ROCHESTER, NY -- Stigmas associated with certain dog breeds like chow chows or German shepherds or the larger category of pit bull are part of the reason the city of Rochester is dropping such labels in its shelter and adoption programs.
"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."
Owners still can choose to identify a breed when they renew their dog license, and landlords can exclude pets based on physical characteristics. But the city no longer will make an independent determination of breed.
If you visit the local shelter, you are most likely to find dogs identified only as "mixed breed."
"Removing the breed labels is more of an industry-wide shift, to focus on the dogs as individuals and less as some sort of label," Fitzgerald said.
Locally, Gina Browning, spokesperson for the SPCA of Erie County, says dropping the breed designation is something they've discussed, though no final decision has been made.
The goal is getting a better match for adoption. On the whole, breed is not a good indicator of behavior or personality, Fitzgerald said. Yet people tend to pre-judge dogs based on perception or past experience. Deciding what a dog is, or mostly is, can come down to educated guesswork. And those determinations, right or wrong, can lead some dogs to loiter longer in the shelter, which can be bad for the dog's overall health.
All this is backed up by a 2015 study out of Arizona State University. And the policy of dropping breed labels has been adopted in recent months by shelters in states includingFlorida, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, Virginia, Tennessee and Indiana. Similar efforts locally are being made at Lollipop Farms, but spokeswoman Ashley Zeh said the facility has not yet gone to removing breed labels entirely.
"You will see our best guess" on breed, she said, but echoes Fitzgerald on approach: "We treat every dog as an individual. Yes, there are certain breed characteristics. But that doesn't necessarily tell you what any dog is going to be like. So when we have our animals come in, they get a waiting period and get a behavioral evaluation that is not breed specific."
About 40 percent of Rochester dog licenses issued in 2016 went to "mixed breed" animals, with terrier, Labrador retriever and shepherd mixes accounting for three of the next five most popular identified breeds.
The most common dog in Rochester would be a black, 3-year-old, mixed breed, records show. And, if you're wondering, she mostly likely would be named Bella.
A quick aside: When it comes to names, dog owners can get creative. Among Rochester's most uniquely named pups (and there is a dog named Pup), there is Danny Wagman, a 3-year-old terrier mix, and a Barry Dogilow, an 11-year-old Beagle. There is a Minnie Me, a Christmas Carol and a Rose Nylund (think Betty White on Golden Girls), a Don Diego Dela Vega (aka Zoro), and a 1-year-old white bull terrier named Donald Trump.
The breed labeling shift at the Rochester shelter came in December, though the push to change dates back longer. Timing came down to technology, Fitzgerald said, and needing the shelter management software to update and no longer require identifying a primary and secondary breed.
As for felines, Fitzgerald said most already are labeled only as domestic short-, medium- or long-haired.
The SPCA of Erie County provided WGRZ three examples of dogs that they had their DNA analyzed by Wisdom Panel. Can you tell a dog's breed by its picture. Take our quiz to find out: http://plbz.it/2mP0QDJ