24 February 2016

RESEARCH - DNA Study Shows Inconsistent Identification of Pit Bulls

A recent survey shows shelter staff are inconsistent and often incorrect when it comes to identifying a dog's breed - a potentially devastating, if not deadly, error for any canine labelled a pit bull.

"In the high-stakes world of animal shelters, a dog's life might depend on a potential adopter's momentary glimpse and assumptions about its suitability as a pet. If shelter staff has labelled the dog as a pit bull, its chances for adoption automatically go down in many shelters,” says Julie Levy, professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and the lead author of a study published in The Veterinary Journal.

"Identification of dogs as pit bulls can trigger an array of negative consequences, from the loss of housing to being seized by animal control, to the taking of the dog's life."

The findings show one in five dogs genetically identified as 'pit bulls' were missed by shelter staff while one in three deemed to be pit bulls had genetic testing which contradicted the claim.

More than half (52%) of staff identified dogs as pit bull-type when in fact DNA showed only 21% were indeed pit bull type.

The findings are troubling given shelter staff and veterinarians are often expected to guess a dog's breed based on appearance alone and potential adopters often infer, based on apparent breed, what kind of pet a particular pooch will make.

The past few decades have seen an increase in ownership restrictions on breeds including pit bulls and dogs that resemble them based on assumptions certain breeds are inherently dangerous, that such dogs can be reliably identified and restrictions will improve public safety, the study states.

That reality, in addition to negative stereotypes dogging pit bull-types, means inconsistency by shelter staff to correctly identify a breed can be dangerous - the designation often devastating, and at times a death sentence, for dogs waiting to be adopted.

"These results raise difficult questions because shelter workers and veterinarians are expected to determine breeds of dogs in their facilities on a daily basis. Additionally, they are often called on as experts as to whether a dog's breed will trigger confiscation or regulatory action. The stakes for these dogs and their owners are in many cases very high,” Levy says.

"A dog's physical appearance cannot tell observers anything about its behaviour. Even dogs of similar appearance and the same breed often have diverse behavioural traits in the same way human siblings often have very different personalities.”

Researchers evaluated breed assessments of 120 dogs made by 16 shelter workers, including four veterinarians, at four facilities – all had a minimum of three years experience working at shelters.

Then researchers developed DNA profiles from blood samples taken from each dog and compared the findings against staff assessments.

Levy suggests, rather than relying on a dog's appearance or apparent breed as a predictor of behaviour, public safety would be better served by taking steps to prevent dog bites, including supervising children, understanding canine body language, fixing dogs and socializing puppies.

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia Moharib is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

No comments:

Post a Comment