, so we put it on the dogs,” Adkins said.

If a child comes to your home, you don’t let it wander around without any rules or boundaries because anything could happen, he said.

That’s a simile that Perry uses, too.

These are dogs that need boundaries.

Meanwhile, Princess, a dog who has been looking for a home for four years, lives with the boundaries of the Lakeland Animal Shelter. She’s made about 20 special friends with staff and volunteers, but her breed and her shyness make her a tough sell.


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