My All American

February 14, 2012  

The author ruminates about labeling shelter dogs by breed

By Micaela Myers

My dog Omega is in the middle above. Do you think she looks more like the dog on the right or the dog on the left? The dog on the right is an English Pointer. The dog on the left is an American Pit Bull Terrier. According to Omega’s shelter paperwork, she is a pit bull.

Personally, I think she could have just as easily been labeled a pointer mix (and I’ll have you know, she points!). Our other dog, Rocky (pictured right), was also labeled as a pit bull even though he’s clearly a mixed breed (his DNA showed 10 breeds – no bully or terrier breeds among them).

We can continue to guess at what’s in the mix, but the point is that they are mixed breeds and could just as easily have been labeled something other than a pit bull. When a dog is a mix, why is it so often labeled a pit bull when we know that label lowers his or her chance of adoption? It lowers their chance of adoption because people have prejudice; it lowers their chance of adoption because landlords and complexes have prejudice; it lowers their chance of adoption because many insurance companies won’t cover people with pit bulls; and it lowers their chance of adoption because many cities and counties have breed-discriminatory laws.

The argument I’ve heard as to why so many dogs are labeled pit bulls is that if they think he might even have an ounce of pit bull in him, then they “have to” call him a pit bull for liability reasons “in case something happens.” Of course, we know that things don’t happen because of a dog’s breed (see StubbyDog’s “Checklist for a Dangerous Dog” for information on what factors really lead to incidents).

The larger question is: Why do we label mixed-breed dogs by breed at all? Dr. Victoria Voith’s research has shown that guesses as to a dog’s breed are highly inaccurate. So why do it?

Labeling a dog by breed brings with it certain expectations as to that dog’s behavior, when the mixed-breed dog may or may not have those characteristics and may or may not be that breed. By taking away the inaccurate guesses, adopters can focus on the dog in front of them – an individual with an individual personality and temperament.

Many advocate for calling shelter dogs American Shelter Dogs for these reasons. In my opinion, this would certainly be an improvement to the guessing game.

However, another positive and encompassing “label” came to me when Omega earned her therapy dog certification through Love on a Leash. Knowing she was a mixed breed, they put her breed as “All American.”

It doesn’t get much more positive than that. I can tell you, I love my pit bull pointing All American for the wonderful individual she is!

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18 Responses to “My All American”
  1. I love it, I love, I love it!

  2. been says:

    I have a rescue brindle 36 lb pitty kissabull who is really a staffy plott hound dutch sheppard ( i am guessing ) mix

    This dog is very indigenous to NYC shelters . We lose many.

    I was considering renaming the NY “pitt Mix” the Brooklyn Terrier … Or the New Amsterdam terrier … we need to rebrand deff

  3. Myki says:

    I like to call ours Bitsas. (Bits o’ this, bits o’ that) It sounds better than the old Heinz ’57. I see no reason why shelters can’t use American Bull Terrier, of some of the other names that were popular before pit fighting was sensationalized. We don’t call bantams Pit roosters.

  4. Anne says:

    This is such a clear, concise article that cuts right to the core. I am also reminded how pictures help tell the story. Kudos for another “winner”!

  5. bluebrindle says:

    If I had to guess a breed for your dogs I would say they almost look like cattle dogs!! But as you have stated, if the dog is not a pure bred dog, why take the time to guess a breed?! Maybe shelters should just write “DOG” on the ID sheet that hangs on the dogs cages. Or better yet, why don’t shelters simply create a fun sounding name, take a stab at the age, and then list all the positive attributes the dog has. Sample: “Name: Sweet Pea, Age: 3, Specialities: I love to play, snuggle, run, fetch and kiss!”. Now that might just get any dog adopted don’t you think?!

    • micaelamyers says:

      @bluebrindle Absolutely! They’re all just dogs and focusing on their individual strengths and temperaments is a much better approach!

  6. pitbullsrock says:

    What an excellent “point” Micaela. I have what is supposedly a pit bull mix (the vet told me he was pit bull and the black and white dog down the street) and have been told by more than one person who has bred English pointers that my dog has English pointer in him, although he has a large pit bull head. His body is much lankier, though, and he points constantly. My other dog is supposedly a pit bull-Lab mix, but hard to say. She does act like a terrier, that’s for sure. Full of mischief.

    I am familiar with the handle American Shelter Dog and love it. I was laughing to myself yesterday about how rabid I’ve become sticking up for pit bulls, mainly because of the media and people who dislike them for no apparent reason, when the thought popped into my head, wouldn’t it be a hoot if neither of my dogs had any pit bull in them. Regardless, the pure pit bulls I know are awesome dogs. But I agree–with the perception of pit bulls the shelters may be doing a disservice by denominating them as such. It just irks me that the public is so paranoid about a name, so for me it’s a catch-22. I want people to know pit bulls are wonderful, as are most dogs.

    • micaelamyers says:

      @pitbullsrock Yes, I love pit bulls and usually say mine are regardless. And the prejudice against them needs to stop regardless too, which is why I volunteer with StubbyDog! But for all mixed breeds I think it would be great to take a less labeling approach since it’s all just guessing (and wrong guessing!). Thanks for reading the article and for your excellent comments!

  7. shore828 says:

    My own experience matches this story precisely. My dog looks just like an english pointer except for her ears and stature…an my building has a list of at least 15 breeds that aren’t allowed in our building, it’s part of the lease (and they can make that determination just by looking at a dog). And the rescue org listed her as a border collie mix! But what difference does it really make?

    • micaelamyers says:

      @shore828 Yes, let’s stop trying to label them! And let’s stop discrimination like your complex has!

  8. MaryAltman says:

    oh my gosh my laney looks just like her…she is a California shelter dog too!

  9. It is too bad everyone wants to place “labels” on every person and dog. Your dogs are very beautiful. That little blue puppy in the video w/the pink ball is absolutely too adorable. There is not much cuter than a pit bull puppy.

  10. EnzosFosterMom says:

    When asked, I refer to my two shelter rescues as “Wonder Dogs”– everyone always wonders what they are.
    When speaking to people about Buddy in regards to BSL here, I refer to her as a “mutt with characteristics substantially similar to a pitbull type dog”.

  11. laurapmooney says:

    My husband called our second dog a BABEC when we first adopted her, which stands for bony as*ed, bat eared creature. She was kind of fugly, bless her heart 🙂 She’s finally grown up and filled out, lost the bony butt but not the ears. We just kind of shrug, smile and say she is “one of a kind” when asked–what is that?