American Shelter Dog Initiative Gives Pet Adoption a New Name

PetMD Editorial
Published: July 17, 2017
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What's in a name? Well, when it comes to certain dog breeds, a whole heck of a lot.

Certain dog breeds and/or mixes such as Pit Bulls, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, and Rottweilers get a bad rap based on outdated stereotypes in which they are labeled "dangerous," making them more likely to wind up in shelters or "banned." 

That's exactly why the Portsmouth Humane Society (PHS) in Virginia has started the American Shelter Dog initiative, which would remove breed labels entirely. "Every year, it is estimated that 4 million dogs enter animal shelters across the United States," according to PHS. "In 2016, private and public shelters across Virginia took in 96,423 dogs. Of these dogs, approximately 11 percent were reported as euthanized to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Very few of these dogs arrive at the shelter with papers showing what their breed is." 

Because of this, shelters typically look at the characteristics of the dog and take their best guess at a breed or mix, PHS explained. When dogs are given a breed label, they are often misidentified but still bare the weight of that breed. While a DNA test would accurately be able to tell the variations of a breed, it is a costly and timely endeavor. 

Rather than applying a breed label, PHS will simply refer to these animals as an "American Shelter Dog." "Instead of characterizing dogs based on the breed that we guess they are, we will focus on their personality," PHS stated. "We would like people to realize that every dog is an individual and focus on each of their wonderfully imperfect personalities." 

Babs Zuhowski, executive director of PHS, told petMD that each American Shelter Dog description informs potential owners about the animal's age, sex, and primary colors, and also includes a personality summary—the latter of which has been a fun exercise for PHS staffers. For example, the biography they penned for a dog named Journey read: "I'm just a small town dog, and right now I'm living in a lonely world. If you choose me, I'll be faithfully yours. I like to play but I can also be chill; any way you want it, that's the way you need it! I won't stop believing you're the one for me. Come and meet me today!" 

While the American Shelter Dog initiative is a relatively new one, the sentiment behind the mission is growing in the United States. 

PHS lists its American Shelter Dogs on its Facebook page so potential adopters can learn about pets looking for new new forever homes. "The response has been positive overall," Zuhowski said of the movement. 

Even though the dogs may look like certain breeds people are familiar with, "American Shelter Dogs are individuals," Zuhowski emphasized. "Each one has a different personality.

"Ending discrimination of any kind is something we should all embrace," she added. "Bully breed dogs are certainly highly discriminated, but we want to demonstrate there is more to the ‘books than their covers.'" 

Image via Shutterstock 

Read more: 10 Common Myths About Animal Shelters Debunked