Marines Enlist Help of ASPCA Animal Behavior Experts

Team of Experts to Assess Behavior of Dogs in Danger of Breed Ban
September 28, 2009

NEW YORK— Several Animal Behavior Experts from the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) will be in Parris Island, S.C. from October 6-8 to conduct behavior assessments of over 100 dogs living with their pet parents who could potentially be subject to a breed ban in the Tri-Command housing units of the Marines Corp Recruit Depot.

The assessment, known as ASPCA SAFER (Safety Assessment For Evaluation Rehoming), is a seven-item research-based assessment to help identify the likelihood for aggression in individual dogs.  SAFER identifies a dog's comfort level with certain interactions like restraint, touch, reaction to new experiences including movement, sound stimuli, bite inhibition, behavior around food and toys, and arousal level toward novel objects and other dogs.

"Our main goal in this program is to make sure safe dogs and their families are able to stay together," said Dr. Emily Weiss, Senior Director of Shelter Research and Development for the ASPCA.  "There is no 'pass' or 'fail' with the SAFER assessment, instead, we are simply aiming to identify behavior issues such as certain types of aggression, which often times can be modified or managed."

Talk of instituting a breed ban began after several incidents involving dog attacks on the base, including one incident in 2008 in which a 3 year-old boy was accidentally killed by a pit bull visiting a family living on base. The Marine Corps previously conducted tests such as the Canine Good Citizen Test and Delta Society Test, which actually evaluate a dog's obedience and manners and do not correlate with aggression.  When looking for a behavior assessment that could specifically identify potentially aggressive behavior in dogs, the Marines enlisted the help of the ASPCA.

By using the SAFER assessment, safe dogs will be given the opportunity for a waiver so they can remain on the base until 2012.  The ASPCA is opposed to breed bans – laws that ban specific breeds of dogs or unfairly discriminate against responsible dog guardians based solely on their choice of breed. Such laws also fail to achieve the desired goal of stopping illegal activities such as dog fighting, and breeding and/or training dogs to be aggressive. The ASPCA believes that strict enforcement of laws that ban animal fighting, and breeding and/or training animals to fight, is the proper means to address the problem.

"We're very excited about the ASPCA coming to Parris Island," said Army Capt. Jenifer Gustafson, the Officer in Charge of the veterinary clinic on Parris Island. "There was a chance that some pet parents would be forced to give up their dogs or leave housing on the base, so this is a great alternative solution."