Although National Pit Bull Awareness Month (October) has ended, we’re celebrating this loyal and loving breed here at the SF SPCA all year. With their broad, smiley faces and floppy ears, anyone who’s ever loved one of these dogs knows how affectionate, playful, and goofy they can be.  

The term “Pit Bull” officially applies to three breeds: the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier. Any dog with such heritage or appearance can be labeled a “Pit Bull.” And unfortunately, mainly due to the behavior of humans, this “breed” is also viewed as dangerous and aggressive. 

Here, we push back on some of the most common stereotypes about Pit Bull-type dogs.  

Myth #1: Pit Bulls are more dangerous than other dogs 

Peer-reviewed studies examining “dog-bite-related fatalities” (DBRF) conclude that most DBRFs are owed to preventable factors like mistreatment, poor handling, and isolation—not breed. Additionally, in German state-regulated temperament tests, dogs deemed “dangerous” by the public responded similarly to dogs viewed as “friendly,” contradicting breed-based biases.  

Myth #2: Pit Bulls are more aggressive than most dogs 

Also unrelated to breed, aggression is a “context-dependent behavior and most often fear-based, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Identifying triggers and needs, ruling out medical contributors, and positive behavioral training are proven effective treatments for aggression in any dog breed. 

Myth #3: Pit Bulls have locking jaws 

There’s no evidence a Pit Bull’s jaws are anatomically different from other dog breeds, and peer-reviewed studies reveal the power of a dog’s bite is related to its overall size and strength. A locked jaw in any animal is a physical ailment that requires veterinary medical intervention and cannot be engaged and released at will.  

Myth #4: Pit Bull specific legislation keeps people safe 

Breed-specific laws do nothing to keep people safer—even the CDC opposes them. In areas where bans are in place, Pit Bull guardians tend to restrict dogs’ outdoor time and socialization, which can ultimately worsen or even create behavior issues. Furthermore, labeling certain dog breeds can create a false sense of safety with other types. All dogs, regardless of their breed, if unknown, should be handled with as much care and caution as any other dog. 

Myth #5: If adopting a Pit Bull, choose a puppy so you can shape its personality 

A dog’s personality is as individual as ours and is innate. A dog’s character and traits don’t fully reveal themselves until adulthood. Suppose a would-be Pit Bull (or any dog breed) guardian has a particular personality in mind. In that case, it’s best to adopt a grown dog whose traits like energy level, degree of submissiveness to humans, or dog aggression is easily determined. 

 

For information about adopting a Pit Bull-type dog at SF SPCA, contact adoptions@sfspca.org And, if your dog of any breed displays behavior that concerns you, reach out to our Behavior team at behaviorinfo@sfspca.org.

With the proper preparation and common sense precautions, you and your pet can safely enjoy the spooky season together. Download our printable PDF SF SPCA Halloween Tips with great advice for keeping your pet safe and happy during the Halloween festivities. And read on for additional tips from our very own Dr. Jennifer Scarlett.

“Keep pets inside the house whether you’re out trick-or-treating or at home passing out candy,” advises Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, SF SPCA President. “Pets are safest indoors, away from frightening noises and potential hazards. If you’re passing out candy, consider putting your pet in a separate room so they don’t accidentally slip out the door.”

If the constant influx of strangers to the door spooks your pet, keep them in a quiet and comfortable room with a bed or crate, favorite toy, treat, or food puzzle. Some pets can benefit from having the TV or radio on. Calming pheromone products like Adaptil spray and collars work well for dogs and cats. If anxiety is still a problem, talk to your veterinarian or contact the SF SPCA’s Behavior Specialty Clinic.

“This is also a good time to ensure that your pets are microchipped and wearing an identification tag,” said Dr. Scarlett. “Lost animals at a shelter are far more likely to find their way home if they’re microchipped.”

Pet owners are encouraged to register with a universal microchip database such as petlink.net. Take a current picture of your pet as an added precaution.

