The Cat Situation

i Oct 6th 5 Comments by

When it comes to marketing at the ARL, we have a few mottos:

  • #1 is “Do Not Engage”
  • #2 is “Be Honest”
  • #3 is “Be Transparent”

The motto has served this Marketing Director well in my 2+ years with the ARL. A very large part of my job of issuing a formal response to complaints, accusations, and naysayers. So, I say what needs to be said in any given situation on behalf of the ARL and then I walk away.  Often times our “fans” come to our defense, but at the very least, our stance is noted for all of the internet and history forevermore.

GeorgieAnywhoo.  A very unfortunate situation occurred early last week involving two cats left in our stray building on Sunday morning with no identification or note.  One of the cats was friendly and easy to handle, the other was striking out at staff from behind its cage door.  As we try to do with every cat, both were held for 24 hours.  The friendly cat continued to be friendly and the aggressive cat continued to be aggressive.  As we had no information about the cat, didn’t know it was bonded to the other cat, didn’t know it had come from a home, the latter of the two was euthanized on Monday morning due to its behavior.

On Monday afternoon the owner and his daughter came to the ARL looking for his “lost” cats with no mention that he’d left them in the stray building the day before.  He was reunited with the friendly cat, but we couldn’t locate the second cat as they hadn’t told us the cats they were looking for were the ones left in the stray building.

Late Wednesday evening, the daughter of the owner posted on our facebook page that they had lied to our staff, but were desperate to find their other cat.  Here is an excerpt from the post (which has since been deleted to protect the identity of the family involved):

“Stupidly we lied and said his cats were lost. We looked around the facility only to find one of our cats. So now we are just beside ourselves with guilt. We just don’t understand where [cat] is. Please, please, please find it in your hearts to forgive us for our lie and give us some answers…We’re sorry for being untruthful. Please help us.”

Upon arriving at the office on Thursday morning, we looked into the situation immediately and then had to deliver the tragic news to the owner.

When we spoke with the daughter on the phone we mentioned that her father should have followed the 20151001_140342clearly posted signs to surrender an owned animal during normal business hours; however, it was not an appropriate time to issue a lecture, place blame, or make her feel guilty so we quickly moved on, apologized profusely for the awful mistake and offered to privately cremate the cat and return the ashes to the owner at no charge.  A small, practically negative, consolation, but the only thing we could offer.

Shortly after the phone conversation, the owner’s daughter chose to post to a local Facebook page “Berks County and Beyond Cat Search.”  Here is an excerpt from the post (that has since been deleted):

“RIP (cat name), I hope you left some lasting scars on the people that put you down. To only give a cat 24 hrs. to adjust is ridiculous. Keep her separated, sedate her, something, anything except death. You put my cat to death for being scared. If you would have just given us a few more hours our cat would not be dead now.”

So we did what we always do and issued a formal response from the ARL page. It was deleted.  We posted it again.  The post was deleted and this time the ARL was blocked from said page. I finally opted to post from my personal FB page WITH a disclaimer of who I was and why I was posting as myself and not as the ARL because I was not going to lose an opportunity to convey the importance of telling the truth when surrendering an animal. Here is our response (that has since been deleted from the page):

“(*I am the  Director of Marketing for the Animal Rescue League of Berks County and am commenting under my personal account because the moderator of this page has blocked our shelter from issuing a formal response to this issue, the following is the response issued earlier, but deleted. I imagine it will be again, but if one person reads it, then that’s better than nothing!) In case anyone is interested in the other side of the story….this situation is an extreme case of unfortunate events. Unfortunately, our posted signs (pictured below) asking that owned animals be surrendered at our front desk during normal business hours were ignored. Unfortunately, the cats had no microchip or collar to indicate that they were owned. Unfortunately, no note was left with these animals letting us know that they were a pair and had lived in a home. Unfortunately, one of the cats showed intense signs of aggression by striking out at staff from its cage and did not change its behavior in the 24 hours we were able to give it due to NO SPACE. Does that time line suck? Yep. Was it probably acting out due to being terrified at being dropped in a strange place after living it’s whole life in a loving home? Absolutely. Did we have ANY idea that was the case? Nope. Does the fact that we take in 500 cats a MONTH, but can only hold 100 at a time suck? You bet. Do you want to help, or do you want to hate? If you want to help come spend a day here. TELL US where we’re supposed to put these cats. Call other rescues and have your heart broken every time they tell you they are full and can’t help. Beg people to foster, only to have your requests fall on deaf ears. Be forced to make the life or death decisions that our staff has to make every day because someone else failed these animals. The bottom line in THIS situation is that if these cats would have been surrendered properly we would have known that the cat had been owned and we would’ve had a first-hand testimonial to the personality of the cats, and this situation might have ended differently, but unfortunately, the owner chose to lie and not give his cat the chance it needed for another life. When we spoke with [owner’s daughter] this morning, we offered profuse apologies and condolences and offered to do the only thing we could do for her. The ARL has NEVER hidden the fact that we are an Open Admission shelter. We believe in honesty and transparency which is exactly why we immediately investigated [owner’s daughter’s] request upon hearing about it and had an answer for her within a half hour of speaking with her. This situation SUCKS and we wish it wouldn’t have happened, but it did, and NOW is the time to remember the importance of being truthful, of trying EVERY SINGLE avenue you possibly can before turning your animals in to a shelter, and being absolutely sure you are ready to surrender your pets before leaving them alone in a stray building. YOU can help solve problems like this by volunteering. Learn more at

The comments flew all day Friday and until the thread was completely deleted over the weekend. Here are some excerpts from the more spectacular comments:

  • “You come up with false accusations on a cat or kitten behavior. “
  • “You have over 10 acres of land. With all your fundraising use that to expand.”
  • “I would never recommend ARL to anyone.”
  • “Yes I blocked ARL because it is nothing but lies and always trying to sugar coat or place the blame on everyone else just as you are doing. How do you even sleep at night.”
  • “Stop misleading society”
  • “Excuse me while I go vomit on that note”
  • “You’re not going to like my next step and what I know to go public”
  • “I can’t stress enough how i hate the ARL”
  • And my personal favorite: “A director is just a title, one you surely don’t deserve”

In addition to these love notes, there were moments of constructive discussion and some great questions were posed and since education is a HUGE part of the ARL’s mission, we wanted to jump on the opportunity to provide the public with an honest and transparent look at “The Cat Situation.”

What is an “Open Admission/Open Door” shelter? What is a “No-Kill” shelter/rescue? The ARL is an Open Admission shelter which means we accept any domestic animal surrendered by an owner, or left in our stray building. Because we have space limitations, we cannot guarantee adoption.  We work with a network of foster families and other rescues to assist with overpopulation, but animals are euthanized if we don’t have enough space/money to care for them.

