Thanks to a program at the Town of North Hempstead Animal Shelter, the odds of adoption are improving for unwanted or abused pit bulls struggling to find homes.
Developed by the animal shelter and Shelter Connection volunteers, the program is helping pit bulls become more adoptable through positive-reward based training to improve manners of the animals.
Since its inception about one year ago, more than 20 pit bulls have made their way from the program to adoption, according to shelter officials.
"We realized that the majorty of the dogs coming into the shelter and not leaving were pit bulls," said North Hempstead Animal Shelter Director Susan Hassett. "We work with those dogs to give them better manors."
By working with the pit bulls once per week, the shelter is able to categorize the dogs according to their personalities, which helps to make a lasting adoption.
Despite mostly negative media attention, pit bulls are actually fun dogs but somehow along the way, their once-positive image changed to where the breed became the dogs people should be afraid of, according to Hassett.
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With secure harnesses, and at least two handlers per dog, the training uses noises, voice, food and a separation gate to keep the dog's attention on the handler while focusing the dog's reaction to dogs nearby.
The TPP goal is to have the pits walk nicely on a leash past other dogs, giving their full attention to their person, while ignoring things around them such as other dogs, bicycles or skateboarders.
The dogs work side-by-side so to get used to having other dogs around.
Dogs that cannot concentrate around other dogs are taken out of the program for one-on-one training. Some pit bulls at the shelter in Port Washington have remained for up to four years.
The shelter tries to make it important to potential owners to make the right choice when choosing a shelter dog.
"We encourage everyone to do your homework before you go to a shelter," said Hassett. "Understand the exercise requirements, the grooming requirements, the energy level of the dog before you pick a breed."
"You're its chance," she said.
In her 35 years at the North Hempstead shelter, Hassett says the biggest mistake she sees people make is picking the wrong types of dogs. "We kid around here that it's like matchmaker. It might look good now, but can you live with it?"
The shelter and the dogs are working to make it so.