WASHINGTON -- For the last year, Kirstyn Northrop Cobb's job has been to convince people in the D.C. area to adopt more pit bulls. The Washington Humane Society's shelter is full of them. Cobb, who wears a pit bull T-shirt and paw print earrings, said that about 60 of the shelter's 120 dogs are pit bulls and that more are always coming in.
As Gary Weitzman, CEO of the Washington Animal Rescue League, put it in a HuffPost blog post: "[I]t's the pits who are most in need of adoption, yet the least likely to get adopted."
"Pitties and kitties," said Cobb, describing the shelter's chief inhabitants. Then, petting a cat and watching a shelter worker put fresh fruit into a rabbit's cage, she added, "And a fair amount of bunnies."
Starting in late December 2010, PetSmart Charities has funded five one-year pit bull booster pilot programs, run in partnership with the Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society, including Cobb's Washington D.C. Pit Crew. Cobb, a former veterinary technician, coordinates the D.C. Pit Crew, holding adoption events, walking a pit bull ambassador on the National Mall and showcasing adoptable pit bulls on Facebook. She declined to give specific numbers about how many pit bulls have been adopted since she took the helm, but said that the shelter's rate of pit bull adoption has increased by 15 percent. The PetSmart grant money has also paid for the spaying or neutering of almost 70 pit bulls.
But the program hasn't been refunded, and Thursday is Cobb's last day at the Humane Society. She said that the Humane Society's dogs should fare all right: The Humane Society is a pro-pit bull environment, and its staff will continue to encourage pit bull adoptions. The free spaying and neutering will end, but the shelter will continue to provide these operations for reduced fees, said Cobb.
More broadly, the public's perception of pit bulls is improving, if incrementally.
Challenges remain. Size and breed restrictions at many Northwest Washington apartment buildings are a big problem. The pit bull ban in Prince George's County, Md., is an even bigger one. Cobb said that even before she became the grant coordinator, she was working "behind the scenes" to overturn the ban and to otherwise make pit bull ownership easier and more inviting.
Cobb isn't quite sure what she'll do next professionally, but expects to keep working with her local humane society in Calvert County, Md., to promote pit bulls as happy, lovable pets with big smiles, dogs who are no more dangerous than any other breed.
The truth of this assertion was recently examined yet again, this time on an episode of the science podcast "Skeptoid". Brian Dunning, host of "Skeptoid," found that bite for bite, the pit bull's chomp is among the worst, but there are no definitive data to prove pit bulls are more dangerous and no good data to show pit bull bans do any good. He said:
This is a case where the value of good science is to drive policy. Most researchers agree that breed-specific legislation -- a nice term for pit bull bans -- are inappropriate. No good data exists to demonstrate that such bans have had any impact. Improved enforcement of existing laws, and improved education for dog owners, are far more likely to reduce the number of dog bites, fatal or not.
"What we're hoping is that in the long run, all dogs will be judged as individuals," Cobb said.
Outside in the shelter's fenced dog run, she plays with a pit bull named Ciera. Cobb kisses Ciera on the head. Ciera is around five years old, white with liver spots, and was given up about a month ago when her owner was deployed overseas. White dogs and older dogs are adopted less frequently than younger dogs of other colors.
Cobb said that she might end up taking in Ciera or other shelter dogs as foster pets in order to free up more space for the inevitable new pit bulls who will need their beds.
"I'm just 40 minutes down the road," Cobb said to the dog. "I'm just taking a vacation."