Friday, June 26, 2015

Removing Breed Labels: Easier Than You Think Posted on June 15, 2015 Guest post written by Kristen Auerbach, Interim Director of Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Fairfax, Virginia.

Animal Farm Foundation
securing equal treatment and opportunity for "pit bull" dogs
Removing Breed Labels: Easier Than You Think
Posted on June 15, 2015
Guest post written by Kristen Auerbach, Interim Director of Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Fairfax, Virginia.
About a month ago, Fairfax County Animal Shelter removed all breed labels from our adoption kennels. There was much discussion and debate prior to us making this decision. Would the public be confused? Angry? Would community members protest?
We were committed to being honest with potential adopters. If the dog they were interested in might be visually identified as a breed that faces restriction, we would make them aware that breed specific laws or housing rules could affect them.
But was that enough? Would taking breed labels off our kennels prove too disruptive to serve our purpose?
To our surprise, no one even asked why the kennel cards weren’t labeled with breeds.
We also learned that no matter what the kennel card says, potential adopters, volunteers and staff will make guesses. And they’re usually going to disagree with each other about those guesses.

We did notice an increase in people asking us about the breed of a particular dog. This turned out to be a good thing. The question provides the perfect opening for a staff person or volunteer to talk about the inaccuracy of breed labeling and the importance of getting to know each dog as an individual with its own unique personality traits.
Now that we’ve removed the labels from the kennel cards, we’ll be working with our shelter software system to remove the breed labels from our ‘adoptable’ pets list so dogs will be described only with their names, ages and personality profiles.
Our journey to do away with breed labels began about a year ago, when we stopped referring to dogs as ‘pit bulls’ or ‘Staffordshire terriers’ on our social media platforms. Between 2013 and 2014, adoptions of dogs visually identified as ‘pit bulls’ quadrupled and we knew we were on to something big. We talked about the individual dog’s personality, quirks, sociability with other dogs and people, but we stopped talking about breed.
We did this because we know the term ‘pit bull’ does not describe any breed of dog. Rather, it’s a subjective label that means different things to different people and has no basis in science or genetics. In our mission to get our adopters to see the dog not the label, and in the interest of full disclosure, the most honest thing we could do when describing our dogs was to simply say, “We don’t know what the breed or breed mix is.”

Things got a little more complicated when we stopped labeling all dogs, because we would all stand in front of a dog, and a staff member would say, “That IS a purebred Dachshund” or Rottweiler or whatever they thought it was. But, we asserted, the vast majority of dogs in our shelter are of mixed breed heritage and unless we have indisputable proof a dog came from a breeder and has a documented pedigree, we don’t know for sure. And even then, how does a breed label, any breed label help a dog get a home?
People are going to make their own visual breed identification whether it’s written on a kennel card or not. It simply isn’t necessary nor is it honest for us to present our guesses of any breed as if they are fact.
At our shelter, we’re having a lot of success focusing on the dog, not the perceived breed. But each animal welfare organization has its own challenges and in some places, not labeling is impossible because of breed specific legislation or breed-based adoption restrictions. What then?
It’s up to us, as advocates, no matter what our particular situation, to start explaining to people that breed labels are subjective, not based in science and that when we, as animal welfare professionals guess, we guess wrong at least 50% and often 75% of the time. We should be telling people that the vast majority of dogs in our shelters are mutts or mixed breeds and that the way they look says nothing reliable about their behavior.

