Adoption Program Helps Break Pit Bull Stereotypes

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COLUMBIA - The Central Missouri Humane Society said it has seen some success overcoming the stereotype of pit bulls as an aggressive breed. It has adopted out more than 200 pit bulls through its Bull Runs Program.

Founder and coordinator Katie Steckel said, even if potential adopters don't walk out with a pit bull, "at least they're learning about them and that they are just a dog."

Before the program started almost two years ago, the shelter had not allowed people to adopt pit bulls for 20 years. When pit bulls came to the shelter, they were euthanized within days.

Now, pit bulls that meet the shelter's temperament standards can be put up for adoption.

"The first two months of working here under the old policy, it really made me unhappy, if nothing else, for the lack of justice I saw in it," Steckel said. "That was really my main motivation for it."

Steckel said she is now happy with the new policy.

She keeps up with the pit bulls that have been adopted. One is a show dog in competitions, and another is a therapy dog for a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mary Grace and Tyler Phillips adopted another pit bull, Rio, in January 2012, after fostering her as a puppy.

"We say she has a happy butt because she shakes her tail and her butt constantly so she loves people, kids, adults, children, other dogs," said Phillips. "Rio definitely breaks the stereotypes of the pit bull breed."

In addition to helping pit bulls, the program has also increased the turnover rate at the shelter, thus opening up more spots to more dogs.

Other breeds now have to meet stricter requirements since pit bulls were approved for adoption.

"We've actually kind of equalized it to where our standards overall have risen," Steckel said.

Despite the program's successes, the shelter faces several issues.

When pit bulls come to the shelter, they are mostly older and alone, having been abandoned or owner-surrendered, while a lot of other breeds come in puppy litters. Puppies, according to Steckel, are much easier to adopt out.

Another problem is many apartment complexes in Columbia still don't allow pit bulls because of the insurance costs of having them.

Boonville even has an ordinance that bans pit bulls from its town completely.

"Back when they enacted the ordinance in '97, I know they had trouble with some of the individuals who owned pit bulls and that was the way of kind of getting rid of the problem," said Boonville animal control officer Pam Paxton.

But, Steckel said these problems only make her job more rewarding.

"There's a lot of stigma you have to overcome with some people but the harder you work at it, the more rewarding it is," said Steckel.

Volunteers at the humane society are also excited about the program. Rebecca Wholey said she wouldn't have been able to volunteer at the shelter if the program wasn't in place because it would have been too sad to see every pit bull put down.

"Before Katie came here and started the Bull Runs program, there really wasn't much hope for most of the pit bulls here," said Wholey. "Trying to imagine what would have happened before the Bull Runs program is really just overwhelmingly sad."

But now, Wholey works in the intake department because she gets to see the turnover rate of pit bulls.

"Working in intake and seeing all the pit bulls that come in knowing that before they wouldn't have had a happy ending, and seeing now what can happen, meeting the families they go home with, is just really amazing," said Wholey.

According to Steckel, the Bull Runs program can be summed up simply: "adopting out great dogs, who happen to be pit bulls, to wonderful homes."