Let’s get a few things out of the way. I love Pitbulls. Absolutely adore them. They are the goofiest, most lovey dovey breed of dogs I’ve come across. I have fostered a few pit puppies and a few adult pits as well. One in particular, Hook, may be the best dog ever created. He was loving to all people and dogs, loved to bounce around and play but would immediately fall asleep on your lap when he saw it was time to relax, and was sweet and gentle. He made my entire family fall in love with him and his breed. Essentially, I have a bit of bias towards the breed, but I hope this doesn’t cloud the point I am making in this article.
It is a surprisingly common practice for rescue organizations to list Pitbulls as Labradors or Labrador mixes. This is obviously not common in rescues that are Pitbull specific, but in those that take in all types of dogs, it is fairly commonplace. What are the reasons for this, and is this an acceptable practice?
First off, what is a Pitbull?
Pitbull is a term used to describe many different breeds of dog with similar physical characteristics, usually the American Pit bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier.
Can we really know?
First off, it must be stated that for a majority of cases, rescue organizations will not have a great deal of information about the animal’s past, and it is therefore often difficult to determine what breeds are present in a dog. Their determination for breed is often a “best guess” based on the animal’s appearance and temperament. Multiple people withing a rescue will often guess differently, and at times it is very hard to determine. Therefore, at times they deserve the benefit of the doubt. However, Pitbulls that can be easily identified as such are often mislabeled, as seen in the example below.
The features of this dog are certainly not that of a Chocolate Lab. With mixed breeds, again, it is difficult to identify the lineage, but in certain scenarios, like the one above, I think it is pretty clear.
Why does this happen?
Pitbulls have acquired a stigma in recent decades and the general public is thus largely misinformed about these animals. Inexperienced prospective dog owners will often hear the word “Pitbull” and shy away from a dog simply as they perceive these dogs to be dangerous, because they have heard they are dangerous. The fact of the matter is, when a dog is listed as a breed other than a Pitbull, they are often adopted faster. Faster adoptions = more dogs rescued = more lives saved. The motivation is clear.
Is this acceptable?
As a Pitbull advocate, it is very hard to decide whether or not this is an acceptable practice. Experienced dog owners or at least people who are familiar with most dog breeds will usually be able to identify a Pitbull even if it is mislabeled (I know this is a controversial viewpoint as identifying mixed dog breed by physical characteristics is not recommended, but I also know there are times when there isn’t a shadow of a doubt.). Seemingly, minimal harm is done in this scenario as they will not be mislead. Therefore, we must look at the impact upon people who are less familiar with dog breeds and ownership to determine the impact.
People adopt dogs based on their physical appearance and personality. If a potential adopter meets a Pitbull at a rescue event, and finds the dog to be cute and have a temperament that matches what this individual wants, then is harm done by non knowing the breed? It seems that it would not, as the new owner has found a dog that matches the characteristics that they desired. Thousands of people adopt dogs where they do not know the breed every year (Otherwise Dog DNA tests would not be so popular). Furthermore, since the general public often has a negative perception of Pitbulls even though so many of them are awesome and often match what people want in a dog, aren’t we helping them by misinforming them?
I think it does a great service to both the dogs themselves and the lucky people that adopt them to mislabel the animal. I really do. I think more dogs have been saved by this practice than have been harmed, and I think people often end up with animals that are PERFECT for them in the process. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met while walking my dog that have happily introduced me to their sweet and adorable “lab mix” that is clearly a Pitbull of some kind. However, I also think that the entire practice makes me incredibly uncomfortable. It sucks that there is a stigma with these dogs, but it is difficult to advocate misleading people even if the result is positive. Furthermore, in areas where there is BSL (Breed Specific Legislation) it can be absolutely irresponsible to adopt a Pitbull out without the owner’s knowledge, as they may unknowingly break the law (no matter how terrible the law may be). Essentially, I would not be able to mislead someone about a dog’s breed, but I certainly understand why some do.
Brad Novak – Why Pitbulls are Often Listed as Labs