Additional safety tips:

 

Happy (and Safe!) Halloween from your friends at the San Francisco SPCA

Stevie Wonderful – a handsome orange tabby – recently had a terrible accident where he fell 80 feet from a rooftop and became wedged between two buildings. Miraculously, Stevie was rescued by firefighters and survived.

Stevie’s guardian, Dee Dee, rushed him to an emergency night time veterinary practice, where doctors set the bones of his fractured wrist. In the month that followed, Dee Dee lost sleep as she paid for more veterinary visits, pain medication, and eventually learned that Stevie would need surgery to amputate his leg.

As she wondered how much deeper she’d have to dip into her savings to pay for the surgery, Dee Dee’s research led her back to the San Francisco SPCA – where she adopted Stevie on Valentine’s Day 2019.

Dee Dee was deeply relieved to discover our Financial Assistance program. Soon after, our veterinarians performed the successful surgery to remove Stevie’s damaged leg, and his healing began.

Today, Dee Dee says Stevie is slowly going back to his cheerful, affectionate self.

No guardian should have to give up their pet because they can’t afford veterinary care. Our Financial Assistance program helps keep pets where they belong – in their loving homes.

The need for financial assistance is huge – last year, our program helped more than 2,600 pets! We started our fiscal year by allocating $250,000 to our Financial Assistance program. By January, the funds had depleted, so we quickly started raising more money to help clients like Dee Dee and Stevie Wonderful.

Please consider making a monthly gift to help get animals like Stevie Wonderful the care they deserve, so they can stay with their loving families. All monthly gifts help save homeless animals every month and provide steady support to animals in need.

Stevie Wonderful, a cat saved by the SF SPCA

Interview with Dr. Jena Valdez, SF SPCA Chief Medical Officer

How long have you worked at the SF SPCA?

8.5 years

Do you have pets?

Yes! Oscar, an 11-year-old dachshund and Simon, a 9-year-old shorthaired tabby

How would you describe the SF SPCA in one word?

Innovative

What motivates your work at the SF SPCA on a daily basis?

At the SF SPCA, we’re always searching for better ways to provide care, to drive conversations and push limits that others may not. Right now, we’re looking at veterinary care in a new way, thinking about how we can deliver lifesaving services for pets and the people who love them. We’re being deliberate about how we bring clients in and how we can cast the biggest net to reach as many people as possible.

How did the monthly Mobile Vaccine Clinic (MVC) at the Cow Palace and low-cost Call-Ahead Clinic (CAC) at the Mission Campus begin?

In 2010, I was working in the SF SPCA hospital, and we noticed a high volume of parvovirus cases coming in from a specific zip code. Parvo can be fatal if not treated, and vaccinating pets is the best protection. This is what led to the creation of the Mobile Vaccine Clinic.

Through the MVC, we started to get to know the community and focused on listening to what we could do to expand care in ways that would be the most useful to clients. These conversations sparked the idea for the Call-Ahead Clinic. Essentially, we created the CAC as a bridge between the MVC and the campus hospitals.

How did the MVC and CAC pave the way for the new Community Clinic?

From talking to the community, we learned that we needed to address two key barriers: cost and transportation. The Community Clinic is a continuation of how we are expanding access to veterinary care. It’s modeled after the CAC and will offer a similar menu of items: care for non-emergent concerns, flea and tick preventatives, heartworm protection, treatment for minor skin and ear cases, and vaccines.

Creating this clinic meant we had to address cost in a way that would be financially sustainable for the organization, so the price point reflects both what clients can afford and what is necessary for ongoing operating costs. Then we started looking for a brick-and-mortar location. It was clear we needed to locate somewhere within the Excelsior neighborhood, which would help people overcome the barrier of transportation.

We also wanted to bring in people from the community to address the lack of diversity in veterinary medicine as well as a decline in veterinary professionals entering the field. That’s where the mentor training program, CoMET, comes in.

