For some dogs, adoption may change perception from reality

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published September 4, 2013

Dogs are labeled as ‘man’s best friend,’ but some dogs make better friends than others.

At least that is the perception in the world of dog adoption, where certain canines are labeled as being friendlier or more appealing to the average person.

You know, the dogs with golden fur or baby blue eyes or spots that look like they were perfectly placed by a meticulous human being.

People cannot be blamed for personal tastes, but the real question is whether outside influences truly impact the way people look at animals like dogs and, in many cases, what kind of breed they decide to adopt.

Amy Johnson, executive director of Teacher’s Pet, a program that pairs at-risk youth with hard-to-adopt shelter dogs for a 10-week workshop in basic obedience, says that every dog has something to offer to its owner. It’s just a matter of people realizing the difference between fact and fiction.

“A golden retriever or a Shih Tzu are adopted within minutes (at a shelter),” Johnson said. “A pit (bull) sits there for a long time. Black dogs sit for a long time.”

A stigma that is associated with a black dog, or a pit bull, tends to be inaccurate. Johnson said that black dogs are always the last to be adopted based on how they look compared to other dogs.

“People want dogs that are unique looking, and black dogs are very common,” Johnson said. “People want dogs where people say, ‘That’s so pretty.’ People think black dogs are intimidating, have a junkyard-dog reputation.”

Pit bulls have a reputation of being abysmal and threatening. But Johnson was quick to point out who she believes is most at fault for why people look at pit bulls the way they do.

“The media likes to point out all the pit bull attacks, dog bites, fighters — the reputation spreads,” she said. “Pit bulls were propaganda dogs in World War I and promoted patriotism; intelligent dogs who are exploited.

“There are a lot of groups who try to promote pit bull images. (There are) a lot of dogs coming out of fighting environments that are bred to be aggressive. It passes through the blood line and it’s iffy if the dog will be good or bad. (We) need to crack down on dog fighting, and it’s harder to find.”

But while some see black dogs or pit bulls in one way, others see them another way.

Susan Romanelli, of Macomb Township, already owned one pit bull, Abby, and adopted a Staffordshire terrier, named Miggy  after the Detroit Tigers slugger, on Aug. 27.

She took Abby to a meet-and-greet with Miggy (whose name was Mugsy while in the shelter), and the two dogs — both two years old — hit it off. Romanelli’s children also fell in love with the dog and now, after four times through the Juvenile Justice Center, Miggy has a home.

“We went back and I was looking for a pit bull (to counter) with my female,” Romanelli said. “(Miggy) looked at me, his tail wagged. … I guess he was just the one.

“I would rather — with a pit bull-type dog — I would rather get that kind of dog because those dogs don’t get a chance in life. They have a bad reputation and people think they are fighter dogs. They are companions and loving animals.”

And while certain people prefer to purchase dogs in a pet store rather than a shelter, Johnson says that people know exactly what they are getting when they adopt rather than buy.

“Dogs are stuffed together in groups of 20 at pet stores, in chicken wire, and end up with psychological problems,” Johnson said. “Shelter dogs have the luxury of staying with the mom and siblings.”

She said that four or five million dogs are euthanized every year in the United States because there are not enough homes and people to care for them. It makes adoption a great rescue tool for dogs who may not get the attention or love they deserve.

“When you buy a dog at a pet store, you kill a dog in a shelter,” she said. “If every person adopted six dogs, there still would not be enough homes (for every dog).”

Johnson and Romanelli both agree that perception is not reality, and that not every black dog or pit bull or any other less-favored breed is as bad as advertised.

Contact Teacher’s Pet at (248) 930-2909. Contact the Macomb County Animal Shelter at (586) 469-5115.