Some dogs in Orange County animal shelters and rescues have a more difficult time getting adopted than others.  

In Orange County, large dogs, mature dogs or dogs with perceived behavior problems — whether or not these perceptions are true — are most often left behind. 

Mike Cribbin, manager of Irvine Animal Care Center, said the combination of these factors can make or break an animal’s chances of getting adopted.

Old Dogs Ignored, Puppies Preferred

“If you have an older animal and it happens to be larger and there’s at least a perception of behavior problems, a lot of times the adopter really can’t see the true behavior of the animal,” Cribbin said. 

“But the public is going to think what they want to think. Sometimes people think, ‘Oh, this is an older animal, it must have had some type of bad behavior.’”

Cribbin said most families look for puppies because they seem more appealing or they want the animal to grow up with their family. To help those overlooked dogs get adopted, he said it’s important for potential adoptees to look at an animal on an individual basis.

“People may have some overall biases,” Cribbin said. “We will inform them that we don’t have a bias against any particular animal or breed of dog… Younger dogs typically go easier and will have a lot more interest, regardless of breed identification.”

Cupid is a 1-year-old pit bull mix that recovered from canine parvovirus — a highly contagious virus that can cause persistent vomiting and diarrhea, leading to rapid dehydration and possible damage to the intestines and immune system. Cupid was set to be euthanized due to the virus before being rescued by Labradors & Friends. Credit: TAYLOR FRAZIER, Voice of OC

Labels Can Kill

Some dog breeds, like pit bulls or boxers, are viewed as less friendly or well-behaved. On a national scale, dogs labeled as pit bulls have a more difficult time getting adopted.

“Animals that appear better behaved and interact with potential adopters better have a higher chance of getting adopted,” Cribbin said.

Labradors and Friends — a Southern California-based dog rescue – specifically focuses their efforts on dogs who may be overlooked because of their size, age, medical needs or breed.

“Rooting for the underdog is always a good idea,” said Michele Aerts, who has been volunteering at Labradors and Friends for seven years. “These are good dogs. They just get overlooked because of some issue. They deserve a chance. Luckily, our founder has a bleeding heart for the ones that get overlooked or put down for no fault of their own. They aren’t bad dogs. They just had a bad hand dealt to them.”

Aerts said that some people view large dogs, specifically pit bulls, as mean or dangerous breeds, when this perception isn’t the case at all. 

In OC, Pit Bulls, German Shepherds and Huskies are Most At-Risk

“Sometimes, (shelters) doom a dog by labeling it a pit bull mix,” Aerts said. “There’s a lot of landlords and insurance companies and places where if the dog is labeled a particular breed they are automatically discounted or not allowed in because of what someone has perceived their breed to be.”

Tia is a 3-year-old German shepherd mix who was volunteered to Labradors & Friends when her previous owners realized they didn’t have enough time for her. Credit: TAYLOR FRAZIER, Voice of OC

Aerts said they try to encourage adoptions for pit bulls and other large dogs by advertising them in a positive light on social media. They also focus on dogs with medical issues and black dogs, which Aerts says also have a harder time getting adopted.

Of the adoptable dogs in OC’s county-run animal shelter, the largest majority are pit bulls. Of the remaining dogs, the majority are German shepherds or huskies.

“Our dog population changes on a daily basis, and it is accurate to say that OC Animal Care shelters a high volume of large breed dogs,” Jackie Tran, a spokesperson for the shelter, wrote in an email sent to Voice of OC. “OC Animal Care is committed to finding responsible, positive pathways out of the shelter that benefit the community and all pets we serve whenever possible. We focus on all breeds and work diligently on whatever animals are in the shelter on any given day.”

At an adoption event hosted in September by Supervisor Katrina Foley, all the small dogs were adopted within the first few hours of the day. She said one of the issues is finding adoptees with enough space for the dogs’ needs.

“We need to get those larger dogs adopted, but one of the issues that we continue to have is that many of the people coming to adopt don’t have the space to accommodate large dogs,” Foley said. “We struggle with those adoptions because they need more space.”

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.


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