How Can We Save More Pitbulls in NC’s Largest City?

An Examiner article looks at the recent case of 13 Pitbulls that were surrendered by the owner to Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C and immediately killed.  The author mentions the popularity of Pitbulls as pets in Charlotte and the lack of options for those rescued:

Sadly, many of the dogs that are rescued do not find their way into homes because most dog-owning homes in the area already have a Pit bull.

Wait, what?  While there certainly are myriad challenges facing rescued Pitbulls in the Charlotte area, to my knowledge, this isn’t one of them.  The main challenge comes from the county policy prohibiting the adoption of Pitbulls from Char-Meck AC & C.  Strays of any breed, including Pitbulls, must be held at the shelter for 3 days which makes it necessary to vaccinate all Pitbulls on intake, even though most will be killed.  Taxpayers spend about $12,000 a year on vaccinations for Pitbulls who end up in the wheelbarrow of the kill room at CMPD-ACC.  In addition, the shelter further devalues the breed in the public’s eyes through oops-killings followed by the promise of a thorough investigation, followed by tumbleweeds and coyote howls.

Then there is the issue of rescue:

A very small percentage of pit bulls are spared whenever there’s room for them with an approved rescue group, which can screen applicants more thoroughly.

But Rhonda Thomas, who runs Project Halo, said it’s not easy.

“I love the breed, but finding a good home for a pit bull has always been a challenge for us,” she said.

That’s the nature of rescue – handling the challenge of finding the right home for your pets, regardless of breed.

She said many people who want to adopt pit bulls aren’t the type who should adopt them.

Oh.  Uh-oh.  My Potential Pisser Ahead light is flashing.

“In the 12 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve placed two.”

Aw, crud.  So I guess the right “type” of Pitbull adopter only comes along once every 6 years or so.  Or maybe it’s just that every dog owner in Charlotte already has a Pitbull.  I can’t keep track.

At any rate, even if advocates convinced the county to change its policy on banning Pitbull adoptions from the shelter, many of the dogs would end up in the wheelbarrow anyway since Char-Meck kills more pets than it saves.  And though I hope the rescue rep quoted above is not typical, I think it is generally true that we need more education and outreach to help “iffy” adopters cross over into “good” adopters.  And as always, less judgment, more understanding.  Most pet owners want to do right by their pets and even if they do things differently than you or I, are still deserving of adopting a pet.  Rescues and shelters who maintain ridiculously high standards simply drive adopters to other sources for pets and sour the possibility of future adoptions.

Since we know the status quo is a fail, let’s think in terms of change.  What changes would have the greatest positive impact on Pitbulls in the Charlotte area?

24 thoughts on “How Can We Save More Pitbulls in NC’s Largest City?

  1. See our page on Facebook: Fix Charlotte
    We have met with shelter management and we are working to try to make changes. We have to give them the opportunity to “Make Things Right” before we take the fight to a higher level and involve City Council.
    If you live in Mecklenburg County and would like to help in this endeavor, please email

    1. I got the chance to check out and “like” your FB page. I found quite a bit of information about the shelter and area and wanted to thank you for pointing us to the page. Very informative.

  2. THANK YOU for this post!

    I would like to hear how Rhonda Thomas is qualified to judge people and the type of dog owners they will be.
    And why is it that we need to strive for the ‘perfect’ adopter or home? Why isn’t ‘good’ good enough? or hell- ‘adequate’ is just fine- especially when the alternative is euthanasia

    1. Words such as “adequate”, “average” and “sufficient” have been given a negative connotation by marketing experts and it’s unfortunate IMO. We have been brainwashed into believing only “superior” is – well, adequate.

    2. Because, ultimately, if things go really wrong it’s her rescue that will end up being known as the animal home that rehomed so irresponsibly that a child was nearly killed.

      Wood Green, the shelter responsible for rehoming the dog in the news item that link goes to is a good, careful rescue that does home-check and temperament test to the best of their ability, but whoever did the check for that dog’s adoption and passed the people as responsible enough not to need a fenced yard must still be feeling dreadful about that little boy.

      1. My perspective is admittedly somewhat skewed so perhaps not relevant but honestly, when I hear of an owner’s irresponsible behavior resulting in a serious dog bite injury, I NEVER think to myself – Who gave that person the dog in the first place? I always think about the owner’s actions (or inactions) and the circumstances that lead to the injury. I would no sooner think about laying blame at the feet of the rescue than I would lay blame on the flea market seller or box o’ free puppies guy at the Walmart.

