About Adopting

Why Shelters Around the Country are Dropping Breed Labels

In a growing nationwide trend, shelters are dropping breed labels from cages and kennels, no longer identifying adoptable dogs by their breed alone.

breed labels

A study by The Animal Farm Foundation found that adoptable dogs in shelters and rescues are misidentified at least 75% of the time when shelter staff and volunteers rely on appearance alone to determine a dog’s breed.

“How a dog is labeled or their physical appearance is not an indication of their personality, their past or future behavior, or their suitability for a particular adoption placement,” said the director of the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter in Georgetown, Texas in a statement announcing their decision to abandon breed labels earlier this year.

“When you remove breed labels, you open the door to possibility. You have a chance to fall in love without being inhibited by breed,” said Cheryl Schneider, animal services director for Williamson County, in a statement. “Instead, fall in love by listening to your heart.”

The Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson, Arizona made the same decision last January.

Justin Gallick, executive director of community engagement for the Pima Animal Care Center, explained that people are reluctant to adopt dogs that have been labeled pit bulls, for example, because they have been “vilified” by the media. And – they might not be pit bulls at all.

“I’ve seen an American Bulldog labeled a Mastiff Dalmatian because it had black and white spots and a bulky build,” he told Green Valley News.

Lindsey Huffman, director of Shenandoah Valley Animal Services in Lyndhurst, Virginia said they stopped labeling dogs about a year and a half ago.

“I did a study and asked all of my employees to write down the breeds of all of our dogs and every one of them was different. Basically, we were just guessing and it was unfair,” Huffman explained.

Michael Morefield, marketing and communications manager for the Arizona Animal Welfare League in Phoenix, said they stopped labeling dogs in 2016 after an Arizona State University study provided DNA testing on 700 shelter dogs, verifying a vast majority of them were misidentified.

In addition to proving breed labels wrong, the study showed potential adopters identical photos of dogs labeled with different breed names. The dogs labeled as ‘pit bull’ were considered less approachable, trainable, intelligent, and friendly than dogs labeled as another breed – despite being the exact same dogs.

In March of this year, the city of Rochester, New York also dropped breed labels in favor of promoting individual dogs for their personalities instead.

“We’re trying not to discriminate against the dogs,” said Chris Fitzgerald, the city’s director of animal services. “And, by extension, it is non-discriminatory for pet owners who don’t want their housing options to be limited by having a particular dog.”

The policy of dropping breed labels has also been adopted in recent months by shelters in FloridaIllinois, Tennessee and Indiana, among others.

What’s your opinion? Do breed labels create unfair biases for or against adopting shelter dogs? Would you support your local shelter’s decision to stop labeling breeds altogether? Weigh in with a comment below!

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Frances

    Oct 1, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    Looking at some of the online pictures from shelters around our area, many cannot tell a lab from a golden or a chow from a poodle.

  2. Valerie Cranmer

    Jul 17, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    This should be promoted and adopted nationwide. There are no bad breeds, only bad people!

  3. Eleanor C. McLaughlin

    Jul 17, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    I have a dog that I thought I would never have. She is the sweetest Chihuahua and so gentle. I was afraid to get a Chihuahua as I had heard that they are nasty and nervous little dogs. She is neither. She has brought so much love to my life after my Dachshund was stolen and never returned. I am glad that I did not pay attention to her breed when I rescued her. So much joy and happiness she has brought to my life!!!

  4. Susan Pickett Ford

    Jul 17, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Usually shelter dogs are labeled incorrectly because they don't want the dog to be associated with a Pit Bull. People have misconceptions of certain breeds, and according to a dog's DNA, there is no such thing as a Pit Bull.

  5. Cindy

    Jul 17, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    Dropping breed names is a great idea, they are usually labeled wrong anyway. They should have size, weight & gender; Medium 40lb female, & then something about their personality (dog/cat friendly, good w/ kids, etc.)

    • Jane Geiger

      Jul 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      I agree wholeheartedly! You said it perfectly!

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