Humane Society of Indianapolis drops 'breed tags' in effort to end 'dog discrimination'

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana -- The Humane Society of Indianapolis is no longer labeling the breed on a dog’s identification card at the shelter. That includes so-called bully breeds, like pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds or Dobermans.

When dogs come into the Humane Society of Indianapolis, staff members often offer their best guess as to the breed, and put it on a card attached to the cage.

But that has now stopped.

"We don’t know what most of these dogs are. We want people to fall in love with the dog. We don’t want you to look and the first thing you go is, ‘I’m afraid of German Shepherds,' or 'I’m afraid of boxers,'" said Connie Swaim, director of canine training at the Humane Society of Indianapolis.

Swaim said shelters across the country have taken the more progressive, personality–driven approach.

Staff at the Humane Society of Indianapolis talked about it for roughly a year, and then started dropping the breed labels weeks ago.

“What we found was, we hear people all the time go into the kennel and go, ‘that’s an X breed,’ or ‘I don’t like that. My neighbor said X breed is a bad breed,’” Swaim said.

Dogs are now classified by their personalities, with titles like bashful, athlete or class clown.

At Indy Humane, every dog goes through a behavioral assessment, before being put up for adoption.

“We want people to make a connection with that dog, and then ask us ‘what do you think that dog is?' Obviously, we know if a person rents, we’re going to talk to them if we think the pet they’re adopting could be assumed by people to be one of those breeds,'" Swaim said.

Swaim said many people make a snap judgment when they learn that a dog could be a bully breed. Those breeds are widely assumed to be more dangerous. In fact, some landlords won’t allow them, and some insurance companies won’t provide homeowner’s coverage in a home with bully breeds.

WXIN caught up with dog owners at a dog park who said they favor Indy Humane’s approach.

“I’ve known plenty of dogs that are bully breeds that are absolute compassionate, well-trained dogs. I can see how people are a little weary of them because of housing situations, homeowners insurance can go up with those breeds,” said Lindsey Roscoe.

“As long as it’s a good home match and people are OK with the dog and how it acts, there shouldn’t be a problem with not labeling the dog initially,” said Shawntee Fehribach.

Swaim said dogs will still have a breed listed online, just not at the shelter. They’ll look back in a few months and see if the new policy is getting results.

“What we want to see is these dogs getting out of here faster and not being held up because of something they don’t deserve,” Swaim said.