      2. Me too! I never go back to where they got the dog from…I ALWAYS look at the owner and what they did, or didn’t do. While I believe that some people don’t understand pit bulls and that placing one with them COULD potentially cause problems…it goes back to education. Are the rescues and/or shelters providing education for people who want to adopt pit bulls? Do they offer training classes for pit bull owners & their dogs?

        Our local shelter use to refuse to adopt out pit bull types dogs due to BSL. Lately I have noticed a change in their attitudes and they are now adopting them out (granted they have most of them listed as mixed breed) BUT they also have programs in place for those who adopt pits from them – puppy behavior classes, etc. Over half of the pits that entered the shelter last year were killed – the rest were returned to owners or adopted (3395 entered and 2800 were killed).

      3. @Rosemary
        i’m sure that employee does feel bad about the situation- but how do they know that this dog wouldn’t have acted aggressively in any type of home environment. A fence may have prevented a physical encounter (maybe), but it would have stopped the behavior that caused the dog to attack children (twice) in teh first place
        Again- maybe it wasn’t the home they chose to place a dog in, but the dog they chose to rehome. Maybe with a different dog this family would’ve been perfect owners
        We just never know- and that’s why it’s so important to realize that no screening process is perfect

      4. Something that needs to be mentioned in regards to pit bulls. I have spent the last 15 yrs of my life rescuing pits – mainly from fight operations. Something that I have found it that these dogs have NEVER been socialized properly. I would say probably 95% of the dogs I get have to learn to be socialized properly…and that includes with kids. To a dog a kid is like a litter mate – same size and all – and when a pit “goes after” a child many times the child will scream and run. To an unsocialized pit this is like “play-time” or “training” for the fights. As such the dog will go off after the child and “attack” it. Many times this is of no fault of the dog – but rather the lack of proper training and socialization from when they were pups. I have seen it myself and know to watch for it. I work with socialization of every dog I take in just to prevent situations like this. AND that is something that rescues and shelters need to think about before rehoming pits, especially those from fight operations. Regardless of what home the dog(s) goes to – when it comes to pits we’re talking about inadequate breeders who believe that the pup can be removed from the mom & litter mates at 5-6 weeks of age and they miss out on the chance to learn proper behavior from their mom. It gets left up to their human “mom” to teach them and as many people don’t understand this it leads to problems in the future.

        Anyone who rehomes pits needs to promote behavior training with each dog(s) that goes to a home – even if the dog appears to be the best dog in the world. This does double duty – as it teaches the person how to understand and work with the dog, and it reinforces to the dog that the person is the alpha and in charge – and can be a brush up on any training that they had in the past (if any). This would prevent SO many problems that we find with these dogs.

        AND – owners need to take greater care when it comes to pits. We already have a nation full of people that are afraid of pits – or just flat out hate them – due to the media sensationalizing pit attacks, even if they mislabel the breed. Pit owners need to stay on their toes – fenced in yards (sometimes that means 6′ privacy fencing because these dogs are great climbers) and posting signs that there is a dog on the premises. Do not use “Beware” or “Guard dog” signs as these can harm you IF your dog does harm someone – stick to just the basic “Dog on Premises” signs. Plus a nice lock on the gate will keep wandering kids from entering your yard uninvited.

  3. Your are right it is not just the shelters that are failing to do all they can for their animals, but many rescue groups too — by not giving enough people a chance to adopt, not advertising their adoptable pets enough, not using the media enough to grow their numbers to be able to help more animals in need.

    We ALL need to be open to improvement in order to stop the killing. Thank you for being part of the learning process so we can see where improvement is need and master mind together to find better solutions.

    1. @Joni Solis

      Your post gave me a wake-up call on areas our rescue needs to improve on and I thank you for posting.

      The biggest failing of rescue groups I see in our area is the constant cut throat tactics of some rescuers against other rescuers. Thankfully most rescuers try to work well with other rescuers, but there is a small minority who like to make untrue accusations and attempt to start drama. If I use Frontline and you use Advantage, who cares? The people I am thinking of who try to stir up trouble among rescues do not take time to try to educate themselves so won’t be reading this blog.