A “no-kill” shelter is a loose term that refers to a shelter or rescue that limits intake and therefore doesn’t euthanize for space.  Most no-kill shelters aim for a 90% “live release rate” which means that up to 10% of their animals ARE euthanized, often due to medical or behavioral issues.  Some rescues are truly no-kill and will not euthanize an animal regardless of adoptability which means an animal may live at that rescue for the rest of its life.  These organizations are sometimes referred to as “sanctuaries.”

I don’t want the cat I surrender to be euthanized.  What options do I have? As the ARL is Open Admission, we cannot guarantee adoption.  Regardless of health or adoptability, if we don’t have space, open foster homes, or a willing rescue, the cats will be euthanized BUT we do make every attempt at keeping healthy and happy cats on site for adoption even if it means turning every square inch of spare space in our building into cat holding areas.  We will absolutely talk to you about these possibilities IF you come in the shelter to surrender owned/stray cats during normal business hours.  If you leave them in the stray building after hours, there is no staff here and we are unable to talk to you about our current limitations.

It should also be noted that once you sign a cat over, OR leave it in the stray building, the animal becomes the property of the Animal Rescue League of Berks County and you have relinquished all rights to the animal and its future will be determined by ARL staff. Again, there is NO minimum amount of time required by the state of Pennsylvania to hold cats.

Should you decide to try and find an alternative placement for the cat in your possession, the very first thing you should do is try to rehome the cat with friends or family.  If you are unable to find a trusted family for the cat, please try calling/taking the animal to:

How many cats does the ARL take in? How do dogs measure up? We’re going to narrow this down and talk specifically about dogs and cats in June, July, and August 2015.  “Kitten Season” or the months from May – October are when things get tough around here and the traditional summer months are when we’re really in the thick of it of the overpopulation problem. (*the below numbers don’t add up to 100% because we’re simply looking at what came in and what went out, not the status of the animals that came in as they could still be in our care today.)

  • June 1 – August 31, the ARL saw a total intake of 1341 cats/kittens (an average of 447/month or 15/day)
  • June 1 – August 31, the ARL saw a total intake of 531 dogs/puppies (an average of 177/month or 6/day)

We’re asked all the time questions along the lines of “Why are dogs treated differently than cats?” Well, because cats are quite literally a different animal.  We are able to house about 100 cats and 70 dogs at any given time.  Owners come forward for their dogs more frequently than they do for their cats (158 owners came forward to claim their dogs, while only 15 onwers came for their cats) and dogs are more often microchipped/licensed/tagged which allows us to locate an owner.  While cat rescues are often full during the summer months, dog rescues are more often able to help by pulling a dog or two of ours into their care.

What happens when a cat is brought to the ARL? In the state of Pennsylvania, there are Dog Laws that require us to hold a dog for 48 hours before assuming ownership.  There is no such law for cats.  In fact, there are NO LAWS for cats at all.  So, once a cat is left in our stray building, or signed over by an owner, the cat immediately becomes our property.

  • During the “busy season” – we try very hard to hold every cat for 24 hours. But do the math on that.  100 cages are available, an average of 15 cats come in every day.  How quickly do we run out of room? In a blink. In late fall/winter/early Spring, space is more abundant and we can offer more cats more time.
  • If the cat is left in our stray building with no identifying information, it is assessed immediately to determine if it is feral. If it is feral, we reach out to our TNR partners to find out if they know in which colony the cat lives.  If they do, the cat is returned to the caretaker.  If they don’t, the feral cat is euthanized as it cannot be adopted from the ARL.
  • If the cat is surrendered by an owner at the front desk (as is the requested protocol) we ask loads of
    questions to determine how adoptable the cat is. A cat-room employee will come and talk to the owner personally and be honest about what the chances are for the cat (these policies are also clearly posted on our website).  Things that reduce the chance of a cat getting adopted are: if it’s not litter trained, if it stops eating/drinking, if it cannot be handled/is aggressive.
  • All cats are tested for feline leukemia and FIV prior to being placed up for adoption.
  • Cats showing signs of upper respiratory infection are placed into quarantine. Unfortunately, we do not employ a veterinarian and this issue, along with fleas/parasites, are the only ones we are equipped to deal with on an on-going basis.  Exceptions to every rule exist! We have treated cats that have been through house fires, been hit by cars, been kicked by horses and many other circumstances.  Our ability to treat these more major ailments depends strictly on the amount of money in the coffer at any given time.  More money + more foster homes = more cats saved.

The bottom line is that we don’t have the space to keep them all and so our animal-loving staff is forced to make decisions about which cats are most likely to be adopted, and those are the ones that make it to the adoption floor.

Why doesn’t the ARL hold cats longer to give them more of a chance at finding their owner? We think it’s pretty obvious by now, but just in case…space. There isn’t enough space to hold every cat that comes to the shelter.

Additionally, cat people know that cats are finicky.  They don’t travel well, and they often don’t adjust to change well.  Bringing a cat to the shelter is often traumatic and terrifying and only a percentage of the cats handle that transition well enough to be adoptable.  Think about it….if you came to the ARL looking for a cat, how likely would you be to take one home that was lashing out from behind its door, or didn’t use its litterbox, or wouldn’t engage with humans?  Now how likely would you be to adopt a cat that is friendly, cuddly, and interactive?

Why doesn’t the ARL take photos of every cat and work harder to find their owner? Our protocol for reuniting lost cats is the same as for lost dogs.  The first thing we do is look to see if the animal is wearing a collar or tag.  If not, the animal is scanned for a microchip.  We also check each animal against the lost reports filed by owners who are missing a pet.  If there is CHANCE that the animal is the same, the owner is contacted.

So why don’t we take and post photos of every animal that comes into our care?  For several reasons:

  • The time for this project would require another staff member, or a full-time volunteer. At this time, we have neither.
  • What happens if your neighbor happens to be looking to adopt a Siamese cat, and we happen to post a found Siamese cat, and said neighbor walks in and says he is missing a Siamese cat and provides a description he was able to obtain because he saw the picture on Facebook and we give him the cat? The cat isn’t his.

What does the ARL do to improve the live release rate of cats?                

