A third of the dogs at the SPCA Serving Erie County are pit bulls.
And as other breeds around them are snatched from their kennels for adoption, the pit bulls at the Town of Tonawanda shelter wait for their turn.
And they wait.
“Pit bulls sit here for a month or more before they find a home. The others sit here for less than four days,” said SPCA Executive Director Barbara Carr. “Why is that?”
Carr knows why.
The perception of pit bulls as aggressive continues to dog the entire breed, routinely creating lengthy stays for them at the facility on Ensminger Road before they’re able to find a good home.
But Carr points to recent incidents that show these much-maligned canines in a much different light: as victims.
In October, there was Gotti, the pit bull who was chained to the back of his owner’s SUV and dragged several blocks on West Side streets before being stopped by police.
Then there was Layla, the pregnant pit bull taken in by the SPCA after surviving a gunshot wound to the head.
Last month, it was Metro. The emaciated pit bull puppy was left out in freezing temperatures in front of a Buffalo animal hospital before being rescued by an ambulance crew from Rural/Metro Medical Services.
And just last week, authorities seized a dozen pit bulls – one injured, two dead – from a home in the Town of Brant and charged the owner with animal cruelty.
“The media has done such an outstanding job demonizing pit bulls, they have become all but invisible,” Carr said. “They don’t consider them kind, loving pets – and the majority are just that.”
Pit bulls – or bully breeds, as they’re known – actually refer to a few different breeds, including pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire terriers, or any combination of the three.
Known for their strength and stamina, pit bulls are sometimes illegally trained to protect drug stashes or fight other dogs to death for sport, which continues to perpetuate the pit bulls’ bad reputation.
“I think they’re misrepresented,” agreed Kelly McCartney, director of the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter, which also takes in a number of pit bulls, “and it’s unfortunate, because a dog bred in a proper environment is very, very loyal and smart.”
Humane groups have seen this before.
Every decade or so, a certain breed gets labeled as a problem, Carr said.
“I can remember when it was German Shepherds. I can remember when it was Doberman Pinschers. I remember when it was Rottweilers,” Carr said. “Now, it’s pit bulls.”
A couple of times a year, area humane groups sponsor a special campaign geared toward adopting pit bulls, but it’s not always easy changing perceptions.
Inside the SPCA shelter, Carr showed off the nine pit bulls waiting to be adopted last week.
At the back of the building, there were another 17 injured or abused pit bulls that had been brought in on animal-cruelty cases.
Carr went from kennel to kennel pointing out the abuses: broken bones, pulled from deplorable conditions, no veterinary care.
She stopped in front of Layla, the pregnant pit bull, and handed her a biscuit.
“This was the one that was shot in the head,” said Carr, as she pointed out the wound. “She was shot behind the left ear.”