If you are at a shelter or rescue where putting an end to breed labeling is a possibility, consider trying the following and tracking the results. You may be surprised at the immediate changes in your adoption numbers.
1. Stop using breed labels in social media posts. In some cases, a breed label gives your followers a quick reason to say no and keep scrolling. Instead, for a week, just tell the story of each particular dog. People love stories and it helps them connect with dogs they otherwise might be drawn to.
2. Remove the breed labels from your kennel cards for one week and see what happens. Make sure to spread the word to volunteers and staff so you can be on the same page with potential adopters.
3. Ask your shelter software provider if they can remove breed labels from adoptable dogs online. We use a provider that is able to remove the public labels on adoptable dogs (even though they will not remove the breed labels entirely).
4. Role play with staff and volunteers about how to respond when a visitor says, “What breed is it?” Not sure what to say? The truth works: “We’re not sure! The vast majority of our dogs are of mixed-breed origin and when we guess we are often wrong.”
5. It’s human nature to put things into categories and most of us label dogs by breed, even if it’s for a purely functional reason, like asking someone to, “Go adopt that Maltese.” Challenge yourself and your colleagues to find non-breed descriptors for your dogs.
It takes a lot of practice to break the breed labeling habit, but you can do it!

For more information on breed identification please see the National Canine Research Council’s website and the Animal Farm Foundation infographic, All Dogs Are Individuals.
And for more on Fairfax County Animal Shelter’s progressive and effective adoption policies, please see No Restrictions, Just Success

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ring Dog Rescue Annual Report 2014

The annual report required by all municipal shelters and private rescue organizations is maintained and published for public view via the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

 In 2014, Ring Dog Rescue adopted 81 dogs. While our number may not be as large as others, and may be more than some, we are proud to have rescued, rehabilitated, and re-homed these 81 dogs in 2014.  Helping these wonderful canines along with our outreach and enrichment programs we are confident that we have made an impact on more than 350 canine lives in the Greater Richmond Area.
Thank you for your support!

Check out all the registered shelters and organizations here

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline

Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline
 Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM 

In response to a growing demand to assist the public with damage and conflicts caused by wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services Program and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have collaborated to develop the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline.  The Helpline is a toll-free service intended to provide a single source of consistent, expert technical assistance, education, and referrals to callers experiencing human-wildlife conflicts.  The Helpline is staffed by wildlife specialists who are able to help the caller identify wildlife damage and recommend solutions.   The Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline is available at 1-855-571-9003 and is staffed Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM, except for federal holidays.   Because the Helpline is not intended to be an emergency number, it is not monitored after hours, but callers are able to leave a voice mail which will be returned during the next business day.

If you would like any additional information about the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline, please contact Jennifer Cromwell via email or phone at the number provided below.

Jennifer Cromwell
Assistant State Director
USDA, APHIS, Wildlife Services
PO Box 130
Moseley, VA  23120
(804) 739-7739  office

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

McAuliffe signs shelter bill that PETA opposed

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed a bill that a lobbyist for PETA feared could shut down the group's Norfolk shelter.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, who said he was upset by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' high euthanasia rate. The bill tweaks a state law that defines private animal shelters, clarifying that their purpose is to find permanent adoptive homes for animals. A lobbyist for PETA emailed lawmakers asking them to oppose it.
The bill passed each chamber with little opposition.
PETA issued a statement Wednesday saying its Norfolk shelter "has always operated to find adoptive homes and will continue to do so as stated in Senate Bill 1381."
Stanley said he's hopeful PETA will take steps to reduce its high kill rate. If it doesn't, it could be considered noncompliant with the law and lose access to euthanasia drugs.
“Time is going to tell whether they change not only in attitude but in action," he said.

Dogs on the Inside at the Byrd Theatre April 18, 2015 1:30 PM Tickets $10.00 at the door

See the trailer for this film here
Proceeds to Benefit Gracie's Guardians and Ring Dog Rescue

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Year in Review and a Big Thank You!

Every once in a while you get those folks who challenge your integrity or question what you do.  As someone who has dedicated over a decade to helping animals, educating the public, and advocating, I find there is no better way than to share our numbers, experiences and goals.

2014 was a difficult year for many, while the country is still digging itself out from recession, many grants have been cut in the animal welfare field.  It is up to the individual organization to keep charging through, with help from their faithful followers, devoted volunteers, and donors.

In 2014 Ring Dog Rescue accomplished many many things, here are a few...