  • We try to lower our intake in the first place. This involves a mixed bag of education…
    • Teaching the community about TNR in partnership with Fairchild Foundation and No Nonsense Neutering. Feral cats are not adoptable at the ARL because they aren’t able to be handled, have never been socialized, and aren’t friendly.  These are not housecats; but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for them.  TNR is the answer to the feral cat problem.  Period
    • We direct owners to surrender their cats during normal business hours. This allows us to get tons of information about the animal AND to tell the owners that surrendering an animal at an Open Admission shelter means it may be euthanized.  Sometimes, this discussion is enough to convince the owners to hang on a little longer and see if they can find a home for their cats on their own.
    • We preach/beg/pray that owners will identify their cats! Microchips are a VERY inexpensive way to ensure that if your cat shows up at the shelter, it will be returned.
  • We work with rescues. In the past few months One By One, Lost Paws of Lancaster, CatWorks and Kitty Cottage have been able to lend a hand by pulling cats from us.
  • We have a foster program. Our ARL Angels foster program has recently been overhauled from a mainly senior dog program to a dogs and cats of all ages program.  We can always, always, always use more foster families.  Fostering helps save multiple lives: the ones you foster and the ones you freed up kennel space for.
  • We offer adoption promotions. We shine a light on our kitty friends by offering promotions throughout the year to give them an extra chance at finding a home. Meowy Hour, Dollar Day, Pay What they Weigh and Cinco de Cato are just a few.
  • We make space. If you came to the ARL this summer you noticed that our lobby had turned into

    Our Education Room doubles as a cat holding area in the summer months when we are out of room upstairs, but need space for adoptable cats

    a makeshift adoption floor. What you didn’t see is that our Education Room has also turned into a makeshift cat room.  Adding cages to these two spaces allowed us to house an extra 50 cats at a time.

  • We have our finger on the pulse of national trends. We follow ASPCA Pro and HSUS to find out what other shelters are doing to improve their live release rate, and then we try their ideas.  Our staff attends educational seminars and is constantly learning ways to improve our processes.

Why don’t you just expand so that you can house more cats?

When the ARL opened in 1952 a total of 30 animals could be housed.  Today, we have room for 70 dogs, 100 cats, 20 critters, 6 barn animals and a few dozen farm fowl, so we HAVE expanded.  Our latest expansion occurred about seven years ago when we undertook a massive year-long capital campaign to raise over one million dollars to make it happen.  Would we love bigger, newer facilities?  You bet we would! Can we afford them? Not a chance.  A bigger building not only requires a ton of money to build, but additional funds would be needed for more staff/benefits, electric, water, insurance, phone lines….the list goes on and on.

But, let’s just say for argument’s sake that we added capacity for 100 more cats, giving us a total capacity of 200 cats.  Over the past 12 months, we adopted out an average of 67 cats/month and our adoptables averaged a 28 day stay in the shelter before being adopted. Unlike some open admission shelters, we do NOT have “expiration date” or a “death row” where our adoptables are given a time frame in which to be adopted.  As long as they stay behaviorally sound, they stay adoptable.

Assuming an average intake of  15 cats/day, it will take 13 days to fill 200 cages. Those 200 cats will take just shy of three months to get adopted if we use our average of 67 adoptions/month.  So here we are again with a space issue.  And not only a space issue, but also an adoption issue.  Where will all of these adopters come from?  A potential adopter can choose to adopt from any number of local shelters and rescue groups, or simply take a ride out to the country and find a farm with a “Free Kittens” sign.  There are, of course, also pet stores and litters of kittens that are found outside by friends and family. There are cats available on Craigslist and even on Facebook!

free-kittensThe care for an adoptable animal costs the ARL an average of $250 (including vaccinations, spay/neuter, microchip, veterinary care and overhead for care) and our adoption fee is $95 (but that is often lowered to $25, $10 or $0 for special promotions). You can see that our financial resources for caring for cats is also extremely limited and when combined with the fact that we also have to provide care for dogs, critters and farm animals, you can see that the generous donations we receive are spent quite quickly.

What about grant money to pay for an expansion?

So, it takes about $1.4 million dollars to run the ARL each year.  These expenses include the obvious: veterinary care and pet food to the more mundane; heating oil and copy paper.  We are a non-profit, so our goal is to cover the bills.  Anything left over goes back into veterinary care or building improvements.  Here’s where the money comes from (January 1, 2015 through September 31, 2015)

  • 61% from individual donations
  • 1% from grants
  • 12% from municipal contracts
  • 6% from adoption fees
  • 7% from events
  • 13% from miscellaneous other sources like public surgery fees, license sales, and memberships

The thing about grants is they aren’t a given.  Just because we want them, doesn’t mean we get them.  Grants are typically offered for a specific project or cause and can be for small amounts of money (under $1000) to larger amounts ($20,000).

We received a specific question regarding the PETCO Foundation grant we received in 2014 – it was a big one! We used that money combined with individual donations (a total of about $20,000) to rehabilitate our cat adoption room.  The room was in desperate need of resealing as the walls were cracking and prohibiting us from properly sanitizing the area.  So the entire room from floor to ceiling was coated in a heavy-duty, 20-year enamel substrate.  New climbing structures were also built in the cat colonies to provide additional enrichment for our feline residents.  It doesn’t sound like much for the money, does it?  It wasn’t a romantic project by any means, but it was vital to the health of our cats.  Since the project was completed, there has been NO outbreak of disease in our cat population.

It should be noted that the ARL is constantly working on cutting costs, from the little things, like using less paper to major projects like converting to gas from fuel oil (a pipe dream at the moment, but you never know!).

What plans does the ARL have for dealing with “The Cat Situation”?

  • Education is number one. Since the majority of cats we receive at the ARL are ferals, we focus on that aspect of education.  Here are a few of the ways we educate the public about cat overpopulation in general  and ferals specifically:
    • We always and consistently refer people who come to us or call with a feral cat issue to No Nonsense Neutering and Fairchild Foundation.
    • Check out story #29 of our podcast series.
    • We also support NNN as they present TNR solutions to local municipalities, most recently West Reading Borough.
    • We are participating in a multi-part educational project with Body Zone this month and one of the lectures will feature Dr. Fry from Fairchild Foundation speaking about ferals.
    • We’ve even spoken to children’s groups about feral cat colonies and how they should treat cats that they find outside!
    • There is a page on our website devoted to feral cats.
    • There is a page on our website devoted to resources for owners who have to make the decision to surrender their cats
    • NNN contributes an article to our bi-annual newsletter
    • Both NNN and Fairchild are always invited to events that we host and welcome to distribute their literature.
    • Flyers hang in our lobby for both organizations.
    • There are large laminated signs in our stray building instructing people who have trapped or found cats that, if they are ear tipped, they need to return them to where they found them or at the very least tell us exactly where they found it so we can try and located the colony
  • As of January, the ARL will once again be holding low cost spay/neuter clinics for cats. Keep an eye on our events page to find out how you can participate
  • We will continue to work with TNR partners in educating municipalities to adopt official TNR policies
  • We will continue to educate the public about the responsibilities of owning a pet; including the importance of microchipping so that lost cats can be reunited with their owners
  • We will be posting bigger, better, bolder signage in and around our stray building to let people know of our policies BEFORE they make the decision to leave an animal.

Does the ARL make mistakes?

You bet we do.  This is an organization run by people and to err is human.  We learn from our mistakes and continually strive to do better, to be better, and to offer better. We maintain our promise to be transparent and honest and we respond to complaints, we take customer service issues seriously, and we make changes to reflect the concerns of the community.

The “Cat Situation” is a problem nationwide, and it’s one that won’t be solved overnight, but give credit to the changes that have been made.  Adoption is more popular than ever as is spaying/neutering and TNR.  We promise to continue working towards a solution!

