11/14/2011 02:54 pm ET | Updated Jan 14, 2012

The Pit Bull Dilemma

"Any pits?" I asked our shelter director, Maureen, when she got back from the Baltimore shelter with the transfer animals and was parking our rescue truck in front of the shelter.

She smiled sheepishly at me.

"Oh, no. A bunch of lab mixes and a mixed shepherd or two. And the cutest puppies you ever saw."

I knew what that meant. She had a truck full of pit bulls.

There are two reasons for this: One, we're an urban shelter north of the Mason-Dixon Line. And two, Maureen, like me, loves pit bulls and knows they need our help more than any other animal in this country. Because of the public's misperception of this often gentle, loyal, and intelligent breed -- and due to the absolutely unconscionable breeding for criminally inhumane uses that this breed has endured by the most irresponsible humans among us -- there are just so too many pit bulls for the system to absorb.

2011-11-14-Pits.jpgHere then, is the dilemma. We have an urban shelter in which we want to house highly adoptable animals whom the public wants to adopt. And it's the pits who are most in need of adoption, yet the least likely to get adopted. So how do we get people into our nation's shelters when the majority of dogs ready for adoption, at least in the north and in urban centers, are the least likely to be adopted? How do we compel people to go to their shelters first -- long before looking for a dog on Craig's List, or going to a breed-specific breeder, as good and responsible as many breeders can be?

Some shelters, such as limited admission ones like mine, are not saddled with the municipal obligation of taking in every dog or cat or "other" that is surrendered to them. We can say no. Or yes, to the extent we have room. But that's not an option the majority of shelters have. They have to say yes; yes to every litter of puppies, every stray cat, and every pit bull that comes through their doors. And that leaves shelters full of animals less likely to be adopted -- especially in a society that reveres purebred golden retrievers, labradoodles, bichons and Siamese.

We've nearly solved the problem of overpopulation in dogs in this country. That is, if the north had not won the Civil War and we were just talking about Washington and above. Where spay/neuter has worked, it has really worked. And where it hasn't -- in the south -- it really hasn't. Other than pit bulls, there are now so few dogs being bred in the north, we have to go to rural communities in the south and in the "middle" to get puppies now, or anything besides a pit bull. I've even recently heard a shelter professional say we'll need to start breeding adoptable dogs now -- somewhat facetious, but not entirely.

I want people to come to the shelter -- anyone's shelter. That's why we work to get animals from places where there aren't adopters to places where there are. Whether those places are prosecuted puppy mills, hoarding cases, or just the overwhelmed countryside where dogs and cats so readily make more dogs and cats. That's the solution. And, of course, keep those doors open to your own community's animals, because you can't be part of that solution without taking care of your own backyard, too. And I want every single person who adopts to see the number on that national euthanasia rate drop by one digit. Because that's exactly what every single adoption represents.

So, has the battle against pet overpopulation been won? Absolutely not. And certainly not for cats. In this country, there are still between three and four million dogs and cats being euthanized every year. That's a huge reduction from the dozens of millions euthanized just a decade ago. But still, looking into the faces of my own dogs, I'm constantly reminded how bonded we humans are to this incredibly dependent species, and therefore, any unnecessary death is an insult to our own humanity.

We'll continue to try to save dogs and cats from needless euthanasia in this country. We'll save the pits, and anything else we can. And we'll try to convince the adopting public to go their local shelters first, if they're in the market to adopt. And support their shelters with donations. Lots of them. Because if ever there were a noble cause, saving and honoring the human-animal bond between us and our canine and feline dependents is a cause that is worthy and very visible.

So back to Maureen and the truck parked in front of our building.

I just smiled and said, "Bring them in."

Because she and I both know that they have nowhere else to go.