The Daily Need

Give pit bulls a chance says animal-rescue advocate

Many former homeless animals in the New York tri-state region are now beloved pets thanks to Dori Scofield, the director of the Brookhaven Animal Shelter and Adoption Center, the largest municipal animal shelter in New York. The shelter houses up to 300 animals on any given day, and Scofield works tirelessly to find them all a home — no easy task considering that most of the dogs she has up for adoption are pit bulls. Irresponsible ownership combined with the breed’s bad reputation has resulted in a growing population of homeless pit bulls across the country.

I recently caught up with Scofield to find out more about pit bulls, shelters and Scofield’s novel approach to get these dogs adopted by loving families.

Some of the pit bulls up for adoption at Scofield's shelter. Pictured above, Donald.

Some of the pit bulls up for adoption at Scofield's shelter. Pictured above, Donald. 

Savannah

Savannah 

Sprinkles

Sprinkles 

Gavin

Gavin 

Pheobe

Pheobe 

Hudon

Hudon 

Trisha

Trisha 

Gloria Teal: What’s the situation faced by unwanted pit bulls across the nation?

Dori Scofield: It’s like an epidemic. They’re everywhere especially in some areas: they’re breeding them, they’re not getting spayed and neutered and it’s just gotten out of control. And once they get into a shelter, they’re very hard to place because of breed discrimination.

Teal: A lot of people have really negative associations with pit bulls. What are some of the common misperceptions?

Scofield: We just came up with something that I think is going to be our new slogan: breed discrimination is bull pit. A lot of people see a pit bull and they immediately think it’s vicious, it’s been in a fighting ring, it’s jaws lock and that it’s a bad breed. First of all, their jaws don’t lock; they have the same jaws as every other dog. The truth is pit bulls were the first breed to play nannies to children because they are such a loyal and protective dogs. One of the reasons people use pit bulls as fighting dogs is that when they break up a fight, pit bulls are least likely breed to direct aggression towards humans — even in the middle of a fight and that just goes to show what good dogs they are. At the end of the day, a dog is a dog. You have to judge every dog as an individual. I’ve had golden retrievers that were vicious. Every dog has the potential to be a good dog and every dog has the potential to be a vicious dog. It’s all in the socialization and the training.

Teal: How prevalent is dog fighting?

Scofield: Dog fighting is prevalent everywhere. There’s a lot of dog fighting in New York State because the laws aren’t as stringent. In New Jersey, you can be arrested for just being a spectator at a dog fight, so [fight organizers] move the fights to New York where if there’s a bust during a fight, spectators don’t get in trouble. So the laws have to change. Why make it easy for [organizers]?  Let’s make it harder.

Teal: What should someone do if they suspect dog fighting is going on in their community?

Scofield: If you suspect any kind of animal abuse contact the authorities. You can call the police, your local shelter or your local SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty in Animals). Better yet, contact all three.

Teal: What are some of the programs that you’re implementing in Brookhaven to help solve the problem of homeless pit bulls?

Scofield: The biggest program is the volunteer program. The more volunteers we get in, the more networking we can do for these dogs and the more homes we can place them in. [Pit-bulls] aren’t the most adoptable dogs in the shelter. If I had a shelter full of Yorkies I’d be fine, but since we’re a shelter full of pit bulls it’s a lot harder to get them adopted out, so we do a lot of networking.

Everybody who volunteers here is part of our pit-bull crew. We work with the dogs on basic obedience skills. We’re trying to get a canine good citizen program off the ground so we can really show off these dogs in the best light possible. Our “Spay It Forward” program is going to be one of the best programs here. The first project within this program is “Project Pit Bull.” We’ll go out into the community and offer free spay and neutering, and anyone who comes in to get a pit bull spayed or neutered will get a certificate to give someone else so they can get their pit bull spayed or neutered. That’s how we came up with the name.

We’ll also offer free heart-worm tests, micro-chipping, vaccinations and collars to anyone who owns a pit bull or pit-bull mix in our township. It’ll help eliminate the unwanted litters that we get and help return lost dogs to their homes. I’d also like to start offering free spay and neutering to low-income people.