How Can I Help?

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you are ready to make a difference in the lives of Berks County’s Homeless Pets

When the Wrong Dog is the Right Fit, Part 2

i Apr 9th No Comments by

I asked Sarah to give us an update on Peggy Sue the blind pit bull because in talking to her, I knew many people could learn from the precaution she and Chad took in bringing this special dog into their home.  Introducing dogs to your home can be difficult, but  some forethought and preparation will go a long way to making the transition smooth.  Here’s part 2 of Peggy’s story….


Well we made it official. We adopted Peggy Sue. Chad and I were sitting at dinner the one night and decided we couldn’t part with her. In fact I believe our words were, “She’d have to be pried from our cold

Adoption Day!

Adoption Day!

dead hands.”  So Peggy became Peggy Sue McKillip-Johnson, and we couldn’t be happier.

I’m proud to report that Peggy is doing well and is so amazing. I’m also very proud of Chad and I,as  we’ve stuck to our seven step program for her.

  1. Cover sharp corners, Peggy was going to run into things in the house, how she’s going to learn the lay of the land. (Done! Peggy now has the down stairs mapped out and doesn’t really bump into anything anymore!)
  2. Baby gate a nice size piece of the house to be Peggy’s for the time being. (Peggy has the kitchen and the den, which are connected.)
  3. The three small dogs with never be left alone with Peggy. When Peggy is out and about she’s on leash with one of us holding the other end. We want all introductions to go smoothly. No need to rush anything. Peggy is still a puppy and my other three don’t enjoy a ton of puppy antics. (Peggy spends time in the living room with all of us. She is on a leash. The other three pretty much keep to the couch, which they’ve always done. Peggy loves to lay in her dog bed playing with her toys. When her puppy antics start up, Chad and I take her outside to burn off some energy in the yard.)
  4. Give Peggy a large and comfy crate (we refer to them as condos in my house) with a nice bed inside, toys, pillow and water. A place that’s hers, she can sleep in it, be in there when we’re not home and also take naps in there during the day. Like a human child, she needs a time out and also gives the other dogs a break from her. (She has her condo, and it is HUGE! She has a super sweet bed, blanket, pillow, a few favorite toys, and a small water dish. Peggy is in her crate when we are not home and while we are sleeping at night.) 
  5. Feeding area-totally separate from my other three, and it will always stay this way. Never get complacent. (My other three eat together, and they are pigs. They rotate dishes and “vacuum” the floor for leftover kibble. Peggy has an elevated dish in the den. Because she is bigger than them and can’t see she’ll always eat separately.  Nothing can fuel a dog fight like food, and I’m not saying our dogs would fight, but we are not going to set anyone up for failure.)
  6. Stimulation: We’re getting her enrolled in training, have found lots of fun toys a blind dog can play with, and will give her plenty of exercise! (Peggy is a ball lover! She gets extensive time in the yard with the other three for socialization purposes and she also gets some alone time where she can play like a maniac with Chad and I. She can hear a tennis ball drop from a mile away and she can find it! She’s been going on walks and is doing great on a harness/leash. Peggy also comes to work with me every day at this point as I want to keep her social, and exposed to people. Soon, she’ll start having play dates with dogs her own size and activity level on a regular basis.)
  7. Peggy Sue doesn’t know she’s blind, don’t baby her or be over protective. Let her have fun, let her be a dog, but keep her safe. (This has been the biggest challenge believe it or not. When Peggy runs into something, you can hear a collective gasp come from Chad and I. It takes all we have not to run over to her and hug her and tell her it’s ok, but ten times out of ten when Peggy has run into something, she’s fine. It hurts us more than it hurts her.)

We’ve also done a few other things to keep Peggy safe. Heaven forbid she gets lost, she has a tag that says “Peggy Sue, I’m blind and friendly” with three phone numbers listed. She will start working one-on-one with a trainer soon. I should mention that finding a trainer willing to work with a blind pit bull was a little bit of an uphill battle. No matter how much I told the training facilities that she’s a gentle soul, many were just not interested in helping. But, I am happy to report we found a fantastic trainer and he is excited to get started.

Peggy Kisses:

In my last blog, I shared my Facebook post regarding those that were questioning my decision to bring a

Peggy doing what Peggy does best - giving kisses!

Peggy doing what Peggy does best – giving kisses!

Pit Bull into my home with three small senior dogs. In that post I encouraged people to come and meet her and for $5 donation to the ARL they could kiss Peggy. I expected a few people to show, mostly volunteers. The actual response was overwhelming! In a little under two weeks Peggy has raised almost $500, has met 20 new people, and she’s even had a few repeat customers! She’s still giving kisses if anyone would like to come and meet her.

Peggy’s Next Steps:

Let the training begin! I have big plans for Peggy: obtain her Canine Good Citizen Certification, and in a few years after her puppy shenanigans are over we hope to train her for therapy work. But what’s most important to us is that Peggy starts training now so she can show the world that being a blind dog is ok and being a pit bull doesn’t mean a thing. She’s a loving, smart, funny soul and that’s what we want people to see when they look at Peggy.

When the Wrong Dog is the Right Fit…Part 1

i Mar 30th No Comments by

Anyone who follows our blog or listens to our podcast series, knows that I LOVE a good story.  This week’s story started unfolding and I just knew it was going to be a good one, so I invited the ARL’s new Shelter Manager, Sarah McKillip to be a guest blogger for the next few weeks to tell her story as it unravels.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Send us your comments below. – Beth


Picture it Monday morning, 9:00 am, I’m in my daily meeting with Jamie our Kennel Team Leader, and she’s giving me the daily scoop on intakes, strays, and surrenders that came in on Sunday. After her normal report she follows up with, “and Brooke bought a blind pit bull puppy off of Craigslist for $50, she’s the sweetest thing and she’s back in kennel 3 her name is Lady.” (Before I continue I have to give a huge shout out to Kennel Tech Brooke for responding to the ad and saving this dog. I hate to think about what could have happened to her. That’s  a story for another time).

Being nosey, I had to go take a peek. She was two kennels down and she was “looking” straight up at the ceiling (sniffing). She had the most beautiful blue eyes I’ve ever seen and it was love at first sight. I asked Brooke to carry Lady to my10516858_10203988344971364_5993175141960909095_n office as she was familiar with Brooke and I didn’t want to scare her. Within a short time she had mastered the layout of my office and only bumped into things a few times. Lady and I immediately became the best of friends.

To foster or not to foster…that is the question

After that first day with Lady I was so in love with her.  Every day that week I brought her into my office.  By Wednesday I was seriously entertaining the idea of taking her home, but I couldn’t help but acknowledge that this was exactly the wrong dog for my lifestyle.  Three things kept running through my head …

  1. “Girl you have no business with a puppy. You haven’t had a puppy since 1997.”
  2. “You have 3 small senior dogs in your home and they are going to hate her.”
  3. “She’s blind. You’ve only had deaf dogs. Can you do this?”

