Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dogs returned to shelter after attacks

Tuesday, December 30, 2008 10:37 PM
By Barbara Carmen

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Franklin County's dog shelter doesn't knowingly let vicious dogs out the door, its director says. But bitten or blindsided owners tell a different tale.

"There was blood all over my family room," said Julie Thompson of Hilliard.

She and husband, Arlie, fell in love with Rel, a husky who tested fine at the shelter with a family dog before adoption on Sept. 2.

But within four hours of bringing him home, Rel was back at the shelter: He attacked the Thompsons' other husky and bloodied one of their two beagles.

"My dogs are my children," Mrs. Thompson said, explaining all were rescued animals.

Rel's search for a family didn't end there. The shelter put the 36-pound, year-old dog up for adoption two more times.

And twice, he was returned.

Shelter Director Lisa Wahoff said Rel was held for observation and training after the Thompsons took him to make sure he'd be a good pet.

Such training has succeeded with other dogs. Randy, a 43-pound yellow mix, bit a shelter volunteer. After seven months of rehab, new owner Phyllis Sage was carefully screened and warned. She wrote Wahoff recently to say Randy is a sweet dog: "We feel truly blessed."

Rel did well at training, but it didn't stick. "He did well in a large play group; no aggression was seen," a shelter card says.

Rel's second owner returned him Oct. 30, one day after adoption. Her dog was "initiating attacks" with Rel, she wrote.

He lasted two days with his third owner. On Nov. 12, she noted that Rel was "sweet, smart, affectionate.'' He also "attacked my sheltie and drew blood."

The shelter euthanized Rel the next day.

The number of dogs returned for biting people is statistically small, about 0.6 percent, or 24 dogs, a year, Wahoff said. Overall, people have returned 285 of the 3,234 dogs adopted through November.

"Most say, 'It was too much dog,' or 'We're moving,' " Wahoff said. "We do a good job of trying to match up people and dogs. Dogs are dogs, and you can't predict."

Ohio State veterinarians cited the adoption of pit bulls and other dangerous dogs as a concern in a 2007 memo, which also described animal suffering, altered medical records and disease at the shelter, 1731 Alum Creek Dr. Soon after, OSU's veterinary college stopped training students there and providing the shelter with free services.

Wahoff said other breeds are often mistaken for pit bulls. So a panel of technicians and a veterinarian evaluate a dog's body and behavior. In 2008, the shelter has taken in 2,746 pit bulls. Of those, 2,435 were euthanized and 311 were reclaimed by owners.

"We're not putting pit bulls up for adoption," Wahoff said.

Dr. William Gesel, a veterinarian who authored Columbus' dangerous-dog ordinance, would beg to differ. Twice this month, two unsuspecting clients brought in pit bulls that the county adopted as Labrador mixes.

He asked the clients, both Labrador lovers, 'What are you doing with a pit bull?' "

Each said the county shelter had told them their dog was a Labrador mix. Both returned the dogs.

"Their homeowner's insurance won't let them have pits or Rotts," Gesel said. Ohio law singles out pit bulls as vicious and requires owners to keep them penned and carry $100,000 in liability insurance.

Gesel said it isn't all that complicated to properly identify pit bulls. He once explained to a judge, "Any kid on the street can tell you if it is a pit. If it has the characteristics, it's a pit."

Lori Brown of the Northeast Side said she felt like a victim after reading a Dec. 21 Dispatch article quoting the OSU vets.

"I didn't want a pit bull; I didn't want any part of that," Brown said. "When I got her (eight months earlier), I said, 'What do you think she's mixed with?' and they said, 'Oh, we have no idea.' "

She returned her dog the week before the story ran. It had attacked other dogs and snapped at her 9-year-old son.

Her youngest son now tells people, "My dog went bye-bye."

bcarmen@dispatch.com

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