Another part of the project is subsidizing food and medical expenses for people who might otherwise have to surrender their pit bull because of the cost. Getting the veterinarians involved is going to be a big part of it, but I think once we launch it it’s going to be a really great program.  I would love it to just grow: Always do pit bulls for free, add the low-income people and then do everyone in the entire townships.

Teal: What are some things that everyone can do whether they own a pit bull or not?

Scofield: One thing everyone can do is always keep identification on your animals. I can’t tell you how many animals come in here without a collar or a microchip. And if you do have a microchip, register it to your address. I have to tell you of the animals that come in here with a microchip, one out of 50 are registered to the owner.

Teal: What should people know about shelter animals, pit-bull or otherwise?

Scofield: I really want to encourage people to adopt a pet. Dogs aren’t in shelters because they’re bad; a dog is in a shelter because someone was irresponsible. They don’t have behavioral issues. They’re just dogs who need homes.

 
SUGGESTED STORIES

Comments

  • Anonymous

    About 8 years ago we adopted a “pit bull”. The dog chose us, really. This is one of our family’s most amusing and favorite stories.

    We already had a dog (German Shepherd mix of some sort), and this strange pit began to visit our dog on a regular basis. We would see his tracks in the snow all over our yard, but only saw him once or twice. This went on for about a month, with the entire family “on alert” for this mystery dog that “looked” dangerous.

    As the Shepherd was an adopted, semi-malnourished dog from a rescue shelter, we were trying to get her fattened back up by feeding her large quantities of straight protein (mostly-cooked meat –dunno why my wife insisted on cooking the old moose roasts before feeding them to the dog, but she did it). We were thrilled that she [the dog] was eating all of her food every day, which was something she hadn’t done before. (At this time, she spent most of the day outside and came in at night.) After a while we began to wonder why she wasn’t looking as fantastic as she should with all the protein and salmon oil we were giving to her. Then, after about 2 or 3 weeks, we realized we were feeding TWO dogs! The dinner-time routine was quickly altered so that our pooch was eating all her meals indoors.

    I worked nights, and one Friday evening I encountered our visitor as I was preparing to leave for work. He growled at me then ran off as I came around a corner and we startled one another. I came back into the house and informed my wife he was out there, and under no circumstances, was she to go outside! My plan was to assess what to do about the situation when I got home the next morning and left the house assured my family was safe indoors. I did not take into account the stubborn streak my wife has, nor her soft heart.

    There happened to be a severe cold snap in the weather for our locale. The temperatures were around -30°F so the outdoors was not fit for man or beast. Our dog was cozy inside with the family. Sometime after I left, my wife was startled by a noise at the front door and upon investigation she found the pit standing on the porch begging to be let inside. Being a dog of very little hair, he was not suited for cold climates. She felt horrible for him but thought she could somehow make him more comfortable.

    She took a large box, lined it with a pillow and some blankets, slipped some treats inside to entice him within the cozy nest, and set about planning how to take his bed to him. As our dog was inside, my wife decided to take her out (on the leash) to put into the detached garage. She put the box immediately outside the garage door so the two dogs could keep one another company. (Don’t ask me to explain that logic.) Of course she took her own precautions for personal safety when going outdoors to do this. The pit was plainly curious about her actions, but refused to go inside the nest or get within 20 feet of her. She returned to the warmth of the house to watch through a window and see if he took the bait in her absence. He didn’t.

    Another two hours go by with this poor dog alternating between the house door or the garage door and pitifully crying to be let inside. My wife was nearly in tears. She couldn’t sleep with this poor animal’s cries. She got geared-up to take emergency action. Donning the bulkiest jacket she could find and acquiring a few odds-n-ends to protect herself in-case of poor judgment (on the dog’s behalf), she ventured out to help him. As it turned out, he was more than ready to make friends by this point. He came right to her when she spoke to him, allowing my wife to slip her make-shift leash (one of my belts) around his neck. The dog was perfectly behaved, and even –gracious! He followed her (didn’t even need the “leash”) straight up the steps to the mother-in-law apartment we were in the middle of remodeling. (There wasn’t anything in there for him to destroy that wasn’t going to be removed anyway, nor was there anything for him to hurt himself on.)