I decided to acknowledge that I had made a special bond with Lady, and stop making excuses.  Sometimes the wrong dog IS the right dog.  Not always, but sometimes and there was only one way to tell and that was to go ahead and foster her.

Thursday I had my boyfriend Chad come meet her and he brought Priscilla (Cilla), my little Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix. In all honesty, Cilla is a diva and she lets every person and animal know she’s a princess.  The meet and greet went well – I never expected it to be love at first sight with Cilla. When Lady sniffed Cilla a little too much, Cilla corrected her and Lady backed off, which is exactly the behavior we wanted to see.

Chad and I decided we had to try to give this sweet young dog a home. So a new life deserves a new name right? Lady became Peggy Sue.

Peggy Sue Goes Home

Now in addition to Cilla, two other dogs call my house home.  There’s  Elvis, a 25lb beagle/cocker mix and Gladys a 16-pound wiener dog.  Peggy already weighs 46 pounds. Luckily, after many years in animal rescue I have learned from others well meaning mistakes. I was well aware that Peggy might not be the right fit for my household, but I could work the odds in her favor with some pre-planning.

Cilla checking out Peggy's condo

Cilla checking out Peggy’s condo

We developed a plan, 7 simple steps:

  1. Puppy & blind-dog proof the home.  Peggy would inevitably run into things in the house, that’s how she would learn the lay of the land, but we could make every effort to help her avoid injury.
  2. Gate off a nice size piece of the house just for Peggy while she and the other dogs acclimate to each other.
  3. The three small dogs with never be left alone with Peggy. When Peggy is out and about she’s on leash with one of us holding the other end. We want all introductions to go smoothly. No need to rush anything. Peggy is still a puppy and my other three don’t enjoy a ton of puppy antics.
  4. Give Peggy a large and comfy crate (we refer to them as condos in my house) with a nice bed inside, toys, pillow and water. A place that is just for her where she can sleep and be safe when we’re not home.  Like a human child, she will need time outs and this will give her the necessary space.
  5. Feeding area-totally separate from my other three.
  6. Stimulation: We’re enrolling her in training classes and we found lots of fun toys a blind dog can play with. Exercise is also imperative!
  7. Peggy Sue doesn’t know she’s blind so don’t baby her or be over protective. Let her have fun, let her be a dog, but keep her safe.

Peggy’s freedom run on her first afternoon at home.

So, on Saturday at 1:30pm Chad and I picked Peggy up.  We had a plan for her arrival home: we’d let her potty in the yard first then let her run around and play. Then we would take her in to decompress in her condo.  All went as planned. Throughout the rest of the day, we took her outside to play, brought out Elvis and Gladys (while Peggy was on the leash) let everyone sniff and then gave them breaks from each other. I believe in “baby step” introductions in cases like this. Saturday night, Peggy slept like an angel in her condo and never made so much as peep. Our morning potty ritual is Gladys, Cilla and Elvis go out first and while they are in the yard Peggy comes out on the leash. Peggy sticks with Elvis as he’s become a guide dog for her in the yard, and she respects the boundaries he has laid down for her (basically he sometimes likes his personal space, and she respects it.) Sunday all day we practiced the same routine and I am happy to report so far so good!

This weekend Peggy Sue learned how to go up and down stairs, she’s still a little unsure but she’s getting it. She’s also learned how to walk on leash. A HUGE accomplishment for a puppy that was so afraid to do these things just a little over a week ago.

Unexpected “2 Cents”

Social media-gotta love it. Since Peggy came into my life I’ve been posting pictures of her on Facebook. When I took her home I received tons, and I mean tons, of support via Facebook. However there are always a few nay-sayers that have to have their two cents heard. I chose to not be defensive as I understand their concern.

Pit Bull+3 small dogs = disaster, at least in the minds of those that don’t understand the breed .

I decided to educate and fill everyone in on the steps we are taking. Sure we need to be cognizant, not because Peggy is a pit, but because she is a puppy in a house with 3 small seniors. Below is my post:


Peggy doing what she does best…giving kisses!

A few people have privately made their concerns known regarding a pit in my home with 3 small dogs (nothing bad). I want to put everyone’s concerns to rest…so let’s talk about Peggy like she’s not in the room shall we? 1. Yes Peggy is a pit. Being a pit bull doesn’t mean it is a life’s mission to make sandwiches out of small dogs…I have met more vicious “family” type dogs than vicious pits. And being aggressive -is learned, not born. That being said, #2: Chad and I will never let the three musketeers alone around Peggy or ANY breed of dog that is 5x their size. We’ve set up the house to be conducive and productive for all four. #3: Priscilla is more of a danger to Peggy-there I said it. I adore my Cilla but she knows how to irritate other dogs and loves to do it. Therefore for a while Cilla’s contact with Peggy will be minimal. #4: Peggy will be going into training soon, so we can sharpen her skills and help her to be the best dog she can be. #5: Peggy is a foster and the reason we are doing foster to adopt is to make sure everyone “clicks”..not because Peggy is a pit, but because she’s a puppy. If it doesn’t work Chad and I and at the ARL will work our tails off to find her the perfect home and we will settle for no less ( but I’m optimistic!) #6:. I have lost two dogs in less than a year. I love my seniors and if another needs a temporary place to land we will gladly foster, but it is nice to have a youngster again Thank you all for your concern, and I mean that. But if you’re afraid of her I just ask that you come meet her. She gives the best hugs and kisses. You can meet her at my work most days-and for a $5 donation to the ARL , you can cuddle with Peggy…and then I encourage you go scope out some of our other pits that are just as awesome and waiting for a foster or forever home. Talk to our fabulous staff about them and take one for a walk. You may just find your own “Peggy”

The First 48

Peggy Sue is sleeping in my office as I type this. I’m not going to lie, she’s perfect and our short term goal is to adopt her. She’s amazing and Chad and I have learned so much from her in the short time she’s been in our lives. We’ve learned that it’s ok to run into things, shake it off and move on. And above all else, who cares if you’re different? Have fun anyway! Being different makes you special.

Update: Sarah & Chad officially adopted Peggy Sue on March 29th! Part 2 of her story is coming next week!





Baby it’s Cold Outside…

i Jan 9th No Comments by


It’s been pretty chilly this week which means we’re being flooded with messages from concerned citizens making formal complaints about animals left outside to endure the freezing temperatures.  The thought of Fido curled up in a ball, covered in snow and trembling with cold is enough to make even the iciest of hearts melt, but is it actually too cold outside? What are the laws concerning animals left outside to endure the elements? What can Humane and Animal Control Officers do in these cases?

To be quite honest, Dog Law is an area where I have a vague, at best, understanding so I consulted the ARL’s Humane and Animal Control Officers for help in writing this article.  Harry Brown, Alison Rudy, and Jo Parto all weighed in to answer my questions, which I imagine are similar to your questions.

