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TECOM Training & Education Command

United States Marine Corps

New behavior assessment for dogs keeps families, pets together

By LANCE CPL. ISAAC LAMBERTH | | October 2, 2009


Animal behaviorists are scheduled to visit Parris Island, Oct. 6-8, to conduct assessments of dogs included in the breed ban by Marine Corps Order 11000.22, which has been in place since August.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will send six specialists to the Tri-Command area to evaluate the aggression levels of full or mixed breeds of pit bull terriers, rottweilers and canine/
wolf hybrids.

The assessments conducted by the ASPCA are an alternative for pet owners to gauge the aggression levels of their dogs, said Army Capt. Jenifer Gustafson, the Tri-Command veterinarian.

The Marine Corps offers tests, which do not involve the ASPCA, such as the Canine Good Citizen and Delta Test, for the breeds banned by the Marine Corps.

However, some pet owners feel such tests do not properly determine a dog’s
aggression level.

“Not all pit bulls are aggressive dogs,” said Gustafson, of Athens, Ga. “A lot of them are really friendly animals; they just have a bad reputation because of the name of
the breed.”

The ASPCA team will fly in from five different states to administer a 10-to-15 minute behavior assessment for more than 100 dogs in the Tri-Command area, free-of-charge to
dog owners.

The assessment, known as ASPCA SAFER (Safety Assessment For Evaluation Rehoming) is a nationally recognized, seven-item, research-based assessment to help identify the likelihood of aggression in
individual dogs.

The SAFER assessment identifies a dog’s comfort level with restraint, as well as touch and reaction to new experiences, said Emily Weiss, the senior director of Shelter Research and Development for
the ASPCA.

It also assesses a dog’s movement, sound stimuli, bite inhibition, behavior around food and toys, arousal level toward novel objects and other dogs, added Weiss.

The ASPCA wants to keep safe dogs and their families together, she added.

Although pet owners may have a time constraint to have their dog’s aggression level assessed, they do not have to worry about their dog passing or failing the test, which is different from the tests prescribed by the Marine Corps, said Capt. Joshua Gregory, the Depot installation and logistics
operations officer.

“There is not actually a pass or fail in the SAFER assessment, instead, we are identifying behavior,” said Weiss, of Wichita, Kan. “Often, behavior issues such as certain types of aggression can be modified
or managed.

“However, it is not up to the ASPCA to decide if remediation is an option for dogs it assesses in
this situation.”

Servicemembers involved with coordinating the visit say they are looking forward to the visit.

“We’re very excited about the ASPCA coming to Parris Island,” Gustafson said. “It was a godsend that we found them when we did.

“The assessment of dogs affects those who live in base housing and may have had to leave because of the rule, but since the ASPCA is coming they’re not going to,” she added. “This works for those who own the dogs and for the Marine Corps.”

Dogs  considered to be non-aggressive will be eligible for a waiver to remain on base until 2012.

 The assessments will occur Oct. 6-8 on Laurel Bay. To register and set up an appointment, pet owners should contact the Depot Veterinary Clinic at 228-3317.