New Riverside County program tackles pit bull population

10:00 PM PST on Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The Press-Enterprise

RIVERSIDE – Riverside County animal control officials are launching a program to offer free spay-neuter services for pit bulls and pit bull mix dogs to stem the flood of these high-profile canines into countywide animal shelters.

Lori Neddermann, community services operations chief for the Department of Animal Services, said 20 percent of dogs impounded in 2008 — or nearly 4,000 canines — were pit bulls and pit bull mixes. Almost 73 percent of those dogs were euthanized, she said.

“That’s shameful,” Neddermann said.

Animal Services Director Robert Miller said he was taken aback at that number and decided to try to tackle the problem at its root by keeping the dogs from producing offspring.

The result is the “Pit Bull Project,” which will hold its first clinic on Jan. 13.

Owners of pit bulls or pit bull mixes willing to pay $34 to have their dogs vaccinated, licensed and microchipped will get free spay-neuter services, Neddermann said.

“The department has a goal of 32 animals for the Jan. 13 event,” Neddermann said.

Miller said the Pit Bull Project represents a major step forward for the department.

“This is the first time in the history of the department that we’ve taken funds and specifically earmarked them for pit bulls,” Miller said.

In November, the department accepted a $10,000 grant from the Petco Foundation.

Paul Jolly, executive director of the Petco Foundation, said his organization has funded similar programs to spay-neuter pit bulls all over the U.S.

Adam Goldfarb, director of the “Pets at Risk” program for the Humane Society of the U.S., said that nationwide an estimated 30 percent of dogs that wind up at shelters are pit bulls or pit bull mixes.

“There are some municipal agencies in large cities where 50 to 70 percent of dogs coming into shelters are pit bulls or pit bull mixes,” he said.

The dogs are popular in low-income communities where owners may not have the money to spay or neuter, Goldfarb said.

It can cost upwards of $100 to get a larger dog like a pit bull spayed or neutered by a private veterinarian.

Also, the dogs appeal to people intrigued by the animal’s mystique of being tough or menacing.

“This irresponsible demographic wants the dog for the wrong reasons,” Goldfarb said.

“They let these dogs run loose and indiscriminately breed them to make a quick buck.”

The result is a glut of animals crowding shelters.

And once they are in the shelter, the stigma attached to the dogs makes them hard to adopt out, Goldfarb said.

“People hear the negative stuff and don’t take the time to do their own research or meet the dog,” he said.

Merritt Clifton, editor of the newspaper “Animal People,” said that nationwide about 1.7 million dogs were euthanized in animal shelters in 2008 — 58 percent of those were pit bulls or pit bull mixes.

Neddermann said even the best pit bulls can pose a challenge to pet owners because they are large, high-energy dogs.

“They require training and managing,” she said.

Neddermann said residents wanting more information on the Pit Bull Project can call 951-358-7135.

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