What is the Law?

Let’s start with the technical: PA Law 5511 is titled “Cruelty to Animals.”  This is the law that the ARL’s Animal Control Officers enforce.  We’re going to look specifically at 5511(c)(1) today:

A person commits an offense if he wantonly or cruelly illtreats, overloads, beats, otherwise abuses any animal, or neglects any animal as to which he has a duty of care, whether belonging to himself or otherwise, or abandons any animal, or deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, drink, shelter or veterinary care, or access to clean and sanitary shelter which will protect the animal against inclement weather and preserve the animal’s body heat and keep it dry.”

We’ll further define a few things to make this law even more clear.  These definitions are not provided within the law, but are how our ACO’s interpret the terminology.

  • Necessary sustenance: Food should be provided as needed (at least once daily) to maintain adequate body weight.
  • Drink: Clean and liquid water should be available at all times. Frozen water and/or snow is not acceptable.
  • Shelter: A four-sided structure with a roof and a floor that can maintain body heat (ie: sized proportionately to the dog) and keep the animal protected from the elements and is clean and sanitary. The structure must be big enough for the animal to stand up and turn around.
  • Veterinary Care: The animal is seen by a licensed veterinarian as needed.

To reiterate: any dog left outside needs to have clean and plentiful water, food, shelter and veterinary care.  That’s the law and that what we can enforce.  I know what you’re thinking, “What?! No way! A negative six degree wind chill is too cold for a dog to be outside, even if it does have a dog house!” Well, maybe so.  Maybe not.  Here’s what the American Veterinary Medical Association has to say on the matter:

“Just like people, pets’ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs tend to be more cold-tolerant, but are still at risk in cold weather. Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets.”

Those are a lot of factors to consider.  I have a tough enough time figuring out if I should put a coat on my pit bull when it’s cold (even though I’m sure pit bulls have survived cold weather without hot pink, plaid, fleece jackets for generations).  How the heck am I supposed to know if my neighbors dog is cold or not?!  Knowing there’s a law that provides a base for necessary care certainly helps narrow down if what I see in my neighbor’s yard is neglect and abuse, or, just a difference in how we care for our animals.

When & Who Should You Call?

You should be concerned about an animal left out in the cold if the above necessities are not being met.  If the dog has clean, 6a0120a80359bf970b0168e62a39d5970c-800wifresh water, food, shelter and appears healthy then the owner is within the law.  If one or more of these basic needs are not being met, it’s time to call the ARL.

If you notice a dog is out in all kinds of weather DON’T WAIT until the temperatures are extreme.  Call when you notice the problem, so we can address it before the animal is in danger.

During normal business hours – call the ARL at 610-373-8830 and ask to speak with an Animal Control Officer.  Our ACO’s spend much of their day on the road, but you can always leave a voice mail and your call will be returned.

After hours /weekends – if you feel the situation cannot wait, call your local police department.  The law quoted above is PA State Law which the police are equally as able to enforce.

After hours/weekends emergency situation – if you feel the animal is in imminent danger, ie: it will die without immediate intervention, call 610-587-3659 and reach an on-call technician, or call the police.

You should be prepared to provide the following information:

  • An exact address where the animal in question lives
  • The owner’s name (if known)
  • Your name and phone number. Your information is kept completely confidential and is not released under any circumstances, unless required by law (a rarity).  We do not tell the animal’s owner who placed the call.  We will contact you if we need more information or if we can’t find the property.

What Happens When I Make a Complaint?

Step 1: All complaints are answered by one of ARL’s three Animal Control Officers.  An ACO will drive to the location and conduct a formal investigation.

  • If the property is found to be within the confines of the law: The investigation ends.
  • If the property is NOT within the confines of the law: The ACO will work with the owner in an attempt to solve the problem. Sometimes ignorance of the law is at play, sometimes financial burdens prevent an owner from providing for their animals.  If we can help solve the problem, we will. A written warning is issued for any violation along with a deadline by which corrections need to be made.

Step 2: A follow up site visit is conducted.

  • If the issues have been resolved: The investigation ends.
  • If the issues still have not been resolved: The ACO will issue a citation.

Can’t You Just Take the Animal???

In most cases, no. Unless an animal is in a life or death situation, it is illegal for us to remove an animal from private property without a search warrant. We can encourage a neglectful owner to surrender the animal in question, but we cannot force them to do so.  We also cannot arrest anyone.  Darnit.

What about cats and large animals?

Cats: The only law that pertains to cats is this one: Indoor and indoor/outdoor cats must be vaccinated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian.

It can also be difficult to prove ownership of an outdoor cat.  Just because your neighbor is feeding it, doesn’t mean that they10438283_852491294794321_7831976187097257645_n think of themselves as the owner.

If you have a feral cat population in your neighborhood and are concerned about it making it safely through the winter, consider building feral cat boxes.

Large Animals: Hobby pets (ie: ones not used for agriculture) like goats, horses and pigs are subject to the same laws as dogs.  They must have access to water, food, shelter and veterinary care. If you live in Berks County you can call the ARL for large animal complaints.

  • An example of when to call about large animals: My neighbor’s goat and two ponies live in a field. They don’t have any kind of shelter and their water trough has been frozen for the past three days. (The confines of the law are not being met because the owner has not provided shelter and fresh water for their animals.)
  • An example of when not to call about large animals: My neighbor has four horses and none of them are wearing blankets. (Horse blankets are not required by law and therefore no law is being broken.)

Wait.  Isn’t there a Dog Warden?

Ahhhh yes, the Dog Warden.  Dog Warden enforces Kennel Law.  The ARL enforces Animal Cruelty Law. These roles are NOT interchangeable.

Here’s what the Dog Warden does (Enforces Kennel Law):

  • Handles complaints/concerns about a kennel. A kennel is defined in PA as a property that houses 26 or more dogs.
  • Enforce the rabies vaccine law anywhere in Berks outside of the city limits
  • Enforce the license law anywhere in Berks outside of the city limits

Here’s what the ARL’s Animal Control Officers can do (Enforces Cruelty Law):

  • Enforce the rabies vaccination law within the Reading city limits
  • Enforce the dog license law within the Reading city limits
  • Enforce the Cruelty to Animals law anywhere in Berks County

A Review…

If you are concerned about a dog or large animal being left outside in inclement weather, here’s what you should know: By law, the owner must provide food, water, shelter and veterinary care.  If any of these needs are not being met, you should file a complaint. Your information will be kept confidential. This law applies 365 days a year, not just when it’s extremely cold or hot outside.

