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Loving pit bulls is oftentimes a blessed curse, with no reprieve in site...

 

My parents sent me the article from the Buffalo News yesterday. Initially, the article upset me -- seeing this sweet-looking pit bull being killed. Reading further, I found the article riddled with errors and became aggravated with what the article could have been.

Problem 1- the word "Euthanasia"

First off, the word "euthanised" is used -- a euphemism that society has used to over-ride the difficult and epidemic tasks faced by many shelters. Actual "euthanasia", per Merriam-Webster online, is "The act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured persons in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy called also mercy killing." That's my first bother of the article -- I don't see where this dog was "sick" or "injured" -- though the dog was "killed" -- albeit humanely -- which Merriam defines as the "depriv[ing] one of life".

Problem 2 - "Dog aggression"

My second issue with this article is that the pit bull was killed for attacking another dog -- commonly called "dog aggression" -- an unfortunate trait that is in-bred to many pit bulls. Remember, many pit bulls were originally bred by backyard breeders for the sick entertainment of humans -- who would watch the dogs fight each other to their brutal deaths. Dog aggression is a breed trait, and not a "defect" -- sure, human aggression is a defect to the breed and if displayed, needs to be dealt with sternly. Dog-aggression, however, is an unfortunate breed trait.

The GOOD news of this bad "trait" is that pit bulls can have varying degrees of dog-aggression -- from none at ALL, to very aggressive. Early socialization, responsible ownership and breed knowledge helps owners understand this trait in their individual dog, and helps them to own their pup responsibly. Instead, in this article, the writer states:

"The pit bull that was euthanized by Souza had been surrendered by its owner after the animal mauled a neighbor's dog. Healthy and friendly animals aren't killed in this place, said director Kelly McCartney."

Okay, so there are two problems with this -- first, we assume Ms. McCartney is a professional, and that she knows her breeds of dogs. Part of her job is to educate the general public about her specialty -- cats and dogs. In her chance to educate the public about pit bulls and their tendencies, Ms. McCartney falls flat by failing to explain that the pup (who the writer further objectifies by not revealing its name) was showing normal signs of the pit bull temperament. The second problem is that Ms. McCartney fails to mention the irresponsibility of the owner surrendering its dog after the pup showed dog aggression -- pit bulls are NOT golden retrievers, and their "owners" need to acknowledge this. This breed-trait of "dog aggression" makes pit bulls a poor fit for some homes -- and that's okay, as long as it's acknowledged. Here it wasn't, and as in many cases, the dog loses. More on dog aggression can be found here.

Problem 3 - "Responsible reporting"

Finally, the article places the onus of the dog and cat overpopulation problem on the city shelter -- making this article sort of a "Gee, I didn't know that" exercise. What the writer should have done, instead, was place the responsibility of this problem back on the general public. The article should have emphasized that the pounds will NEVER solve this problem -- they are instead mass (albeit necessary) killing centers. Instead, the article should have stated that society itself can help solve this problem by:

  • spaying or neutering its present pets.
  • encouraging its local politicians for breeding bans and for programs that mandate "breeders" to actively rescue and take their animals back at any time, for whatever reason, for humane treatment.
  • encouraging the reader to adopt its next pet from the shelter, not from some sham "professional" breeder -- a person with no credentials and who profits from their "breeding", with little or no concern for the future livelihood of the animal. As proof to this, how many "breeders" do you know that do home visits for their placements? As I recall, they're more concerned about the Benjamins than anything.

Conclusion

So, that's my stance on this article. In the end, the every-day people like my parents still think that all pit bulls are evil, and they think that shelters are a miserable place.

A few years back, when it was time for my Mom to get another "family dog", she went to a backyard breeder. No, she didn't call it that -- I did. Maybe if she read more articles emphasizing the overpopulation epidemic out there, and the ways which she could change it, things would get better for these poor souls.

All these animals are God's creatures, and I am sure He didn't intend this to be happening to them. He gave us humans the ability to empathize with our environment and to change our behaviors based on the world around us -- I certainly hope for better days ahead.

 


 

Veterinarian Dr. Matthew Souza and assistant Amy Fischer soothe a pit bull about to be euthanized, a fact of life at the cramped Buffalo Animal Shelter. The pit bull had mauled a neighbor's dog.

 

Heartbreak and hope


Euthanasia reduced, animal adoptions increase at city facility

By SANDRA TAN
Buffalo News

News Staff Reporter
7/30/2005

The dog shook. It crouched against the cabinets, its tail between its legs. The veterinarian spoke soothingly and stroked it lightly until it was calm enough to hoist onto the table.

The vet picked up the dog's white left leg and injected the shot, sliding his thumb over the spot after he was done. He avoided the dog's anxious gaze.

"You'll be in a far better place than you ever were here," Dr. Matthew Souza told the animal.

