Using DNA analysis, researchers have shown that shelter workers frequently mislabel dogs as “pit bulls.” They say this is a serious problem given the social stigma surrounding the breed—which, technically speaking, doesn’t actually exist.
The new study, published in The Veterinary Journal, shows that animal shelter staff—and even some veterinarians—consistently misidentify dogs, particularly those classed as pit bull-type dogs. Much of this has to do with the fact that animal shelter staff are expected to guess the breed of dogs strictly based on physical appearance alone. And even when dogs are assessed at the same time, staff members often disagree on what breed it actually is.
“Unlike many other things people can’t quite define but ‘know when they see it,’ identification of dogs as pit bulls can trigger an array of negative consequences, from the loss of housing, to being seized by animal control, to the taking of the dog’s life,” said study lead author Julie Levy in a pressstatement. “In the high-stakes world of animal shelters, a dog’s life might depend on a potential adopter’s momentary glimpse and assumptions about its suitability as a pet. If the shelter staff has labeled the dog as a pit bull, its chances for adoption automatically go down in many shelters.”
There’s really no such thing as a purebred “pit bull,” which makes the findings of this study all the more problematic. The catch-all term “pit bull-type breeds” describes any dog derived from the heritage breedsAmerican Staffordshire terrier or Staffordshire bull terrier. The purebredAmerican pit bull terrier is also descended from these breeds, and is often included in the loose definition of “pit bull.”
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