Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Increase seen in abandoned pit bulls

Overwhelmed owners should bring them to county shelter

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

TRENTON - The approach of spring is "dumping season" for unwanted dogs - "and pit bulls are the dump dog of choice right now," says Renee Jeffries, Butler County's acting chief dog warden.

In the past 10 weeks, animal control officers throughout the county have picked up 70 pit bulls - 20 of them in the first 13 days of March, Jeffries said Monday. And some of the loose dogs had bitten people, she said.

Jeffries and her counterparts in Middletown, Hamilton and Fairfield are trying to educate the public and prevent the problem from escalating.

Most of the animals had been abandoned. Some owners seek out pit bulls for the prestige of having a "tough" dog.

But many owners are ill-prepared to meet the demands of caring for this type of dog, which was originally bred for aggression and strength but valued for its intelligence and loyalty.

"No dog deserves to be dumped," Jeffries said, "and just because these dogs can be very aggressive doesn't mean they're bad dogs. They can be wonderful. I'm all for people having pit bulls - if they're responsible about it."

Some cities have banned pit bulls; Ohio law classifies them as "vicious," and requires their owners to keep the dogs in a locked pen and to maintain at least $100,000 worth of liability insurance.

"They realize they can't keep them, and they're afraid that if they bring them to a shelter, they'll get in trouble. So they dump them," Jeffries said. "But they're not going to get in trouble for taking them to a shelter. They will if they get caught dumping them."

Many of the animals in the shelter here are euthanized, Jeffries said.

But shelters are working with pit bull rescue groups to find as many homes as possible for animals that have good temperaments.

If left to roam, the animals, accustomed to being fed from a bowl, face difficult survival odds - and pose extra danger to the public because they're more likely to be afraid and to respond with aggression, Jeffries said.

"So I have concerns about this across-the-board," she said.

Donna Reynolds, executive director of a San Francisco-based nonprofit, BAD RAP: Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls, said the problem is widespread.

"A large percentage of pit bulls being born today will be abandoned and destroyed in shelters before their second or third birthday," she said. "Just about every urban area in the country is struggling with the overpopulation of this one very popular breed."

Craig Barnes, animal control officer for the Hamilton City Health Department, said he thinks pit bulls have become more popular because they can be bred for lots of money - and because of the image they convey. "I believe it's a status thing: Who's got the biggest, the toughest, the best-looking pit bull," Barnes said.

Reynolds noted, "It's really easy to acquire a pit bull, but society doesn't make it easy to own one for life."

About pit bulls

Under Ohio law, pit bulls:

 Are the only breed of dog specifically designated as "vicious," regardless of history or temperament.

 Must be housed on the owner's property "at all times in a locked pen...or other locked enclosure that has a top."

 When off the owner's property, must be kept on a six-foot-long or shorter leash; owner also must at least muzzle the dog or take other steps to secure the animal.

More information:

 Animal Friends Humane Society (513) 867-5727 in Butler County or other local animal shelter, dog warden or animal-control officer.

 BAD RAP: Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls, www.badrap.org.

 Pit Bulls on the Web, www.pitbullsontheweb.com

 Furry Friends Foundation, "The Truth about Pit Bulls," http://www.furryfriendsfoundation.com/Truth03/Truth03.htm


WCPO-TV contributed to this story. E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com

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