    She let him in the apartment, showed him around, then went back to the main house to fetch some dog food and water. This dog didn’t have an ounce of fat on him. Returning, she spent a few moments with him and discovered he knew basic commands and even a few tricks. After ensuring his comfort, she exited leaving the light on in the living area for him, and went to her own warm bed for a nice, sound sleep.

    Fast forward a few hours when I come home from a long shift at work. I pull into my driveway to see a light on in the empty apartment that we have been leaving unlocked. Wondering why this was so, I sleepily ventured up the steps, opened the door and stepped inside the threshold. It was at this point, the menacing pit bull that I’d met outside the night before came down the hallway growling at me. I’m not sure my service weapon has ever cleared leather any faster. I quickly backed out of the apartment with the sights trained on him as he advanced towards me with an equal amount of animosity.

    I heaved a sigh of relief as the closing door settled into its frame between the dog and I. Shaking my head as I plodded into my home, I could only guess how this beast made his way into the warm confines of the abode. I had a new problem. How to get rid of him safely.

    As I sat on the bed taking off my work-boots, my wife woke up. I mentioned to her that I’d met our new “tenant”. At that point she exclaimed: “Oh, isn’t he the sweetest dog?! He’s so nice and friendly. He knows all sorts of commands, so someone must love him…”

    I sat there dumbstruck, amazed she was talking about the animal that would just as soon as rip out my throat than lick my hand as he’d apparently done for her. We could not be talking about the same dog.

    I was tired, and so was she, so we fell asleep resolving to figure this out in the morning. After waking, we called animal control to come help get this dog out of the apartment. We had a few hours to wait, so my wife convinced me to allow her to “introduce” us to one another. I doubted this was going to end well, but consented to the experiment. My wife opened the door to the apartment with her voice softly uttering honeyed words as I stood behind her ready to take action when the dog proved my assessment correct. I was amazed when he met her at the door with a puppy-like yip of excitement. After realizing I was there, he backed away –both of us unsure of one another.

    Motioning me inside, my wife proceeded with the introductions and before I knew it, this intimidating dog was in my lap licking my face and had melted my heart. He hadn’t touched the edibles she had left, but we figured he might like a trip outside to go potty before the animal control officer arrived. We all patrolled the yard where he marked his spots, and then we played a game of fetch to keep busy. (Our dog was still locked in the garage for safety.) Our son came out to greet him, and the new dog even met the house cats. The cats were not impressed in the least, but he was respectful of their territory. I was amazed.

    The animal control officer arrived, we all filled out the paperwork, and he took the dog with him in the hopes of finding the owner. We were sure someone would claim him as he was very beautiful despite his sinew-and-bone physique. After a few days the entire family went to the shelter to visit him. He was as nice as could be, and the shelter attendants indicated they hadn’t had any problems with him either. No one had come to claim him though.

    About a week later we were still thinking about him and a call to the shelter confirmed he still did not have an owner. The deadline for his lifespan was down to three days. We were seriously worried about him now. Two more days of debate between my wife and I. We had ruled out this breed as being a potential candidate as a member of the family. Could we renege on that choice and give this a try? Finally, we came to a conclusion. We can’t just leave him there to be euthanized. He’s a good dog. Someone loved him enough before to put some time training into him, we can love him enough to give him a chance at a happy life.

    On the last day, before the shelter closed, we walked in their doors ready to claim the newest member of our clan. There was a period of adjustment. The cats were definitely unhappy, and he quickly told them who was really boss. (They had bullied the other dog mercilessly.) My son was overjoyed to have a dog that was always ready to play with him, or to cuddle in the floor. My wife was happy he had short hair, didn’t shed, and got along well with our son. I was happy to have a trustworthy dog to watch my family when I was away.

    Over the years we have had our ups and downs, which is to be expected in any family unit. This dog is truly a wonderful pet, and one of the best choices we’ve ever made. We’re thankful he chose our family and found us worthy enough to stick around.

  • Ak

    I love this story!! I too had a pitbull choose me. She had an amazing presence but was still a puppy that and had been tied to a fence the majority of her life so what appeared as an inability to socialize with other animals was actually a level of excitement that was intimidating at first. I couldn’t keep her due to my own landlords fears but after a month of equal amounts of training and affection she (Nena) now lives with a friend close by that has a small Yorkie, a Beagle and a new baby and everyone is happy as can be.

