As more communities adopt breed specific legislation that ban or limit the number of pit bull dogs allowed, Berkeley California has embraced the breed. Last year their empathy for the dog earned them an award of $474,200.
Maddie’s Fund awarded the Berkeley Alliance for Homeless Animals Coalition (BAHAC) with their Lifesaving Award and prize money for “saving all of the community’s healthy and treatable dogs and cats” – including pit bull dogs.
BAHAC is made up of three area animal welfare groups: Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society, Berkeley Animal Care Services and Home At Last Rescue. Together they achieved a No-Kill status (not euthanizing healthy and treatable shelter pets) for the city and have maintained it since 2002.
The homeless dog situation in Berkeley was pretty similar to most cities around the country. On any given day 70% to 80% of the dogs in their shelters were pit bulls or pit bull mixes. Sara Kersey of the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society said, “People remark on the number of pit bulls we have. Our organization is committed to taking in what’s out there in our community, and what’s out there is pit bulls.”
If you are wondering how the city fixed their pit bull problem; the Coalition outlined their plan in a recent Maddie’s Fund newsletter. There is nothing magical about their 5-Step Program. It calls for a lot of dedication, education, hard work and a little public relations.
Step One: PR for the Pits
The first step is to give the public the real facts about the breed and dispel the myths. Kersey said, “How you educate people is crucial, so it’s equally crucial that you first educate your staff and volunteers to do a good job talking about the dogs. People have a lot of misconceptions, so all our staff is trained to know the right answers to give and the best way to introduce people to these great dogs.”
She also firmly believes the best PR are the dogs themselves. “What people love about pit bulls is what people love about dogs: they are soft with people, and they get their feelings hurt easily, but they’re wonderful clownish dogs that everyone really loves.”
Step Two: Train, Train, Train
This is where the really hard work comes in. BAHAC spends a lot of time training and rehabilitating the dogs. Most pit bulls that are abandoned or turned-in to animal shelters haven’t received much obedience training. They are typically young big dogs, with lots of energy and no manners. So BAHAC rolls up their sleeves and turns the dogs into model canine citizens.
They enlisted the help of the Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls (BAD RAP) to train the dogs. The organization is a leader in the rescue and rehabilitation of pit bull breeds.
Step Three: Gather Pit Bull Advocates
BAHAC extended their team beyond the help they got from BAD RAP. They also recruited dedicated volunteers, pit bull advocates, dog trainers and people who really understand canines.
Kersey said, “You have to find that group of core volunteers. What we’ve done is take what we call our ‘red dot volunteers,’ the ones who can handle any dog in the shelter, and have them mentor and train other volunteers to do the same. That way, we can spread our web out into the community.”
Step Four: Adoption
This step involves finding the best home for every dog. BAHAC’s first rule is that each adopter must be more than 25 years-old. They believe pit bull guardians need a certain level of maturity. Then they do an interview to get a feel about the person’s lifestyle and expectations. Pit bulls come in all sorts of personalities and energy levels. Some are active while others are couch potatoes, so volunteers try their best to make a good match. And finally the coalition makes a home visit.
Step Five: Follow-Up
BAHAC follows up with every guardian to provide “post-adoption” advice. New families must also take a training class with their new dogs. Just because their dogs have been through obedience training doesn’t mean they will keep their good behavior in their new homes. Follow-up training takes adopters through the course so they learn everything their pit bull was taught.
Kersey says that by the time new families and their dogs complete the course, “They are ambassadors for the pit bull breeds.”
Heaven Can Wait Animal Society