Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shelter offers spay/neuter vouchers for pit bulls

The Mower County Humane Society has eight pit bull terriers in its southeast Austin shelter, a converted auto repair shop that can hold 20 dogs at the most.

Jay Zimmerman, who manages the society's dog kennel, says the humane society is under pressure to take in stray dogs, and the high number of pit bulls and slow turnaround for adoption is creating congestion at the shelter.

"I don't want to say it's grinding to a halt, but we've reached a point of bottleneck," Zimmerman said.

The society recently introduced vouchers for pit bull terrier owners that will allow them to have their dogs spayed or neutered free of charge. Zimmerman said the voucher program is aimed at the root cause of pit bull overpopulation. He says the breed's popularity has caused it to become bred to excess, which has left the market flooded. The vouchers will allow pit bull owners to get their dogs spayed or neutered without charge.

On average, most dogs stay at the humane society's shelter for a month before they are adopted out. For pit bulls, the average is seven months, Zimmerman said.

Pit bulls are harder to adopt because they require tremendous amounts of exercise. Then there's the negative stigma attached to the breed, which also contributes to the slow turnaround at the shelter.

"People have a perception that they're violent, that they're like a bomb waiting to go off," said Zimmerman.

For the past two years, the society has been on the receiving end of a trend. Zimmerman says pit bulls have been popular among people in their 20s and an "explosion" in breeding has followed it. Part of the reason why the society is seeing a bottleneck is that pit bull puppies are what people want most. Most of the dogs at the shelter are already 1 or 2 years old. Many of them haven't been properly trained.

"If they haven't been taught, it's like a bull in a china shop," said Zimmerman. "We have rehabilitated some of them. Unfortunately, a lot of these owners aren't able to keep the dog for its entire life."

The shelter usually doesn't discriminate against any particular breed of dog, just as long as it passes an examination, but it will make exceptions for dogs that are deemed aggressive.

Zimmerman tells callers to start advertising whenever the shelter can't take animals that callers want to surrender. The society also has a network of foster homes but doesn't use them often because they make adoptions more complex.

The city dog pound provides the society with many of its animals, but there are also quite a few that are picked up outside the city.

"Between those sources, we're to the point where we do not take owner-surrendered dogs of any kind," said Zimmerman.

Austin Post-Bulletin

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