Is this a model that can be replicated in other communities and by other shelters?

Yes! Our goal is to have another location. This isn’t just for San Francisco. A successful model means we can replicate this, and it’s a project that can be replicated by our partner shelters. The more shelters who can deliver non-traditional veterinary services and offer mentoring opportunities will equate to more pet guardians accessing care and more trained providers in the field, directly addressing the current veterinary shortage.

Where do you see the Community Medicine Department in five years?

In five years, I see the clinic thriving as a valuable, trusted resource to the community, hopefully open on a daily basis. CoMET will have a couple of cohorts each year to support the veterinary profession in general. Everything about it is a win for animals and the people who consider them part of their family.

Your support makes our access to care programs possible. All donations made before 6/30 will be matched up to $250k. Please make a gift today.

This summer, we’re dismantling the two biggest barriers to veterinary care—cost and transportation—with our new Community Veterinary Clinic in the Excelsior neighborhood. The clinic will be the first of its kind in the city, offering a selection of low-cost, fixed-fee veterinary care. Services will include vaccines, heartworm protection, flea and tick preventatives, treatment for skin and ear infections, and more.

“The Community Veterinary Clinic is about getting away from a one-size-fits-all approach to care, by listening to our clients and working with them to develop a treatment plan that considers their individual goals and resources,” said SF SPCA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jena Valdez.

Since the pandemic, economic hardship has increased. As cost of care continues to rise over the next decade, it’s fair to assume underserved communities will suffer disproportionately. If we’re going to achieve our goal of expanding veterinary access to all pet guardians, we need to create new options for access to high-quality pet care.

“We’re creating ways to help prevent animals from being surrendered to shelters and identifying what we can do to help animals stay in the best home possible: the one they’re in,” said Dr. Valdez.

Modeled after the Call-Ahead Clinic at the SF SPCA Mission Campus, the Community Veterinary Clinic will provide lifesaving care in a way that can be replicated by other organizations.

Over time, we hope to establish as many low-cost clinics throughout San Francisco as are needed by our city’s currently underserved communities. Then, we want to expand the clinic’s model and deliver it across the state and beyond.

The Community Veterinary Clinic would not be possible without your support. Please make a donation today so that we can make veterinary care accessible for all pets.

Photo: Dr. Jena Valdez, SF SPCA Chief Medical Officer, will oversee the Community Veterinary Clinic.

 

Grand Opening! Shelter Medicine Surgical Suite

This month we are opening a new surgical suite for shelter animals who need medical procedures. Not only will this greatly increase our capacity to help homeless animals, it will also free up space in our Spay/Neuter Clinic so we can perform more procedures. The new surgical suite will increase our spay/neuter capacity by at least 50%.

Currently, our Community Medicine and Shelter Medicine programs share one surgical suite, where we perform spay/neuter procedures, surgeries for both homeless and owned animals, and medical care for animals served through partnerships. There is more demand for these services than our one surgical suite can provide.

“There has been an increase in the number of homeless animals needing medical treatment, as well as an increase in the demand for spay/neuter surgeries for client-owned animals,” said Dr. Jena Valdez, SF SPCA Chief Medical Officer. “By opening a new Shelter Medicine surgical suite, we will dramatically increase our capacity to provide veterinary care for the animals who need our help.”

More than half of the spay/neuter surgeries we perform for client-owned animals are reduced cost or free. In addition, the new suite will allow us to help more homeless animals who need critical medical treatment before they find their forever homes.

The new surgical suite would not be possible without our generous donors. Please consider making a gift today to help animals in need get the medical care they deserve.

  

“Riley was always a playful puppy. She loved the off-leash dog park. While her play style was rough, we never saw a problem. One day a new dog joined the dog park and a fight between Riley and the other dog broke out. The other dog was injured and had to be taken to the hospital.

