DARKE COUNTY — Are pit bulls a menace or merely misunderstood?
According to some, pit bulls have gotten a bad rap. Because of this, more than 5,600 people from the United States, including Darke County, and even overseas have signed an online petition on the website Change.org demanding the Darke County Animal Shelter “stop murdering pit bulls.”
Darke County resident Mindi Brown Casella said she recently became aware of the disturbing practices at the Darke County Animal Shelter regarding pit bull discrimination. Casella claims the local animal shelter euthanizes the dogs immediately without a chance of being placed in a rescue group or adopted.
“This is beyond appalling and backwards. Greenville doesn’t need this horrible reputation for something that is completely barbaric and senseless!” she said. “Pitbulls are actually wonderful family pets and so sweet with children, I own a pitbull so I know this breed well. They get a bad rap due to bad owners, not bad dogs.”
The online petition is the handiwork of Columbus, Ohio, resident Luke Westerman, of the Westerman Family Foundation, Ohioans Against Breed Discrimination & Citizens For Shelter Reform, who claims the county shelter “immediately” euthanizes the pit bulls that find their way into the facility.
“There’s so many people speaking out so passionately,” said Westerman. “They don’t like this being done on their dime.”
The petition is asking Darke County Commissioners Diane Delaplane, Mike Stegall and Mike Rhoades to change the shelter’s policy on pit bulls to “ensure the shelter begins working actively with the many wonderful rescues in Darke County and beyond.”
“County commissioners have the ability to dictate to shelters not to discriminate against breeds,” Westerman said.
Those seeking such redress, however, may not find the task easy.
Commissioner Rhoades told The Daily Advocate that all three commissioners support the policies currently being followed by Darke County Animal Shelter Director Duane Sanning.
“We agree with his thoughts on this matter,” said Rhoades. “We put a lot of value in what he does and will defer to his experience.”
Sanning feels he, himself, is being unfairly characterized.
“I’m a dog person,” Sanning said. “I love dogs, but I can’t justify putting the citizens of our county at risk.”
He flatly discounts the charge that he euthanizes pit bulls immediately upon their arrival, saying the shelter adheres to state law in these matters.
The state requires that stray dogs picked up without a license are to be held for 72 hours before being eligible for adoption. Licensed dogs are housed for at least two weeks. After that, the disposition of the animal is at the discretion of the shelter. Policies on how shelters handle pit bulls from that point on vary from county to county.
Sanning adds that his policy on not adopting out pit bulls also applies to any breed of dog that he considers unsafe.
“If I feel any dog is not going to be safe for adoption, I won’t let it be adopted,” he said.
Just in the past week, Sanning confirmed there had been two separate pit bull attacks on people in Darke County. Though he declined to go into further detail, stating that the investigations into the incidents continue, he believes instances like this show the dangerous nature inherent in the breed.
“This aggressiveness is in their makeup,” he said. “Other breeds bite and let go. Pit bulls don’t. They are bred to fight bears, other animals. I see all these cases and the damage they cause.”
When The Daily Advocate visited the Darke County Animal Shelter, Sanning showed a pit bull that had been at the shelter for approximately a month, well after the 14-day holding period. The dog’s owner is known, but after repeated calls from the shelter, the owner refuses to retrieve it. Eventually, Sanning admits, the dog could be put to sleep.
“He’s not a bad dog. He’s getting food and water. He doesn’t seem to be an aggressive one,” he said.
“But in this job, I can’t look at things emotionally. I have to think clearly. How am I supposed to make the determination? How can I put the citizens of this county at risk?” he added.
Colleen Lynn, the founder of DogsBite.org, a national dog bite victims’ group dedicated to reducing serious dog attacks, agrees.
The group, based in Austin, Texas, conducts research on what it calls “the growing, but underreported, public safety issue of severe and fatal dog attacks inflicted by dangerous dog breeds.”
“The Darke County shelter director should be admired for his public safety priority,” she said. “This is a priority that is being dismantled across the country at an alarming pace primarily due to pressures to achieve no-kill [shelters].”
Lynn herself is a dog bite victim, having been attacked by a leashed pit bull while jogging in 2007. She spent two days in a hospital to repair a severe bone fracture as a result of the attack.
“Realistically, we cannot ‘save them all,’ nor should we,” she said. “Some dogs do not belong in our communities; they are unsafe. A responsible shelter director knows this and considers the ramifications of how the animal might impact the community after it is adopted. The public entrusts them to do just that.”
Lynn’s organization cites a study by Merritt Clifton, editor of the website “Animals 24-7,” which compiled U.S. and Canadian press accounts between 1982 and 2014, showing the dog breeds most responsible for disfiguring injuries and deaths.
The study shows the combination of molosser breeds, including pit bulls, rottweilers, presa canarios, cane corsos, mastiffs, dogo argentinos, fila brasieros, sharpeis, boxers, and their mixes (9.2 percent plus of the total dog population) inflict:
- 86 percent of attacks that induce bodily harm
- 81 percent of attacks to children
- 89 percent of attack to adults
- 76 percent of attacks that result in fatalities
- 86 percent that result in maiming
The organization claims pit bulls are noteworthy for attacking adults almost as frequently as children. “This is a very rare pattern,” the group’s website states, “only seen elsewhere in the bullmastiff/presa canario line.”
Pit bull lovers, however, seem undeterred and indeed, passionate, about the breed despite the perceived dangers, as can be judged by the comments left by Darke County residents on the Change.org petition.
“I feel the pit bulls should at least have a chance at getting adopted. I know people who own pit bulls and I’m a firm believer that if pit bulls are raised right they can be great dogs, even around kids and other dogs,” wrote Kristen Nixon, of Union City, Ohio.
“Not all pits are bad, just poor owners,” said Jordy Wolford, of Arcanum, Ohio.
“These dogs are a wonderful protection breed to you and your family. They give ton of love to you and family well trained dogs and they will stick by your side no matter what the situation is. They know how to handle [themselves] in dangerous conflict. Most important they’ll bring a smile to your face every day. I’ve trained and grew up with these breeds since I was born. My dad grew up with them and so will my children. Best breed of dog to own for protection and love. I’m 23 and currently have two females and one male. And they are my best friends,” wrote Robert Kiser of Greenville, Ohio.
Bonnie Bercaw, also of Greenville, wrote, “My children and I have been around pit bulls all my children’s lives and now my grandchildren. [Pit bulls] are very sweet and loving dogs just like any other breed, they have a bad [rap] due to few humans’ bad judgments… stop killing these innocent dogs.”
Though claiming the pit bull breed faces undue discrimination both in Darke County and in shelters across America, Westerman concedes that animal shelters should not allow adoption in some instances.
“We understand the shelters can’t always adopt out any animal,” he said. “Especially not if an animal exhibits aggressive behavior. But if an animal passes an assessment process, it should be adoptable, regardless of breed.”
For further information from DogsBite.org, visit the group’s website at www.dogsbite.org. To see the online petition, go to www.change.org/p/darke-county-commissioners-stop-murdering-pit-bulls-darke-county-dog-shelter.
The writer may be reached at 937-569-4314. Join the conversation and get updates on Facebook search Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.