With that, the light brown canine went limp and slid from life to death.

Euthanasia is a fact of life at the Buffalo Animal Shelter. The cramped facility is a round-the-clock animal enforcement agency first and foremost. But every year, animal lovers fight to make sure that's not all it is. If it weren't for public outcry, the city would have ended the shelter's adoption program last summer.

More recently, a city audit noted the shelter still kills some dogs to make room for confiscated fighting dogs. Earlier this year, for instance, 11 pit bulls being trained for fighting were seized from four vacant houses, taking up one-fifth of the facility's kennels.

The audit prompted the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to come to an agreement with the city to step up efforts to transfer treatable and adoptable city shelter animals to the SPCA's adoption facility in the Town of Tonawanda.

"The government's job is to protect people from animals, and the Humane Society's job is to protect animals from people," said SPCA Executive Director Barbara Carr. Still, many agree that the shelter's treatment of animals is far more humane than it was a decade ago, despite the explosive growth in dog fighting.

Of the 3,278 dogs and cats the animal shelter handled last year, more than half were either adopted into new homes or returned to their owners, despite serious and ongoing challenges with inadequate space and resources.

Since 2001, the shelter has seen a 38 percent drop in animal killings.

The pit bull that was euthanized by Souza had been surrendered by its owner after the animal mauled a neighbor's dog. Healthy and friendly animals aren't killed in this place, said director Kelly McCartney.

The shelter runs a streamlined adoption program, screens prospective owners, offers extended weekend and evening hours, provides daily vet care and works closely with animal volunteers and rescue organizations as far away as Rochester.

Such initiatives weren't always welcome. There was a time when most animals that entered the old pound on Niagara Street didn't come out alive unless an owner claimed them.

Even after the shelter was relocated to Oak Street 10 years ago, the renovated kennels couldn't stand up to the abuse they got from the animals and the constant cage cleanings. Before long, the shelter showcased crumbling drywall, rusting kennel gutters, and bad drainage and ventilation.

Improvements have been made, but other problems remain.


On the road

Labor turnover is high, leaving few people to clean the shelter's 57 kennels. Many dog control officers drive beat-up vans from the early 1980s and receive cast-off bulletproof vests from the Police Department.

In addition, staff and volunteers wrestle with inadequate security and often face ugly confrontations with the public, some demanding the return of their money-winning dog fighters.
The dog control officers that patrol the city streets know all about the fighting. They routinely collect the dead fighting dogs from vacant lots, as well as mauled and injured dogs abandoned in vacant properties or left outside to die.

They chase down strays, follow-up on bite cases and check out animal cruelty complaints.

They also back up the police in drug raids where dogs are present and get assistance from police when arrests need to be made.

"We do a lot of stuff that other people won't do," Dog Control Officer Andrew Kleinfelder said.

Though these officers have virtually unchecked authority to seize any unlicensed dog in the city, they have no ability to issue warrants in animal cruelty cases, limiting their effectiveness.

Kleinfelder pointed to a sad, bony Rottweiler mix in one kennel. Someone had let this dog starve until it weighed roughly 60 pounds, half its normal weight. At the shelter, it's now gaining back pounds and has a prospective owner lined up.

Another set of officers recently found a dog with a bloody right paw tied up against a light pole near a vacant lot used as a dump for old tires.

A vet examined the dog and found the bleeding was the result of a tumor in its paw, the originating point for cancer that had spread up its leg.

The old dog had probably been a loyal family pet for nine years before it was abandoned on the street. It was euthanized.

Cases like these compound the animal shelter's problems every day, staffers say.

"You could never build large enough to accommodate all the animals out there," Souza said.
That doesn't mean shelter advocates don't dream about it. Director McCartney said she'd love more space, more green area and a higher visibility location.


Wishful thinking

Those changes would result in better animal housing, more adoptions and outdoor runs for the big dogs. It would mean not having to euthanize animals with borderline behavioral and health problems to make room for Cujo.

A dog by that name was a recent resident of the shelter. He broke a child's rib before dog control got to him.

Kleinfelder, also a dog agility trainer and certified evaluator for therapy dogs, assesses most of the shelter's strays for adoptability.

He approached an unkempt, black chow chow - a breed prone to aggression. He pet it lightly, then picked up its paw and pulled its tail. He shoved it, tried to startle it and tested it for food aggression. The dog was unfazed. It was later adopted.

McCartney said that's what really matters - not that the shelter still must kill more than a thousand animals each year. It's trying harder than ever to save the animals it can.

The shelter has stepped up its owner and animal-screening processes and extended night and weekend hours since McCartney took over. A storage room has been converted into a "Meet & Greet" lounge where prospective owners can freely interact with adoptable dogs and cats.

It may not be enough, she said, but it's something.