The Animal Rescue League of Berks County
Enforces Animal Cruelty Law

Edward Bunt, Berks County Dog Warden
Enforces Kennel Law

Enforces Animal Cruetly Law (statewide)

Supporting the ARL

i Dec 18th No Comments by

Each year we are humbled by the number of organizations in our community that choose to raise money for Berks County’s homeless pets.  A regular stream of emails and phone calls come from local businesses, churches, community groups and even individuals that want to hold an event or raise money for the ARL and we are grateful for each and every one. These events keep us in material items like paper towels, bleach, treats and food and also raise a ton of money so that we can provide medical care, vaccinations and spay/neuter surgeries to our adoptables.

2014 brought a new group to us, and one that isn’t local to Berks County – Sephora of Park City Mall.  Sephora’s corporate headquarters gives their stores $5000 to give to a charity every few years and the Park City branch called us to let us know we were in the running to be their charity.  When asked why they chose us, even though there are shelter’s closer to them, they told us that they liked that we were open admission and that we accepted every animal that came through our doors.

We received word that we’d been approved and would receive $5,000, but that was just the beginning.  The Park City store is filled with animal lovers and they wanted to do more.  The invited us to their store with adoptable animals three times throughout the year, they raised money on their own, they sent volunteers to our Gala, they provided sample bags for every Gala attendee and they solicited auction donations from other stores in the Park City mall.  Pretty incredible right?

Tune in to our latest podcast to hear more about their involvement and the total amount they will be donating to the ARL at the end of this year.  It’s incredible…you want to listen, trust us! Just press play below! If you’d like to hear more podcasts, click here.

Step Right Up…

i Nov 10th No Comments by

Each year, the ARL holds an annual gala.  This event is an excuse to break out your fancy dress and spend an evening benefiting Berks County’s Homeless Pets. This year was my fourth gala (my second as an employee) and maybe I’m biased, but I think this event just keeps getting better.

This year’s event brought 400 animal-loving friends to the Crowne Plaza in Wyomissing for a Carnival themed evening.  There were sideshow performers, a tarot card reader, adoptable dogs on the midway and a tent filled with four-legged wonders.  Tons of amazing items were available at our drawing table, silent auction table and in our live auction.  We premiered a video created for us by Schott Productions (view it here!), we chose the winners of our cat mural contest and the Mexican Vacation raffle.  Chad & Tiffany Billingsley presented a check for just over $26,000. There was music and dancing and food and of course- tons of fun!

Planning an event of this size takes an army of people.  We have an event coordinator, Carolyn, who oversees a committee of volunteers that includes myself and the ARL’s Development Director along with a few board members and volunteers from our community.  This committee forms and begins planning months in advance.  A theme is selected, sponsorship levels are created and collateral is designed. Two sub-committees are formed – Sponsorship & Auction – and we talk to everyone we know about donating an item or sponsoring the event.  We recruit volunteers, taste test menu options and discuss decor. Press releases are sent, ads placed, Facebook posts are scheduled.  Test runs of processes like registration and check-out are conducted to head off glitches and a myriad of files are sent off to print.  And then the day finally arrives, and just like a wedding, it’s over in a flash and we didn’t even get to eat.

Anyone who’s ever planned an event before knows the deal…there’s a pretty consistent evolution of emotions:

  • Relaxation: It’s so far away…I’ve got tons of time to do all the things!
  • Excitement: Awesome theme, great ideas, it’s going to be so. much. fun!
  • Overwhelm: Uhhhh – where am I supposed to put all of these auction items?
  • Sheer panic: It’s this week.  Oh no. It can’t be this week.  There’s too much to do!
  • Exhaustion: I’ve just worked 7,416 hours in the past 9 days and I’m seriously doubting my ability to remain conscious for the event.
  • Adrenaline: 3….2….1 – Registration is open!
  • Sheer Panic, part 2: What do you mean the credit card machine isn’t working?!?!?!
  • Elation: We’re done! We did it! We raised a ton of money!!

I can’t even imagine how many hours are devoted to this event by the committee, but I know that we’ve done it for years and we’ll do it for many more. Every year we become more seasoned and put on a better event that is more organized, more fun, attracts more people and raises more money.  We are ever so aware that we couldn’t hold this particular event without a TON of support and are so grateful to our event sponsors, auction item donors, volunteers, the committee and attendees for making 2014 our most successful event to date.  We’re already looking forward to next year’s event!

We’re close to having the final numbers ready, but you can hear an initial tally by tuning in to this week’s podcast by pressing play above.  I spoke with Ashley about the history of the event, the specifics of this year’s event and what we do with the money that’s raised.

If you liked this podcast, you can check out our archive an subscribe to our series here.

Photos by Maria Stamy Photography



Working at the ARL

i Nov 7th No Comments by

Moon’s current foster dog, Mr. Furley.


Moon Ciofalo is a part time Kennel Technician and she recently joined me for a podcast.  I love having our staff come to on our podcast series.  There is always a few moments of trepidation while they adjust to having a microphone in front of their face.  These 10 minute interviews give me an opportunity to talk to people who have been affected by the ARL because they adopted from us, volunteered for us, or work for us.  As I’ve talked about in previous blog posts, by job keeps me out of the kennels so I relish the opportunity to get to know my co-workers.  We were all called to work in the shelter and it’s always interesting to hear the stories of how we ended up where we are today.

Press play above and listen in as Moon talks about her life prior to working at the ARL, how she became a Grey Muzzle foster mom, her passion for animals, what it’s like to be a working mom (with four teenage girls at home!), and what it’s like to work at the ARL.

Moon is one just one of many dedicated staff members at the ARL that is committed to caring for Berks County’s homeless pets. You can hear more of our staff’s stories by checking out our podcast archive here, or by stopping over to our staff page.

The B.A.R.C. Program

i Oct 27th No Comments by

Rescuing a dog isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.  When the honeymoon wears off, sometimes you’re left with behavioral issues.  Excessive barking, house breaking, and toy guarding are all issues you may encounter with your new dog.  But like most owners, you probably already love your dog and want to help it overcome it’s issues rather than return it to the shelter and let someone else deal with them.  Even with the best intentions, pet owners  don’t always know where to turn.

Our friends at Awesome Dawgs Dog Training, LLC are here to help! Located on Route 12, just outside of Reading, they have a beautiful training facility that includes an indoor agility area, an outdoor dog park and a dog store.  They already have a great reputation for group and private dog and puppy training, but now they’ve created the B.A.R.C. program which is tailored specifically to the needs of shelter dogs.  They believe this program is so important for new owners of shelter dogs, that they’ve kept the cost low – just $100- and they give you a TON of information that will help you and your dog develop a healthy relationship.

Steve Smith is a Certified Dog Trainer at Awesome Dawgs.  He graduated from Kutztown University’s K-9 Education Curriculum, and owns the facility with his wife Mary Jo.  But, he isn’t just a dog trainer.  He teaches people too!  He joined us for our weekly podcast to talk more about this awesome program, everything it includes, and the benefits to both pet and owner.

