UPPER MARLBORO – For Eric Vocke, the co-founder of the Baltimore Bully Crew, the amount of pit bull dogs he saves will never be enough. Vocke is a pit bull advocate. He runs a rescue for abused, neglected and homeless pit bulls where he trains, revitalizes and re-homes the dogs with his wife. Vocke said […]
UPPER MARLBORO – For Eric Vocke, the co-founder of the Baltimore Bully Crew, the amount of pit bull dogs he saves will never be enough.
Vocke is a pit bull advocate. He runs a rescue for abused, neglected and homeless pit bulls where he trains, revitalizes and re-homes the dogs with his wife. Vocke said he spends most of his efforts on dogs in Baltimore, but he extends his help when he can to pit bulls in Prince George’s County (PGC), where the dogs are banned and cannot be adopted out of the shelter.
“My wife and I have a pit bull of our own,” Vocke said. “We don’t have any kids and there are a lot of pit bulls in Baltimore, so we wanted to give back. Over the last five years we have taken numerous pit bull dogs from the (Prince George’s) shelter.”
Vocke and his wife started the Baltimore Bully Crew in 2010. Vocke said he likes to help the pit bulls in PGC as often as possible, but his efforts are limited by funds and time constraints.
“We want to help them all, but in Baltimore there are hundreds and hundreds of dogs that need the same attention,” Vocke said. “For us to get a dog from the PG County shelter, that’s one less in Baltimore for me to help.”
The role of rescues in pit bulls’ lives is essential, Vocke said, especially in the county because a law passed in 1996 bans the dogs. According to the law, owners with suspected pit bulls can have their dogs seized, after which the dog is held in the county shelter where it could be euthanized. The dogs in the shelter cannot be adopted and are housed away from the public view. The owner could also face jail time and a hefty fine.
“There is a lot of pressure on the rescue community, because we know what will happen to the dog,” Vocke said. “If we don’t step up and help them, these dogs are facing a death sentence.”
Each year, on average, the Prince George’s County Animal Management Division takes in 686 pit bulls from seizures and from off the streets, according to the county department of the environment. Seized dogs are often taken based on an appearance of the pit bull defined in the law, according to the department.
The law states pit bulls can be, “dogs which have the appearance of being predominately of the breed of dogs known as Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, or American Pit Bull Terrier. Predominately shall mean that the dog exhibits the physical characteristics of a pit bull terrier more than of any other breed of dog.”
The department said this is one of many difficulties in identifying pit bulls in the county.
“The challenge in identifying a mixed pit bull is the difficulty in determining which characteristics are attributed to the pit bull versus other breeds. There are no recognized standard criteria or training to identify a pit bull based on observation of physical characteristics. This determination can be very subjective to the individual viewing the dog,” the department said in a statement.
Adrianne Lefkowitz, the executive director of the Maryland Dog Federation, said a major flaw in the pit bull ban is it targets dogs for their breed rather than their actions. Often, she said, families have their dog taken away for no reason other than it looks like a pit bull.
“What’s even more disheartening is that the dogs in the shelter weren’t doing anything wrong, they were simply being,” she said. “In a shelter you have dogs that are neglected, dogs that are loose, dogs that need another home. This law, a lot of these dogs didn’t need another home. Their home was fine, but they are being taken and that’s the heartache of it.”
Lefkowitz said she is continually disappointed in the ban and the county’s decision to continue it. She said the relocation of the dogs to homes and shelters outside the county is a testament to the unfairness of the law.
“You have dogs that are taken from families in Prince George’s County because supposedly the law is supposed to protect us from dangerous dogs. So supposedly those dogs should be dangerous, but you’re taking dogs from these families and giving them to other families outside the county. How is that fair? How is that right?” she said.
Although the Prince George’s County Animal Management Division (AMD) takes in nearly 686 pit bulls a year, the shelter works hard to relocate the dogs outside the county where they can be adopted. The shelter works with groups such as the Baltimore Bully Crew, the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George’s County (PGSPCA), and shelters outside the county.
Laura Kindard, a spokesperson for the county department of the environment, said the department, through the shelter, works tirelessly to make sure the pit bulls with good temperament are not euthanatized.
“We are fortunate that we have developed partnerships with other shelters and rescue organizations to place a yearly average of 302 of AMD’s pit bulls outside of the county,” the department said.
Vocke said he appreciates the shelter working with other groups to relocate the pit bulls, because so many of the dogs are well behaved.
“The shelter does a fantastic job to get these dogs out, but there are only so many rescues able to help,” Vocke said. “It’s just a bad situation all around. It’s kind of stupid that there is a ban for theses dogs in the county, but its okay for someone 20 minutes down the road to take them.”
Of the 686 dogs taken in each year by the shelter, on average 302 are relocated out of the county. The Fairfax County Animal Shelter is one of the surrounding groups helping the shelter with pit bulls.
Barbara Hutcherson, manager of animal care operations at the Fairfax shelter, said they take in dogs from other counties when they have open spaces in their shelter. Fairfax has taken in 17 dogs from PGC in the last year.
“It’s incredibly important because here in Fairfax County we believe strongly in treating all dogs as individuals and we want to share that message,” she said. “We want to show the community here and the community in PGC, that when you treat all dogs as individuals, you can help more and maintain safety.”
Hutcherson said her shelter has high standards for the dogs they take in. All transfers from other shelters must be well behaved and adoption ready. While they do consider dogs that are unaltered and without vaccinations, they prefer fixed and vaccinated animals.
“Cost is not a huge issue, but if you are taking in an animal that is not spayed or neutered, it would cost several hundred dollars for adoption without calculating length of stay in the shelter,” Hutcherson.
The shelter makes sure the dogs taken in from outside the county do not take resources from Fairfax County animals. She said the shelter makes sure the transfers are as “cost neutral” as possible.
“We’re all in this together,” she said. “This is a very fluid area where people move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together and build partnerships so that we can help each other out. The more we do that, the more successful we are all in the region.
“We would love to see Prince George’s County be able to adopt out all of the dogs that they deem safe to place in the community. Until they can, we’re happy to help where we can.”
The PGSPCA also assists Prince George’s County Animal Management with the transition of pit bulls out of the county. Tamela Terry, the president of the PGSPCA, said the organization started funding the spay and neuter of pit bulls in the shelter to make the dogs more adoptable once they leave the county. The animals are already temperament tested by the shelter.
“The spay/neuter cost, indeed, is an obstacle that can keep them from being adopted,” Terry said. “So, we pay that fee so they can be fixed and they can be rescued by groups outside the county, because we can’t rescue them because we foster and adopted inside the county. So this is a way that we can help.”
On average, Terry said, a fix can cost around $50 to $100. The organization committed $1,000 to the project and said once they reach that point they will reevaluate. Terry said she “sees no reason why” the group would choose not to continue the program.
“If spaying and neutering helps gets them out and gives them a second chance, we’re happy to do that,” she said. “It’s a small price to pay.”