  4. Wonderful article with examples of how everyday terms effect perception:

    I was once told that shelters need to let adults make adult decisions. Most of us who own dogs don’t qualify as “perfect homes” yet we love our animals and they love us anyway. Does everyone have a 6 foot fence? Daily walks? Yearly teeth cleaning? Dog not an ounce overweight? Never ever yell at them? (even when you actually catch them inside the garbage can)… No, no one is “perfect” yet we all manage to give our dogs good homes. Shouldn’t shelters and rescues allow “mediocre” homes to do the same? It isnt about breed, it is about an old school mindset that needs to be reprogrammed. Just like there are shelters who won’t do discount adoption days because they think the adopters won’t value their pets as much as when they pay full price. Absurd, I know, but again it’s that old school mentality.
    The more pit-bull type dog owners that get their well behaved dogs out in public, the more the image will change. The public reading about it isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. It’s seeing 80 pounds of vicious muscle rolling in the grass on his back as his tongue tries to lick everything that passes by that makes an impression.
    What it all boils down to is community involvement. Shelters won’t change and public views won’t change without community involvement. I read an article about a group of girls who walk adoptable pits around town for a shelter, I think in LA. Pretties with Pitties. How adorable is that? Defenitly puts a different light on the dogs they are walking.

  5. I sent a dog to a potential home on a weekend trial last Friday. The adopter has a chain(!) with a shed and dog house outside, and a dog bed (which he showed me a couple weeks ago to be sure it was large enough) inside next to his chair. Chain? Outside? OMG. However, I have been to this home; Friday was the first day this man did not weep when talking about his former dog even as I put the former dog’s collar sans plate on Dino. Dino, who has been visited and walked by this adopter for several weeks, didn’t look back; he didn’t want a final cuddle – he wanted in the truck to go home. I so hope he is home – though in a situation perhaps a bit different than “normal” shelters would do. I will hear today. Rock on, Biscuit.

    1. I have always been a supporter of responsible tethering. It gets more dogs in homes. Of course an owner can do it wrong and harm the dog. Just as an owner of an inside dog can neglect and/or mistreat the pet. There are no guarantees in life but if we operate on the assumption that MOST owners try to do right by their pets, weeding out the bad seeds becomes a lot less daunting.

      P.S. – Let us know about Dino!

  6. (Slightly off topic but I’ll share anyway, in case someone else can learn from my research.)

    In the summer of 2009, the shelter vet here asked me to write a white paper advocating pit bull adoption so she could work around some issues with the city attorney’s office. Silly me. I thought she was serious in some ways. In other ways, I knew she was yanking my chain. I wrote it so it is not area specific. If you can get any use out of it, either in Charlotte or elsewhere, help yourself. It is not being used here.

    1. Brie – thank you for that link. I know a lot of places where this can do good. I will be passing it along for others to use as well!

  7. My local pound doesn’t discriminate against pits or pit mixes and adopts them out like any other dog.
    That’s the first change I’d recommend at Charlotte-Meckenburg. Fine if they want to do a criminal background check on adopters (for all pets) and/or a home check at 30 days, 60 days and 120 days to see how things are going. And offer support as needed. And take any animal back unconditionally if the adoption doesn’t work out–without labeling them an “owner surrender” and fast-tracking them to the kill list.

    How about some pit-positive posters and info in the adoption area and participation in local events that showcase pits and focus on education about the breed (see for an example of such an event). Or sponsoring sporting events like a weight-pull or pit agility competition.

    Wouldn’t hurt to partner with area trainers to offer low-cost obedience classes for big, stubborn, smart dogs and big, stubborn, shy dogs who want to pull you all the way home. Just don’t offer classes for aggressive dogs who pull because they’ll fill up with yorkies.

  8. Another Examiner article about the pit bulls of Charlotte states the Humane Society of Charlotte has partnered with the American Pit Bull Foundation, SPCA Alliance, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Animal Care and Control on Operation Pit Stop, “Target(ing) the overpopulation problem in the Queen City; 100 Pit Bulls at a time.” Humane Society of Charlotte is “helping to raise the support and funding to cover 100 surgeries and 100 microchips at no cost to the owners” of Charlotte area pit bull owners.” As partner CMPD AC&C states “there is currently a wait period of up to 7 months” for their no charge S/N surgeries one might logically ask if that list was checked for pit bull owners to contact regarding Operation Pit Stop.

  9. We used to have all sorts of hoops adopters had to jump through- dog to dog introductions, proof of landlord approval, if they were over the city limit they were denied, etc etc.
    Now the only reason we really deny for is Gift Adoptions (and even then we attempt to make it successful) (or crazy/drunk/high people). When we stopped denying adoptions, our return rate did not increase even one percentage point. But we did start adopting more animals
    For our pitties, we expect them to be ambassadors for the breed, and ask our adopters to be the same. All of our pitties get a free 8wk training course so we can make sure that they are getting (appropriate) training, and that the adopters have access to this resource with their new, energetic companion

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