Want to hear more podcasts?  Subscribe here!



i Oct 13th 13 Comments by

October is National Pit Bull Awareness Month and as I am not only the Marketing Director, but also a pit bull mama and a proponent of the breed, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t devote at least one blog post to pit bulls this month.

I never understood the people who owned one breed of dog over and over again. Maybe it’s because I’ve fostered for so long, but there are so many breeds that I like and that I could see living a harmonious life with my family. Why wouldn’t you want to change things up?  Try something new?  Walk into a shelter and just let fate runs it’s course?

Stella Mae Ireland

Stella Mae Ireland

And then I met Stella. Before becoming an Ireland, Stella was used solely for breeding and likely spent most of her life in a crate.  She and 20 other dogs were found in the basement of a home that police had busted on drug charges.   That was four years ago.

People notoriously like Stella.  She’s gorgeous with a blue brindle coat and huge almond shaped brown eyes.  She’s 65 pounds, but has a small stature, a big head and cropped ears.  She is extremely timid around strangers and in new places and I can assure you that she is more afraid of you than you ever will be of her.  But at home….oh man. She’s a maniac.  She and our dachshund Jackson are best friends.  They play and cuddle and chase each other and steal toys.  She can hop straight up in the air, her lips flap when she runs, and she is so lazy in the mornings that she does the army crawl just to avoid walking.  If “sofa long jump” was an Olympic event, she would win the gold medal. “Crazy eyes” are a sure sign that she’s in a playful mood.  She refuses to jump onto our bed and will only use the doggie steps that we’ve had since we fostered two ancient dachshunds that couldn’t get onto the sofa without the extra help.  She is just now learning how to “jump up” and runs to the sofa when my husband gets home from work and waits for him to come close enough that she can stamd on her hind legs and put her front paws on his chest….and then she falls over because she hasn’t mastered balance yet.  She makes me laugh – constantly.  She is gentle with children, loves other dogs, and is terrified of cats.  And she is hopelessly devoted to us.  I don’t know how I know that…but I do.

When people see my Stella and ask “What kind of dog is she?” I tell them she’s a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a response that is always met with puzzled looks.  So I sigh, and say “she’s a pit bull.” Eighty percent of the time no one flinches when I saw the “P” word, but the other 20% of the time I see “the look”.  You know the one.  It’s the look that says “I’ve heard about pit bulls and I know they are vicious, violent, good-for-nothing dogs, and nothing you can say is going to change my mind.”

I KNOW there’s nothing I can say.  I KNOW the people reading this fall in the 80%. I KNOW that I can’t overcome the stereotypes.  But that doesn’t stop me.  Give me an opening and I will tell you how amazing my dog and why you should think so too.

I will tell you that “pit bull” is a generic term that four other breeds fall under: American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, Bull Terriers and American Pit Bull Terrier.  They are individual breeds just as labradors, goldens and tollers are all retrievers.

An illustration from the 1950's.  View more vintage photos at

An illustration from the 1950’s. View more vintage photos at

I will tell you that pit bulls have a long and rich history beginning in 1800’s England. Their courageous nature made them valuable as “bull bait” until baiting a bull with a dog was deemed inhumane.  The lower class turned to dog fighting as entertainment but the dogs were never bred to be aggressive towards humans.  The dogs were brought to American and highly valued as they protected their family from predators, were agile in the fields, and could be trusted with their children.   Many felt that their friendly, brave and courageous nature was symbolic of the American people and the dogs could often be found on posters and advertisements and were synonymous with Americana.

I will tell you that trying to find an unbiased report about dog bites is impossible.  Websites are either pro-pit bull or anti-pit bull and the numbers can be manipulated in either side’s favor.  What I do know is that in the very micro-population of the ARL, pit bull residents far exceed that of other breeds known for biting like Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Great Danes and Saint Bernards.  One COULD conclude, if one wanted to, that there are more pit bulls in shelters because there are more pit bulls out of shelters.  I don’t think anyone would argue that pits are more prevalent than St. Bernards and that it’s likely if we look at the population of a breed vs. the occurrence of that breed biting, it’s possible that the numbers are not quite as black and white as the news would have us believe.

I will tell you that so much of what you hear is myth. Pit bulls don’t have locking jaws – no dog does. Most pit bulls are bred for…..nothing.  Not to fight, not to breed.  Nothing.  Pit bulls are not “naturally vicious.” If raised well (like any dog), they are naturally loving.

I will tell you that I’m not blind.  I work in shelter that services a large urban population and every single day, I see pit bulls come in that aren’t all of the things I love about my Stella.  Even knowing that…SEEING it first hand – it doesn’t change my mind.  Those dogs aren’t born that way. Period.  They are the victim of their environment.  I think this quote from says it perfectly, The bull breeds are often grossly misunderstood. The qualities that make these dogs tenacious players in obedience and agility games also attract highly unscrupulous people looking for strong competitors for their dog fighting rings.”

And I will tell you that now; I’m one of those people. I get it.  I’m a dog owner that just wants to own a million more pit bulls.  I love everything about the breed and I just want to smothered in pittie kisses and post Instagram pictures of huge pittie smiles and fight tirelessly for the breeds (plural, because there are multiple breeds under the pit bull category…remember?) that I’ve grown to know and love.

The thing that spurred me to write this post is that I’ve noticed lately a large number of adopters coming through our doors saying “I have a pit at home, and I’d like to adopt another one.”  I love that.  I think good pit bull owners are as tenacious as the dogs they love.  We are loyal to our dogs and we will do anything to protect them and we’ve all taken an unspoken pact when we became pit bull parents. We’ve vowed to be breed ambassadors. We’ve taken on the responsibility of always setting our dogs up for success, of being the voice for those that can’t speak, and to stand up for the rights they’ve had taken from them.  I can’t change minds by myself, but together?  Yeah.  Together we can change anything.


The ARL is celebrating Pit Bull Awareness month by offering reduced price pit bull & pit bull mix adoptions.  View our adoptabulls here.

Saving Roxanne, Part 2

i Oct 6th No Comments by

Read the beginning of Roxanne’s story here.

When I last wrote about Roxanne, it was August 25th and she had been in her foster home for just four days.  It’s now six weeks later and our Roxanne has undergone an incredible transformation thanks to the care of her foster parents, Charlie & Cheryl.

The most obvious change of course is her weight..  She’s gained 26 pounds and is now in a healthy and normal range for her age and size.  But as is typical with dogs that go into foster care, the biggest change has been the renewal of her spirit. Charlie and Cheryl report that Roxanne has left her fear in the past and is now an outgoing girl that loves to meet new people and other dogs.  She spends tons of time playing with her foster pit bull bother and sister and has made great friends with her foster mom’s young grandson.  She’s even come out to a few ARL events where she’s charmed everyone who’s met her with her enthusiastic personality.

And so now, the day that every foster parent both eagerly anticipates and totally dreads has finally come.  Roxanne is officially available for adoption!   If you are interested in meeting her, please email our Foster Coordinator Marcy Tocker.