Animal behavior experts are urging the Marine Corps not to judge a book by its cover -- or in this case, a dog by its breed.
Staff from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are in Beaufort this week testing dogs in order for them to be waived a base housing ban by the Marine Corps. But ASPCA staff members say there is a better way to keep dogs and owners together and protect Marines and their families from aggressive, dangerous dogs.
"Breed bans don't work," said Emily Weiss, ASPCA animal behaviorist who developed the Safety Assessment For Evaluation Rehoming test, or SAFER, which will be administered to more than 100 dogs at Beaufort military housing.
"These breeds of dogs have a bad rap. In most cases, these are safe, wonderful animals. We're hoping that we can work with the Marine Corps over the next two years to show them that we should be testing individual dogs and determining a particular dog's aggression level and not just banning these three breeds. It's breed prejudice."
An August order bans pit bulls, Rottweilers , wolf hybrids and mixes of those breeds from Marine Corps installations, unless they pass a behavior test. The order affects the owners of at least 130 dogs on Beaufort bases, according to the Beaufort County Animal Shelter.
Dog owners have until Oct. 11 to obtain a waiver by passing a "nationally recognized temperament test." The waivers expire Sept. 30, 2012. After that date, Marines can move off base with their dogs or give them up.
About 10 dogs were tested Tuesday morning and all passed, according to the ASPCA.
One by one, dogs and their owners entered one of two vacant homes Tuesday at Laurel Bay military housing and were put through the group's seven-step assessment. The dogs are tested on their comfort level around strangers, children, their food and other dogs.
But a ban on certain breeds doesn't mean the Corps has rid its installations of all aggressive dogs, said Army Capt. Jenifer Gustafson, the veterinarian for all three Beaufort bases.
"What stops a poodle (from being aggressive?)" Gustafson said. "I have never been attacked or even growled at by a pit bull. I won't name them, but there are other breeds of dogs that I am far more phobic of than pits."