03/19/2013 06:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

To the People Who Hate Us Because of Pit Bulls

Here's a fact about running a humane society which you might not know: Some people hate us (and I do mean hate) because we adopt out pit bulls, and some people hate us because we don't adopt out every pit bull brought to us. Quite often I get complaints from both extremes on the same day. So if this post receives comments they will almost without doubt be negative. Oh well, such is life in the information age.

A bit of context to start with, the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA has an "open door" philosophy, which means we accept all animals regardless of age, health, behavior, even species. While other "limited admission" facilities may say "no" and simply not accept the more difficult to adopt animals (which for some shelters means saying "no" to all pit bulls and pit mixes, No to all animals over 5 years of age, etc.) we do not.


Even a sweet and healthy pit bull or pit-mix can prove a difficult dog for us to adopt since this is of course a breed which comes with a great deal of baggage. My purpose here is not to convince anyone that a pit ought to be the dog of their dreams, so let's not engage please on whether you feel the baggage is earned. We can simply all agree that it is there.

So baggage earned or not, the simple fact is that these dogs are exceptionally popular among all sorts of people. Dogs are extraordinary animals and indeed pits are no more or less extraordinary (depending on your perspective) than are the other members of genus Canis species familiaris, and tons of them live happy, uneventful lives with their people. In fact, pit bulls are among the three most popular breeds in 28 states across the nation (see here).

The point is that my organization has these dogs, lots of them; in fact, about 20 percent of the dogs who come to us are pits or mostly pits. Some of them are great dogs. Some of them are not. Some of those who are not great dogs can, over time and with the help of experts (and we have them), become great dogs. Similarly, some of the people who come to us for these dogs are great people and some, well, not so much. Our job, and it is our job, is to sort through all of that.

Which gets us to this dog, Tessa. Tessa came to us as a stray back in September 2009. She was very stressed at the shelter and so we sought an alternative environment. That some dogs will do better outside the shelter environment is not uncommon, not at all; the issue is that, for most breeds, finding an alternative means finding a foster family, and finding foster homes for pits is harder (just like finding adoptive homes is harder). Fortunately, that alternative eventually came in the form of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, a program we run in partnership with their minimum security facility. The program is called TAILS (Transitioning Animals Into Loving Situations). Shelter dogs with limited adoption potential are given round-the-clock care and attention and learn skills which should help them find new homes, all from minimum-security inmates working under the supervision of our professional animal behaviorists. Dogs become better candidates for adoption while the inmates are given an avenue for developing skills and making their time more meaningful. It's a classic win-win situation, one that has helped a lot of animals and a lot of people.

Tessa graduated that program a much-changed dog, calmer and anxious to please the people around her, and then (in February 2010) went into foster care with one of our volunteers. She was eventually adopted in April 2010. A good adoption to a good family. But then the family became yet another of the victims of the economy and were forced to relocate out of state into a very different living situation. They could not take a dog with them into that new situation, and so Tessa came back to us.


She went back into foster with the same volunteer and then was adopted by her new family in September 2010, almost exactly a year from when she first came to us. She's been a happy, permanent member of that family now for two and half years. These pictures are her with her "siblings" and, as pictures do, they speak a thousand quite wonderful words.