Author Alexandra Semyonova recently made some insightful observations about the problems currently facing dog shelters in the Netherlands. I was fascinated by her observations and feel strongly that we in the USA are heading down the same path. I asked if I could publish her comments, and she graciously agreed.
When I worked at ___ shelter during the Netherlands pit-bull ban, the only pit bulls we took in were collateral catch from drug raids or those confiscated because they'd hurt someone. About three or four a year at most, and yes, all slated to be put down. The dog wing was always one-third to one-half empty except in the summer, when people dumped dogs to go on vacation.
Four years after the pit bull ban was repealed here, various Dutch shelters have announced they'll be going bankrupt soon if the government doesn't put (altogether) millions of extra money on the table for them. I took a look at Dutch shelter sites on June 17, 2012. The average at Dutch shelters is now 78% pit-bull type dogs.
When the 'humanes' were fighting for repeal of the pit bull ban, there were - in the entire country - about 180 pit bulls waiting on death row as owners appealed destruction verdicts. All of them had hurt someone. You see, the ban wasn’t a witch hunt. As long as they stayed under the radar by not hurting anyone (or anyone’s animal) or making some kind of trouble (such as attacking police during a warranted search), no pit bull was confiscated.
So in 2008, 180 were awaiting PTS in the whole country, all of which had hurt someone. Now that the ban has been lifted, there are thousands of pit bulls in shelters, almost all of which will be put down in the end because no one wants them. Meanwhile, the humane societies can't help the shelters avoid bankruptcy. They say they don't have that much money, and anyway it's the government's responsibility to pay. This even as the humanes are still encouraging people to get a pit bull. I know we know all this and it's all been said before. It's just that it's crazy-making to watch it happen all over again right under my nose.
A system which had worked well is now broken
The following refers to my time at ____ shelter, capacity: 85 dogs. We had a system that used to work (before the return of the pit bull). Most dogs that came in were re-homed within three or four months. Some stayed longer. We had a resident behaviorist. A lot of the dogs were taken out (off-leash, in groups) by volunteers about three times a week for a free-run hike in the surrounding woods. Dogs not capable of that had time on a fenced field two or three times a week, if possible with one or more other dogs.
Some dogs only got out-of-cage time with the behaviorist (no other staff or volunteers), and not until s/he thought they were ready to work with him/her without bars between them (at his/her own risk). These were dogs with such serious learned-aggression problems that it was clear the board would give a PTS order, never mind behavior modification. The behaviorist's goal with these dogs was to give them some quality of life during the time they did stay in the shelter.
Occasionally a dog would come in that turned out impossible to re-home in an urban area (eg, super rambunctious 120lb Newfie). After eight or ten months of trying, we'd do a shelter exchange. Take a more city-appropriate dog from a rural shelter, send the non-city-appropriate dog over there.
These types of dogs were put to sleep:
- Dogs with serious learned aggression problems.
- Dogs that had been re-homed and returned four or five times.
- Old dogs with pain problems.
- Old dogs without pain problems, but still not re-homed after about six months.
- Young dogs with incurable pain problems.
- Young dogs with diseases (eg, juvenile pancreatic atrophy in a GSD) that meant about zero chance of a new home.
- Dogs that for any reason seriously bit a staff member or volunteer.
So dogs got more than a couple of weeks, lots of chances, but weren't kept if it looked like being a life-sentence. Without being no-kill, we tried to be low-kill. It worked. About 1500 dogs a year went through _____ shelter, PTS averaged about 15 a year ( 1% ).
The rare pits were kept strictly in their cages until the court order came through for PTS. They were always from far away, since shelters operated as secret holding addresses while the court decided. A confiscated pit bull was never sent to its home-town shelter. It was always kept secret that there was a pit in the house at all. This was done to prevent the violent, histrionic break-in rescues that the pit bull lobby sometimes organized.
A grim outlook
In any event, it's clear that this system can't possibly work any more, now that up to 80% of urban shelter dogs are pit-types and shelters everywhere are over-full. I hate to even think about how shelter boards are now making PTS decisions, since the boards have been packed with pit-believers. [BTW, none of them -- not the shelter board members, not the SPCA board members -- have chosen to actually own a pit bull themselves as far as I can find out. They want *other* people to please empty the shelter of pit bulls.] Dutch shelters still do non-local exchanges with each other, but no shelter will take a dog from a private person who doesn't live in the city or town the shelter services.
I'll be curious to see what happens if various local shelters do go bankrupt and close. All the dogs there at that moment will have to be put down unless some other shelter can take them. It'll be interesting to see whether, after that, we end up with a plague of stray pit-bull type dogs, once there's no shelter for local residents to dump them at anymore. We had an intelligent system in place that effectively made the entire country low-kill to the extent possible. Now it's completely dysfunctional because the SPCAs et al were so anxious to get other people (anyone but themselves) to keep pit bulls.
The shelters are blaming their near bankruptcy on:
- Fewer donations
- More dogs coming in and more of those being long-stay dogs
We can also calculate that the sudden rise in dogs coming in is directly related to the pit bull ban being lifted, which has nothing to do with the world crisis. If you removed all the pit bulls from the list of 'adoptable' dogs, only 22% would be left - i.e, the shelter isn't suddenly full of 78% more normal dogs, which would indicate the world financial crisis maybe does have something to do with it. It's specifically pit-bull type dogs that are being massively bought then abandoned, flooding shelters and bankrupting them. It makes me angry that the SPCAs fought for the return of the pit bull, but are now saying 'not our responsibility' when it comes to paying for the results.
But of course it is wonderful that they saved those 180 pits that had hurt someone and were waiting to die when the ban was lifted - never mind that now thousands are being euthanized as unwanted every year.