Startling numbers emerge from ANIMALS 24-7 ad survey 2017
Pit bull advocates may rejoice that pit bulls, by all of the common pit bull variant names combined, are back on top of the annual ANIMALS 24-7 survey of the U.S. dog population by breed and breed type, after two years in second and sixth places, respectively, as indicated by online advertising at the peak of the puppy birthing season.
Indeed, pit bulls have rebounded to a record high for the pit bull breed category of 8% of advertised dog and puppy volume.
But a breakdown of the pit bull numbers shows that 56% of the pit bulls advertised in 2107 are not spring 2017 puppies. Rather, they are recycled dogs, offered for adoption by shelters and rescues.
The trend toward recycled pit bulls outnumbering puppies has been developing more-or-less since 2005, when the evacuation of dogs from Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina flooded shelters around the U.S. with adult pit bulls rescued from the longtime hub regions for pit bull breeding and dogfighting.
Until 2017, however, ANIMALS 24-7 did not specifically compare the numbers of pit bulls offered for adoption to the numbers offered for sale in our annual classified ad surveys.
Shelter dog breed counts
Instead, from 2003 to 2015, and sporadically in earlier years back to 1993, ANIMALS 24-7 surveyed shelter dog populations by breed through single-day head counts. These counts were each year done during the month of June, usually the peak month for dog admissions, at about 50-60 shelters scattered around the U.S., and were then checked against a variety of other data obtained through spot-checks of shelter records and shelter adoption web sites.
American SPCA vice president for research and development Emily Weiss in 2015 and 2016 directed structurally similar shelter surveys, but without the element of cross-checking. Weiss compiled data from 60 and 68 agencies, respectively.
ASPCA data confirms ours
Weiss’ surveys produced findings particularly relevant to the ANIMALS 24-7 finding that more than half of the pit bulls offered for sale or adoption in 2017 are recycled dogs––and also confirming the ANIMALS 24-7 shelter survey data in almost every respect. The exception is that Weiss’ data appears to markedly under-report the numbers for pit bull shelter intakes and euthanasia, as indicated by photos and breed descriptions posted on shelter web sites and social media pages.
Typically about a third of the pit bulls offered for adoption from shelters are incompletely described as “mixes” of other large breeds, omitting mention of the pit bull lineage. Among the breeds most often mentioned in mislabeling pit bulls are boxers, Labrador retrievers, cattle dogs, border collies, Dalmatians, and German shepherds.
Pits are “breed of highest intake”
Summarized Weiss in the June 6, 2016 edition of ASPCApro, “According to our 2016 data, the 5 top breeds account for 54% of the total intake, 53% of adoptions, and 67% of euthanasia.”
Pit bulls, Weiss acknowledged, “continue to be the breed or breed mix of highest intake. Chihuahuas were once again the second highest intake type, followed by Labrador retriever as primary breed, then German shepherd dogs, followed by the global term ‘terrier’ in the fifth spot.
“Most fascinating,” Weiss wrote, “is that the ratios are unchanged from 2016 compared to 2015,” with pit bulls “holding steady at 19% of total intake, and Chihuahuas at 15%.”
The corresponding intake numbers from the 2015 ANIMALS 24-7 shelter survey were 32% for pit bulls, 14% for Chihuahuas.
Pits are the most adopted dog, but are 2 to 4 times as likely to be euthanized
“When we peek at the adoptions,” Weiss continued, “pit-type dogs remain ranked as the second most common breed type adopted, and make up 15% of the total dog adoptions, a slight uptick of 1% from the year previous,” but 1% lower than the 16% average found by ANIMALS 24-7 over the years 2003-2015.
“Looking at euthanasia rates,” Weiss observed, “we see an incredibly sharp contrast, with 40% of all canine euthanasia being of pit-type,” significantly lower than the 60% found by ANIMALS 24-7 in 2010-2015.
The differences in the ANIMALS 24-7 numbers and those reported by Weiss, again, appear to be simply that Weiss accepted misreporting of pit bulls as “mixes” of other breeds.
ASPCA researcher is pit bull advocate
Weiss, a longtime pit bull advocate, developed the “SAFER” behavioral screening test in 1999-2000 in specific response to complaints by pit bull advocates that too many pit bulls were failing the older behavioral screening tests developed by Sue Sternberg of Rondout Kennels and others.
The ASPCA hired Weiss as senior director of shelter behavior programs in 2005, and in May 2007 made promoting the SAFER test an ASPCA program, but quit certifying SAFER test-givers in December 2015, after several high-profile attacks on children by pit bulls who had recently passed the SAFER exam.
One of those children, Joshua Phillip Strother, age 6, was killed on July 7, 2015, days after the dog was rehomed by the Asheville Humane Society, of Asheville, North Carolina.
Confessed Weiss in concluding her June 6, 2017 ASPCApro column, “I worry about the shift to fully remove breed labels,” because “We can potentially lose proper tracking on the back end to help ensure that we can identify what types are most at risk.”
