Best Friends Blog

Pit bull terrier initiatives progress

In April of 2007, the world changed for pit-bull-terrier-like dogs. That was when Michael Vick and his Bad Newz Kennels were busted. Quite literally overnight, the public’s awareness of the plight of dogs enslaved by dog fighters went through the roof, and the graphic account of how Vick and his associates dispatched under-performing dogs shocked even the most hardcore investigators.

The sad irony at that time was that it was standard practice for law enforcement, with the blessing and support of traditional national and regional animal welfare agencies, to automatically kill the surviving canine victims of such fight-ring busts. Sound bites such as “ticking time bombs,” “damaged goods” and “bad by birth” were tossed around as preemptive cover to simply kill the close to 50 dogs who were part of the fighting operation, regardless of age, disposition or history.

At first, it appeared that this would be just another black mark against a type of dog that had once been hailed as “America’s dog” and the “nanny dog” for their gentle demeanor around children as typified by Petey, the famous pit bull mascot of the “Our Gang” kiddie comedies. However, we saw it as an opportunity to leverage the notoriety of the case to the benefit of the dogs because we knew from years of experience that dogs, like people, are individuals, and this was a chance to demonstrate on a very public stage how wrong the stereotype of pit bull terriers was.

Since this was a federal case, the local jurisdictions that took custody of the dogs, could only act with approval of federal courts, and Best Friends petitioned the court to save the victims in the case. The ASPCA and BADRAP, a pit bull group in Oakland, California, were called in to conduct behavioral evaluations, and all but one of the dogs qualified either for immediate placement with rescue groups for adoption to the public, or for qualified rehabilitation. The 22 most abused and shy of the Vick dogs came to Best Friends for rehabilitation.

As we had anticipated, their stories, and how they overcame the stereotypes placed upon them, provided a strong case study for the Best Friends pit bull terrier initiatives and have helped to alter public misperceptions.

Shelter intake numbers for these very popular dogs were, and in many cases still are, terribly high at urban and rural shelters across the country. Stereotypes aside, many were not ready for adoption owing to prior neglect and lack of training, as is the case with many larger breed dogs. Working with Salt Lake County Animal Services, we helped build the Pit Crew program. The idea is simple: Pit bull terriers are popular. Lots of pit-bull-terrier-type dogs are coming into the shelter, and, in turn, were being killed. The program works by offering free spay/neuter surgeries, training classes for these dogs to prep them for a home, experienced foster homes, special adoption events and a fantastic team of volunteers dedicated to helping these dogs get ready for their next stop in life.

In Salt Lake County, the numbers prove the efficacy. The live release rate for 2013 (and through the first four months of 2014) is over 90%! Other cities took note, and now pit crews have been established all across the country all seeing similar numbers.

While some of the work of the initiatives centers around changing perception and helping individual dogs, we also take a much higher-level path with our legislative work where we’ve been able to affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of dogs all across the country. Just this year, we spearheaded laws to get rid of breed discrimination in South Dakota and Utah.

A Best Friends–commissioned study found that 84 percent of people polled believe local, state or federal governments should not infringe on a person’s right to have whatever breed of dog they choose. That’s a pretty powerful statistic, and one that has supported our work on breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL) preemption bills. These statewide bills prevent any local municipality from enacting any kind of BDL. Setting aside the issues associated with breed identification, these dogs are individuals, and should be treated as such. To date, 19 states have enacted these laws, ultimately saving thousands of dogs every year from automatic judgment and immediate death.

Our fantastic pit bull terrier initiatives team also works on other types legislation, such as promoting bills that focus on reckless owners, and laws that guarantee any dog from a fighting case have the chance to be evaluated for placement, a reasonable measure that, seven years on from the Vick case, is still not a sure thing for victims from these terrible cases of cruelty. Indeed, Best Friends is currently spearheading a bill in Delaware to get rid of the stigma placed on fight-bust dogs there.

Thanks to national attention generated by the Bad Newz Kennels bust and the success of the canine victims of that horrible case, the landscape for pit-bull-terrier-like dogs has changed dramatically, but there is still much work to be done. We’ve got lots of effective resources that can support you in your efforts to help.

Together, we can Save them All.


Gregory Castle


Best Friends Animal Society

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  • MsPhillyG

    The Pit crews are much needed in Miami Fl where Pit Bulls are outlawed but there are hundreds in the shelters there in Miami and it is much needed in all of California. If you receive the Examiner website all you see on there are people networking to safe dogs and the majority is Pit Bull and Pit Bull mix it is a utter disgrace.

  • GreenReenie

    In early 2014, I switched my homeowners insurance company in order to lower my premium. When they sent me the questionnaire to fill out about the details of my home, I was shocked when I came across the “section” that was dedicated to Pitbulls. It came immediately after the question of whether or not I had pets. They asked things like..”Will you ever have a house guest that owns a Pitbull?” or “Will you ever have a Pitbull on your property?” Discrimination and prejudice continue to thrive in our modern world. It was disturbing and so reminiscent of historical environments of the past; environments some would claim we have overcome. Clearly, we have not. My experience has been that every pet or animal I have come to know, is as much of an individual as every person I have come to know. Additionally, any animal is as much of a living being as any person, and neither should be treated as disposable or with malice.

  • We are reaching out to you in the hopes that you will help
    us spread the news about a wonderful cause, and a chance for shelters to
    receive free food and a puppy photo shoot. Did you know that high quality
    photos have been proven to increase the amount of dog adoptions? We hope that
    you can help us spread the word about this, so we can help dogs in shelters get
    fed and find homes. Thank you I advance for your help, and anything you do to
    get this message out to dog advocates everywhere!

    contact me at

    • MelissaLMiller

      Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for thinking of Best Friends. The best way to get in contact with us is to email info(at)bestfriends(dot)org – they’ll be able to get you in touch with the appropriate person and department.

      Thanks for all that you do for homeless pets!

      Melissa Miller
      New Media Coordinator

  • Marie

    Memphis, TN really needs a PitCrew program !

  • 123tl78

    It is good to see the positive change that has happened because of the dedication and hard work and commitment of many people who actually knew these type dogs before the famous dog fighting bust. They already knew they were all dogs, individuals, deserving of a chance at a life as a pet and not deserving of a life as a victim to be exploited by the crime of dog fighting. Much has happened since then to reduce the unwanted dog population and keep communities safer by educating about responsible dog ownership and pushing for fair treatment of dogs and people and educating people about the very secretive world of the crime of dog fighting and all the other crimes that are associated with it. What one dog does or one person does is no reflection on another dog or individual. I think communities are starting to understand this concept better. More dog fighters are going to jail and that is definitely a good thing.