If you do a search for California dog rescues, you can find a plethora of them, just as you’d expect in a state whose population is about equal to the entire country of Canada. And if you click on their websites, it’s a little startling to see how many pit bulls and pit bull crosses are available for adoption.
The centres seem pretty desperate to find these dogs homes, judging from the descriptions they’ve written for them. One pit bull/terrier mix named Zara is described first as a purebred, and then as a “black, low-rider mini Pit-mix,” who “loves soccer and basketballs as well as the color pink. Her perfect world would include a room full of pink soccer balls.”
Let’s set aside the silliness about a dog having a favourite colour, let alone pink. Dogs’ eyes possess only two cones, and scientists have determined they can’t see shades of red. But the descriptions are written by good-hearted people who are trying to save these dogs’ lives, and who are faced with an overwhelming population of pit bulls, thrown away, abandoned or surrendered by their owners for a variety of reasons, including behaviour problems.
Last month, a lot of eyebrows were raised in Calgary when a local rescue group imported 17 pit bull-type dogs, along with 15 others, which they had saved from kill shelters in California. It’s a noble gesture, but in the bigger picture, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Rescue dogs are brought into Canada all the time. The website of Calgary’s Little Mutts Rescue Society, which features a lot of chihuahuas, states: “We mainly deal with overpopulated and high-kill shelters in the USA and Mexico as there are so many small breed dogs in these shelters that have to be put to sleep every day.” The dogs “were next in line to be euthanized due to overcrowded shelters and were brought here to Calgary to give them a second chance.”
Overseas rescue centres like Soi Dog Foundation, which saves dogs in Thailand from the dog meat trade, also send dogs to new homes in Canada. Likewise, the Rudozem Street Dog Rescue, based in Bulgaria, has had dogs adopted into Canada.
Here’s the difference: when a chihuahua from a U.S. shelter finds a home in Calgary, chances are good that chihuahua is not going to cause someone to end up in hospital, requiring plastic surgery to fix the horrific wounds resulting from its bite. With pit bulls, this can indeed be the case. The United States has a serious pit bull overpopulation problem that municipalities need to deal with, but the problem should not become Calgary’s to fix.
Those who love pit bulls are fond of pointing out that irresponsible owners are the cause of the dogs’ bad reputation and bad behaviour. Since these dogs aren’t recognized as a legitimate breed, there are a ton of irresponsible backyard breeders mating them without regard for temperament or anything else.
The Chicago Tribune reported on the problem in December 2013. The story quoted Chicago-area dog trainer Jeff Hakanson saying: “Most of the surplus you see is just from ignorance among breeders. Some breed for fighting, some to sell puppies, some dogs get loose and impregnated. In Waukegan, (a Chicago suburb), every other house has a litter of pit bull puppies.”
Pit bulls, wrote reporter Robert McCoppin, “appear to end up in shelters far out of proportion to their numbers. No pit bull breed was among the top 50 most popular breeds listed by the American Kennel Club (in 2012).”
To get a grip on the problem, Waukegan has brought in a bylaw that allows only registered breeders to sell dogs and enforcement involves a $200 fine per puppy. It’s a start, and perhaps other American municipalities need to look at this and other ways of dealing with the surplus pit bull problem. That’s something pit bull proponents, who go on about irresponsible owners, should support. But this is America’s problem, and Calgary shouldn’t be part of the solution.