Shelter dogs generally are more advertised
ANIMALS 24-7, in assessing the patterns involving all breeds and breed types among 3,404,190 classified ad listings of dogs offered for sale or adoption in June 2017, discovered that in general the numbers of “dogs for adoption” outnumbered both “dogs for sale” and “puppies for sale,” as was seen for pit bulls, but usually not when the searches were done to find only dogs or puppies of specific breeds.
This appears to occur, for the most part, because shelters and rescues advertise much more intensively than breeders. After all, breeders are offering dogs of mostly desired breeds and breed types, as indicated by market demand, are offering dogs within the preferred age range for people acquiring dogs, and––because the dogs are young––are offering dogs presumably without defects.
Not all “rescue dogs” were rescued
Shelters and rescues, by contrast, are trying to rehome dogs who have already failed in one or more homes, who arrive at shelters and are passed along to rescues mostly because they are not of breeds and types in high demand.
Shelter and rescue dogs, since they are perceived to have behavioral and sometimes physical defects that will require work to heal, simply take more promotional effort to place.
At the same time, adopting dogs from shelters and rescues has acquired sufficient status among the public that many breeders, especially of small dogs, now try to make their offerings more appealing to potential buyers by ever more often describing dogs who are really just for sale, and for high prices at that, as being available for “adoption.”
Straight from “puppy mill” to “rescue”
Many a dog said to have been “rescued” from a “puppy mill” has actually just been trucked straight from the “puppy mill” to an “adoption center” which a decade ago would have called itself a pet store.
Nonetheless, searches seeking to identify dogs or puppies of almost any specific breed who may be purchased or adopted immediately tend to discover more than twice as many offered by breeders or commercial retailers as by nonprofit shelters and rescues.
Correspondingly, small dogs and especially puppies of popular breeds tend to be almost unavailable from shelters and rescues, except through spending time on an adoption waiting list.
Meanwhile, because so many pit bulls found for sale or adoption in the 2017 ANIMALS 24-7 survey are recycled dogs, relative to dogs of other breeds, the apparent finding that pit bulls may now be more numerous than small terriers may reflect a considerable amount of double-counting.
Unlike with other breeds, who have about a 5%-per-year chance of being surrendered to a shelter or impounded, compared to the pit bull chance of 30%-plus, half or more of the pit bulls offered for adoption in 2017 might also have been offered, and counted, in 2016, 2015, or earlier.
Popular breeds fall
There are some other surprises in the 2017 ANIMALS 24-7 survey of dogs advertised for sale or adoption, including that many of the most consistently popular dog breeds have fallen out of the top 10, 20, and even 30, to just under 1% of the total volume of dogs available.
Among these are Chihuahua, poodle, Pekingese, boxer, pug, Dachshund, beagle, Pomeranian, schnauzer, German shepherd, and Malinois.
Indeed, the entire large shepherd category had just 1.2% of advertised market share in 2017, only two years after both German shepherd and Malinois appeared likely to crack the top 10.
Dachshunds, after enjoying a brief explosion of popularity, fell all the way from 6.9% of advertised market share in 2016 to just 0.8% in 2017.
All of these results appear to be just “market corrections,” resulting from temporary oversupply of the breeds in question. Simply put, breeders with unsold dogs at the end of the 2016 breeding season bred fewer of those types of dogs in 2017.
Big dog acquisition up
Appearing to be more reflective of a longterm trend, and much more problematic from both the public safety and shelter management perspectives, is that pit bulls were outnumbered in the 2017 ANIMALS 24-7 classified ad survey by dogs of mastiff/molosser heritage, amounting to 10.6% of the advertised dog total.
As a matter of functional logic, ANIMALS 24-7 elected to divide the mastiff/molosser category between those who have historically been raised mainly as working dogs (charted here as Mastiffs) and those who have historically been raised as war dogs or guarding dogs (charted here as Molossers other than pit bulls; pit bulls are of mixed molosser and terrier ancestry).
Mastiffs vs. Molossers
Dogs in either the Mastiff or the Molosser category tend to be about twice as large as the average dog, are correspondingly more expensive and difficult to keep or rehome if arriving at a shelter, and rank well above average in likelihood of killing or disfiguring a human.
However, dogs in the Mastiff category, while about 3-4 times more dangerous than the average dog, are significantly less dangerous than dogs in the Molosser category, who tend to be more than 10 times more dangerous than the average dog, as shown by the ANIMALS 24-7 log of dog attack fatalities and disfigurements 1982-present.
Unlike dogs in the Molosser category, dogs in the Mastiff category tend to be acquired for reasons other than––primarily––the degree of threat they might pose to an intruder.
Most common mega-breeds
The most common breeds in the Mastiff category, as shown on the ANIMALS 24-7 charts, are the Bernese Mountain Dog, St. Bernard, and Newfoundland.
Most common in the Molossers other than pit bulls category are Rottweilers, distantly followed by bull mastiffs, Presa Canarios, Cane Corsos, Dogo Argentinos, and Fila Brasilieros, none of whom have ever even approached 1% of total advertised market share.