Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Puppy's fate stirs debate

By Ken Harris, Pekin Daily Times

Pit bull advocates are trying to save a young pit bull from being euthanized by Tazewell Animal Control in a case that demonstrates the different views regarding the breed most notoriously associated with dog fighting and highly publicized brutal attacks on humans.
According to Catherine Hedges of Don’t Bully My Breed, a rescue shelter and advocate for dog breeds they say have unfairly been given bad names, a six- to eight-month-old pit bull puppy named Dingo was taken into Animal Control last week. Hedges said her organization has tried to adopt the puppy from Animal Control before he is euthanized so the puppy can be placed in a home where he is wanted. She added her organization only takes well-behaved dogs that can be placed in good homes.
However, Animal Control has refused to adopt out the dog due to perceived behavioral issues, and he will likely be euthanized if the owner does not provide proof of ownership before the five-day waiting period is over this week, according to Arthur Herm, the Morton Animal Hospital veterinarian in charge of deciding the fate of the animals that come through Animal Control. He said Dingo, who at less than a year old is already as large as a fully grown boxer breed and is “nothing but muscle,” exhibited aggressive reactions to small dogs. He said if the dog ever got a hold of somebody with its teeth it would “do a lot of damage.”
“Tazewell Animal Control and myself are in favor of adopting animals from the shelter as long as they’re healthy and of good behavior,” Herm said. “It’s healthy, but it’s not of good behavior. There’s just too much risk adopting an animal like this out when it has this aggressive behavior. (Advocates) say if it’s just aggressive against other animals it’s not a problem. But if a person — like a small child — gets in between it and the animal there’s liability there.”
Hedges, however, said the only reason Animal Control will not adopt out Dingo is because of his breed and the negative reputation the breed receives from stories of dangerous dogs. She said it is normal for all terrier breeds, which includes pit bulls, to be reactive to small animals, though they are not naturally aggressive to people and children.
Hedges said the reputation of pit bulls is based on dogs raised by people who do not properly socialize their animals or who train them to be mean. She said properly raised pit bulls fare better in temperament tests than the ever-popular family dog, the labrador. She said several people have told her Dingo is well-behaved and Herm acknowledged the dog has exhibited friendly behavior to the adults working in the shelter.
Hedges said the behavior exhibited by Dingo is typical of all terriers and she refuses to believe all the dogs eligible for adoption from Animal Control exhibit friendly behavior toward small animals like cats. She said Dingo is not more likely to attack a person than any other dog, and he is being singled out because of the stigma surrounding his breed and the county’s fear of legal repercussions.
“He acts like a terrier is supposed to, and I just don’t think that’s a good reason for euthanasia,” Hedges said. “There’s always that fear of liability. ‘What if we release this cat-aggressive dog and somebody gets bit?’”
Hedges also questioned the expertise of Herm, who she said has been “adamant about euthanizing Dingo right from the start,” adding veterinarians are not required to take any courses in animal behavior and are only experts at treating them medically. She added if Dingo was released to her, Don’t Bully My Breed would be sure to find him a home situation where no cats or small animals were present.
Herm, on the other hand, said he has been a veterinarian for 36 years and has been at the Morton Animal Hospital for 32 years and working with Animal Control for 22 years. He said he has dealt with many clients who have been bitten by dogs for various reasons and, being a dog lover himself, understands the way Hedges and others feel about this issue. However, he said he cannot in good conscience release a dog he believes is likely to harm someone.
He said he disagrees with those people who believe they can train aggressiveness out of dogs, and added he believes aggressiveness is “inherent” and “genetic” in all dogs while pit bulls “seem to have more of that.”
“I feel like the ‘Grinch Who Stole Christmas’ for these people but unfortunately I can’t help them this time,” Herm said. “It is black and white. There’s no gray area.”
Dingo came to Animal Control last week and was first inspected by Herm Friday, he said. That means the five-day grace period is running out. Herm said the only reason he would not have the dog put down would be if the owner provided proof of ownership or if a “judge of law said differently.”
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