Popsicles for Pups a kennel enrichment program run and funded entirely by RDR and its volunteers, made and gave out frozen enrichment treats weekly at Richmond Animal Care and Control, Heritage Humane Society, and Powhatan Animal Control.  This program is being started at Chesterfield Animal Services in March of 2015.

Cats... Ring Dog Rescue doesn't have cats! No, we do not take in cats to our program, but we like all animals and species and do love the kitties.  In 2014 Ring Dog Rescue provided habitats for 5 feral colonies, and spayed, neutered, vaccinated, and ear-tipped 50 feral cats in the Greater Richmond Area.

Outreach is a big part of what we do!  While we would love for all our furry friends to live indoors be healthy, happy companions, we know that many folks just aren't having it.  While our purpose is to assist the community to become more healthy and humane, we have chosen to not judge folks for their not wanting the dog inside, but instead to forge relationships and provide services for the dog(s), all the while educating their owners and shaping a healthier community.  In 2014, RDR and its volunteers provided over 30 dog houses to those in need.  Gave out over 10,000 lbs. of kibble to owned animals.  Built over 10 new habitats, getting over 20 dogs off of chains.  And spayed, neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and heartworm tested over 150 owned pit bull type dogs in the Greater Richmond community.

Adoption is one of the core reasons Ring Dog Rescue came to fruition.  It is our intention to transfer in at risk pit bull type dogs and of course some Low Riders too, into our program.  Then get these animals medically sound, and behaviorally fit.  Then place them into the proper home.  While some dogs may stay in our program an extended period of time, others get healthy and adopted more quickly.  Each dog is given the tools needed for success. In 2014, Ring Dog Rescue transferred in 89 dogs and did 87 adoptions.  That is 89 dogs who may have been otherwise euthanized, as 90% of our intake were medically unfit for adoption through a jurisdictional shelter.

Fundraising is an important part of rescue, as we all know without funding you can't go very far.  It was mentioned earlier that many grants have dried up.  We would like to take this opportunity to Thank Maddie's Adoption Days for their generous grant of over $10,000 and The Virginia Federation of Humane Societies for their generous $1000 donation.  We would also like to share that in 2014 Ring Dog Rescue spent more than $90,000 dollars on medical care for animals both in our program and owned.  If you do the math that is a $79,000 plus difference, and we would personally like to Thank all of our fantastic volunteers who spent their time and effort to raise these additional funds and more.  We would also like to Thank all of the individual donors, those who bought a T-shirt or a piece of merchandise, or donated their time to just help.

In addition we would like to Thank all of the families who have opened their homes to foster the dogs in our program, without you we could not have helped the over 1000 (yes one thousand) pit bull type dogs we have rescued, rehabilitated, and re-homed in the last 10 years.

A super big Thank You is also needed for the support we receive from our medical providers.  Farmers Veterinary Hospital has been RDR's primary care veterinarian since the beginning in 2004, Thank You Dr. Teague and his staff for always being there for the dogs in our program.  Virginia Veterinary and Surgical Associates, have kept our dogs in top notch orthopedic health, performing all necessary surgeries, Thank You Dr. Barnes and staff.  Prevent-A-Litter, Barron's Surgery, and the Animal Resource Foundation, have all help us spay and neuter thousands of animals over the years and we Thank You for your commitment to reducing the pet population and working towards healthier communities at a reasonable low-cost rate, we applauded you for your dedication.  We are not trying to leave anyone out here, and we like to be sure that everyone knows how grateful we are, Thank You!!!

We hope that 2015 is an even better year!  We are getting off to a great start.  We will be setting up Popsicles for Pups at Chesterfield Animal Services, be donating Kuranda beds to Goochland Animal Control, continuing our Shelter Adopt! Program, The Dog House Project, and many more all while continuing to foster the many many loving dogs in our program.

Thank You and we hope you remember that rescue is more than just adoption, it is working towards a more humane community.