Florida shelter will no longer label dogs by breed

Earlier this week, Orange County Animal Services in Florida announced it would no longer label the dogs that come into the facility according to breed.  The decision comes after months of discussion about shelter policies, and recommendations of local animal advocates on how the shelter might improve its relationship with the public and rescues and, more importantly, improve adoption rates.

According to a post on the Orange County Animal Services Facebook page:

“…each animal is unique, brimming with its own personality…and in an effort to afford every four-legged friend the greatest opportunity to find a forever home, Orange County Animal Services will remove breed identification from kennel cards and on our website at www.ocnetpets.com.

Our goal is to break down barriers associated with breed descriptions, leaving behind any division or stigma associated with breed classifications so that each pet can find a perfect match with a loving forever home. By allowing shelter pets to defy description, each pet can overcome any labels that might limit chances of adoption.  We hope this endeavor will boost adoption numbers for shelter pets.”

The shelter’s new policy gives dogs, particularly mixed breeds who’ve been labeled as “pit bulls,” a better chance at adoption.  As experts point out, breed labels issued at shelters are often inaccurate because staff members are simply guessing at a dog’s breed based on the way he or she looks, and a breed label is not always the best indicator of a shelter dog’s personality or behavior.

In November 2012, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) published an article entitled Rethinking Dog Breed Identification in Veterinary Practices.  The article questions visual dog breed identification given the vast percentage of mixed-breed dogs in the United States, and discusses studies that demonstrate that physical appearance of a dog is not a good indicator of breed.

The authors assert that correct identification of a dog’s breed based on visual inspection in dogs of unknown parentage can lead to misidentification and negative consequences, and they recommended a shift toward a non-breed-based system given the ramifications that misidentification could have both from a legal, as well as quality-of-life, perspective.

I had the opportunity to meet with two of the authors of the JAVMA article at a town hall meeting in Etowah, Tennessee.  They suggested that shelters forgo any breed identifying labels, and simply call every dog in a shelter “American shelter dog” based on their research and knowledge that without information on a dog’s parentage, it is almost impossible to correctly identify a dog’s breed.

I applaud Orange County Animal Services for their forward thinking policy that will aid in decreasing the stigma associated with breed classifications. The new policy will encourage potential adopters to see each dog in the shelter for who he or she is, not a stereotype associated with a breed identification that may or may not be correct.

We know dogs are individuals and every dog should be given the opportunity to show their individual personalities without a stereotype hanging over their head, inhibiting their chance for adoption into a loving home…which is what each and every shelter dog deserves.

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