We hired a trainer right away and didn’t go back to the park. More than a year later, while Riley was playing in the backyard she slipped by me and hurt another dog who was on a walk with their owner. I was beside myself and again called the trainer.

We made a plan to secure our backyard. Unfortunately, Riley slipped out and again injured another dog. I desperately looked for pet behavior services and found Dr. Wailani Sung at the SF SPCA’s Behavior Specialty Clinic.

During our consultation, Dr. Sung provided multiple recommendations to help Riley. Dr. Sung recommended counter conditioning exercises as well as switching to a harness and gentle lead instead of the chain collar the trainer had recommended. We started Riley on Fluoxetine, which has helped calm her anxiety. These recommendations combined with information for me on how to work with Riley were necessary for Riley and me to succeed.

The bond my family has with Riley now is much stronger after working with Dr. Sung. Riley is less anxious and my family and I better understand her strengths and weakness, making it possible for her thrive in our home.”

Need help with your pet’s behavior issue? Contact the SF SPCA’s Behavior Specialty Services.

January is full of new beginnings, so what better way to start fresh with your pet than to set them up for a happy and healthy new year? From dental cleanings to flea control to vaccine reminders, here’s how to get your pet ready to take on 2022!

Prevent the Pests 

  • Restock your flea and tick medications. If you don’t have a few months’ supply on hand, you can order directly from our online pharmacy!
  • Talk to your vet about heartworm protection, which may be administered during your annual exam appointment.
  • Groom your dog or cat regularly to keep their coat looking pristine and to allow you to better scan their fur and skin for external parasites.
  • Be wary of off-beaten trails. Try your best to avoid outdoor areas that have dense vegetation/weeds as these areas are known to harbor ticks.

Keep Fangs Fresh

Schedule regular teeth cleanings with your veterinarian. Maintaining pets’ dental health can add years to their life.

Vaccines and Boosters (but not for COVID-19)

Fortunately, our furry friends don’t need protection from the pandemic, but they do require core vaccines for optimal health. Click to learn more about Core Vaccines for Cats or Core Vaccines for DogsPlease note that California is currently experiencing a canine distemper outbreak and vaccine boosters are strongly encouraged for all dogs.

We want ultimate health and wellness for your pets this year—and every year!

When pets have clean teeth and healthy oral hygiene, it’s not only good for them, it’s good for you! It’s a common misconception that dogs and cats have naturally unappealing breath, but when their teeth are clean, their breath can be fresh! Here are four tips to ensure your pet’s teeth are as healthy as can be.

Brush their teeth! Using a specially designed pet toothbrush like the C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Kit on our online pharmacy can help to make for a more stress-free tooth-brushing. You may have to start slowly as many pets may attempt to eat the toothbrush or show signs of stress; but with a flavored pet toothpaste and some patience, you can teach them to relax as you care for their teeth. Before starting any grooming activity, make sure you have created a calm environment for your pet.

Include a dental-diet dry food in their daily nutrition. Kibble can provide a simple and effective way to cut back on plaque as long as it is designed to do just that. Dental-diet dry food is larger and softer than standard dry food, and it is meant to be chewed (as opposed to swallowed whole). But be aware that while dry food can benefit cats’ dental health, an exclusive diet of kibble can cause many cats to become overweight due to the high amount of carbohydrates in it. A mix of both dry and wet food will keep their teeth and diet in check. Additionally, you can use food-dispensing toys that will help slow down eating and encourage chewing.

Schedule regular teeth cleanings with your veterinarian. Maintaining pets’ dental health can add years to their life as it reduces the chances of disease, especially in older cats and dogs. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about regular professional cleanings.

Offer treats that contain enzymes to help keep teeth clean. You’ll find specialty items in our online pharmacy such as Greenies and DenTees Stars that will make your pet happy while ensuring their oral hygiene. It’s a win-win, and they can be delivered right to your home! ​

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