    It’s sad that an entire breed of dog has taken the fall for the owners that exploit them.

  • Lisa

    I am so happy Dori is helping this poor helpless breed. They need a voice and she is one for them. She is doing a great thing by helping the community out with their animals I hope her plan falls through a lot of people can use her help.
    I adopted two dogs from the animal shelter. My female Kenjra; I got when she was 5 weeks old and I had her until god called her home at 10 1/2 years old. She was the best dog, never giving me a problem. Draz I adopted when he was 8 months old he was sitting in the back of the cage scared to death, but something in his eyes told me he was full of love. He was thrown out because he was not a fighter. Draz is now 11 years old and he has been a great family pet we love him. He is enjoying his lazy life and loves to give kisses. I will forever rescue my pets they know when you rescused them you get twice the love and they appreciate you.

  • Darlene

    Would the Town of Brookhaven be willing to put a ban on Breeding Pit Bulls for a year or more.Also, I believe Puppy Stores should pay a fee since dogs in general are overpopulating the shelters. Another added agenda would be a ban on new Puppy Stores In Brookhaven opening for a year.
    The town has put Bands on Building In the past so why not try and help control the dog situation. Just my $.02.

  • Maureen

    I adopted 3 dogs from shelters.  My dog who choose me it about Dakota, a german shepard/rottie mix, he was considered an “older dog”, maybe 3 or 4 years old.  They weren’t sure, because he was a stray.  I went into a space to inter-act with him at the shelter, I put my pocketbook on the floor so I could play with him a bit.  When it was time to leave, I bent down the pick up my bag, Dakota put his paw on my bag so I couldn’t pick it up.  Well, that was it for me, he came home with me that very moment!!  He must have been severely abused, because he was petrified of stairs and lots of other things.  Eventually with lots of love, he became such a loving, protective (not vicious), wonderful dog.  I came home from work and couldn’t find him.  I started to panic, but couldn’t understand how he got out, if he did.  Eventually I looked down the basement stairs and there he was looking up at me wagging his tail!!  I was so happy, he knew he was home, and would never be hurt again.  Sadly, I had to put him down a few years back.  I still tear up when I talk about him.  Then there’s my pit-bull, Jake.  Who I adopted at 8 weeks.  Neighbors have commented on how especially close & special, the relationship between Dakota & Jake was, Dakota was like his dad.  It was a great and unusual site to see.  When people hear I have a pit, they are taken aback, which really bugs me.   It’s all how you bring them up.  Jake wouldn’t hurt, or attack anyone, especially if you play ball with him :) .  Lastly, my big little 90 pounder, Mac, who is a german shepard/dingo mix.  When I got him as a pup, his ears were as long as his tail, we all hoped he would grow into those ears!  He is also a wonderful pet.  He gets very jealous when anyone comes near me, even my husband!  Again, not vicious, just a jealous bark saying, go away, she’s my mom.  He actually comes in the middle of us when my husband or anyone else gives me a hug, it’s very funny! 

    When I hear someone say they’re going to buy some dog, I go a little nuts, telling them not to (even tried to talk to strangers a few times), telling them there are way too many wonderful dogs in shelters.  I think I may have even changed a few minds.   

    Sorry for the length of this post, I just had to share about my sons!! 

    Maureen

  • Heaven5entu

    I am so happy that this animal had a backbone and step up for this breed of animals.  There is no study that proves that pit bulls bite more than any other dog.  The only reason why pit bulls are targeted is because there bite does so much damage that it almost always gets reported.  However, I am sure if chihuahua’s were stronger and had bigger teeth they would have just as many bite incidences.  But guess what no one reports that!  I have 2 pit bulls since they were pups they are 5 and 6 years old and are the most loyal pets I ever had and I am happy to mention that I have a 3 young children 6, 5 and 2.  Never any incidence.  Judging against a specific breed is not fair and isn’t any different to me than racial profiling.  

  • Sushigirl7777

    I agree with dori pittbulls are the most loyal and most loveable breeed of dogs great with kids

  • dan

    hi pits bulls are awesome