Monday, January 10, 2011

Hamden neighbors up in arms over pit bulls

By Ann DeMatteo, The New Haven Register

Dunbar Hill area residents who feel unsafe walking outside because of recent pit bull sightings are wondering whether they should bear arms to protect themselves.

A police official Monday night told them it is their right to carry a permitted firearm, but he wouldn’t recommend it.

“You have a constitutional right bear arms, however, we don’t want to see people shooting dogs,” said Capt. Ronald Smith, adding that a shooter would face serious repercussions if an innocent bystander were struck.

Smith stressed that residents who see roaming dogs should call police, and also give their names, so officers can try to find the dog’s owner. If someone calls about an aggressive dog, the response will be immediate.

Smith said that the town’s animal control officers are doing an excellent job and are burdened with cases involving animal nuisances. Numerous people have been arrested for letting their dogs roam or if their dogs have bitten other dogs or people, as well as failure to vaccinate them.

“A number of written warnings have been issued and restraining orders have been issued that restrict” the actions of a dog and owner, he said.

The issue of pit bulls in the Benham Street-Dunbar Hill Road area came into focus Dec. 18 when a resident  was walking her dog, which was attacked by a pit bull. It took four people to remove the dog from her dog and tie it to a pole outside the Dunbar Hill Volunteer Fire Company. The dog got loose and police were called. An officer shot the dog four times before it died.

A sick pit bull was found in front of Hindinger Farm later that day. Another pit bull was found in the neighborhood since then.

Resident Scott Howland said he wondered whether any pit bulls were being bred in the area, and wanted to know what happens to those that are not licensed. "It's a sad state of affairs when I can not walk my licensed, registered dog in my town without some form of extreme force to protect myself and my dog," Howland said. “We have no protection, outside of carrying a gun. What can be done, as a taxpayer, to feel safe?”

Smith said that there is a “pit bull epidemic” in Hamden and across the nation. All of the strays that are picked up in town are pit bulls.

Residents also questioned whether there was any illegal breeding in the neighborhood. Smith said he has received no information on that, but would investigate any such reports.

Residents at the meeting admitted that it’s not the breed that’s the problem as a whole, but when a pit bull is raised to be aggressive.

“They’re great dogs. The problem is people,” said Delette Corwell, who lives less than a mile from the Dec. 18 attack. “People have overbred them and dump them” when they can no longer feed them, she said.

Corwell has worked with pit bulls as a volunteer with Friends of the New Haven Animal Shelter. She also is a member of the Connecticut National Pit Bull Awareness Committee, which had an event at Edgewood Park in New Haven in October.

“Some are fine with other dogs, some are not. It’s the way people raise and breed them. They are the most lovable breed I’ve ever encountered,” Corwell said.

“I’m not saying they can all get along with other dogs. They need to be socialized to be with other dogs,” she said.

Amia Michelina of Wallingford, who runs the website Lovethypitbull.com, said that she wants to dispel myths about pit bulls and raise awareness about their plight to get them adopted.

Animal pounds are filled with them, and there is a lot of “backyard breeding.”

Educated owners need to adopt them so that the dogs can have love, affection and discipline, as well as exercise, said Michelina, who did not attend the meeting.

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