Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On March 6, 2011, two Pit Bulls were confiscated from a property by Monroe County Animal Control. The dogs suffered from bite wounds and ended up dying in the custody of Animal Control. Other dogs, located on the same property, were either not taken or not discovered.

The next day, the Monroe SPCA received a call about dogs still remaining on the property. They went out with Animal Control to investigate. Upon inspection, they found eight dogs. One was dead from apparent starvation. Five Pit Bulls were chained up with varying body condition scores. None had scars to indicate they were ever in a fight. Two other dogs, a Chihuahua and an  English bulldog were also found.

Of the five Pit Bulls found, four survived their care at the Monroe County Animal Control. Another Pit Bull  died in their custody. Of the ten dogs total, only one was actually killed by the owners, three died while in custody of Monroe County Animal Control, and the remaining four Pit Bulls are on death row because of one Dr. Katherine Houpt. I have no word on the Chi and English Bulldog.

She temperament tested the dogs on June 27th, 2011. The dogs have been in social isolation in small kennels since March 7, 2011. That is more than three months of intense social deprivation and confinement. It is mind-boggling to expect any dog to perform well in the incredibly stimulating and frightening environment at the shelter. You can get a small feel for the horror of this place by turning up the volume. Ask yourself if YOU could even handle that environment, let alone your dog who has been stuck in a metal cage for three months.

You can see the biased and horribly run temperament test of Dusty in this post. Dusty performs beautifully. She is failed.

But let us not forget the other three dogs.

Razzle, another brown Pit Bull, was also temperament tested by Dr. Houpt. The dog exhibits rockstar behavior towards the stupid fake hand and the plastic doll, neither of which a dog recognizes as a real hand or real human child. The dog would be an ideal adoption candidate in any normal shelter.

You can see her temperament test here. She was deemed "may be safe", despite the fact that Dr. Houpt offered a rather negative and inaccurate impression of the dog's behavior:

wiggle and bark to approach and stare and squat
bit hand no reaction to doll or food. Avoided witch
jumped on male and female dog
The results of the testing indicates that the following animals: the two males Monroe 207 Reilly 212 that both demonstrated aggression to other dogs and one female Dusty 206 who snarled at the doll should be humanely euthanized because of their lack of any useful purpose and the public safety threat the pose." MCL 750.49(18) aggressive whereas Dog 210 Razzle --- may be safe
Katherine Albro Houpt VMD PhD
Professor emeritus
Cornell University

You can see Monroe, a brindle male, chubby Pit Bull here. Dr. Houpt rec'ds his death.

My observations on Monroe from the Hand test/food test/fake child test are:
  • Monroe is stressed, agitated and already highly stimulated in the already stressed out, tiny room. Personally, I would have ended the test and taken him somewhere calm to get a baseline for his behavior. He is already tense, his tail is close to flagging (it's not a happy wag, it's borderline entering seriously agitated, hyped up stage).
  • He playfully nips at the hand, but there is nothing a behaviorist or layperson would recognize as aggression. Dr. Houpt must have different ideas of what is dangerous behavior.
  • Monroe clearly does not need any more food!
  • When presented with creepy plastic doll, Monroe gives kisses to face and engages in avoidance behaviors.
  • Only after doll is continually pushed at Monroe does he get overly stimulated and play-bites the doll. However, it should be fairly noted that Monroe then fixates on the doll in an intense manner, following the doll, staring hard at the doll, even when it is removed from Monroe. He is easily distracted, though, indicating a dog who can become aroused easily but can also be redirected easily. This is a dog, in my unprofessional view, who would benefit from training and proper introduction to children in appropriate settings. He would do great with a foster-rescue situation where he can calm down, adjust and his behavior modified.
  • According to Dr. Houpt, Monroe bites the witch. This is untrue. Monroe confuses the woman's fake hair for a toy and tests it with his mouth but does not bite down, tug, or otherwise do anything to the hair. Monroe ignores the witch.
  • Monroe is set up to fail in the case of the dog-dog introductions, as are all other dogs tested. He has a soft stare with the smaller, black Pit Bull but a very hard stare for the Shepherd-y like black dog. Monroe appears to want to positively engage with the smaller Pit Bull and while Dr. Houpt claims he "bites at the throats" of the dogs, she seems to forget that that is not abnormal social behavior. However, if THIS non professional dog lover were evaluating Monroe, I'd say he needs work on his social skills and may require a more experienced, dog-savvy owner. But nothing he did indicated to me he deserved to die.
You can see Reilly, a heartworm positive male Pit Bull here. Dr. Houpt rec'ds his death.

My observations of Reilly
  •  I would have ended the test at the start. This is a dog who is heavily panting, tense, clearly stressed, and not engaging in any attention-seeking behaviors. I would have taken the dog to a calm, open area that does not have fifty billion dogs barking in the background. I would have taken him off leash and let him accustom himself to his environs. And maybe that's all I would have done for the first test, just watching if he engages in any attention-seeking behaviors. My guess is he would've pissed on everything. :) Mainly, I would recognize this dog has a health condition that will negatively impact any testing done.
  • Reilly tries to engage positively with the hand and wags his tail in a friendly manner to Dr. Houpt when she removes the fake hand. Despite being extremely stressed and physically affected by heartworms.
  • Reilly is intense around other dogs but isn't as intense as Monroe in his stare. He is big and powerful, though, so would, in my view, require a better introduction system, more training, etc. Nothing in the videos indicated a rampaging maniacal dog who deserved death.
If you are going to give what essentially amounts to a 10 minute stressed out introduction to a new dog, you damn well better write more than 100 words about it. Dr. Houpt wrote 89 words condemning three dogs to death. Eighty-nine words for three very different dogs. She winnowed their entire existence down into 89 words and wants to kill them for it. That's pretty harsh.

Dr. Houpt is an expert. I am not denying that. She has done an enormous amount of invasive vivisection and non-invasive behavioral research on a whole host of species from horses to dogs to cats to rats to sheep (and even one on bull masturbation, I'm so serious). Which is why her brevity astounds me. It is why her insanely short temperament test in one of the most uncontrolled, multi-variable environments around baffles me. This is someone who knows about testing variables, who understands the scientific process, who is supposed to challenge ideas and concepts and test them! Yet she is spending mere moments with highly stressed animals in highly uncontrollable environments and judging the dogs' entire behavior, temperament and mind.

You just cannot do that. While I can make a split second decision about whether a dog is going to bite me or a mama cow charge me or a semi-feral goat is about to flee...I cannot make any judgment in mere seconds or moments about the entire dog, cow or goat. No one can without getting to know that individual animal in timelines that span longer than ten minutes.

If you want a lot of detailed information about the case, check out The Buster Foundation's Page...they are fighting for these Pit Bulls right to live a normal, happy life.

As I've said before and I'll say again - Sue Sternberg's Assess-A-Pet test is the worst thing to happen to shelter dogs since the invention of dog gas chambers. It has possibly killed millions of dogs. It has no place in any progressive, modern shelter of any kind. It should be relegated to museums, relics of a bygone day when dogs were subjected to inappropriate, inane "tests" that judged nothing more than how a stressed out dog reacts to unrealistic expectations in ten minutes or less. Sue Sternberg has harmed dogs in unforgivable ways and Dr. Houpt is perpetuating this mistreatment. Pass/fail is not an option with a 10-minute temperament test. It is not an either/or. Dogs are worth so much more than that.

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