By Jack Minch
LEOMINSTER -- The number of pit bulls in the region is becoming unmanageable, the city's new animal-control officer said Wednesday.
There are so many being abandoned on the streets or surrendered to shelters that officials can't handle the numbers, said Animal Control Officer Todd Pickett.
Pickett found his first abandoned pit bull soon after starting work as the city's animal officer at the start of August.
About a week later, he found a second one abandoned.
Now he doesn't know what to do with them.
He's approached 17 shelters and rescue facilities from New Hampshire to the Cape and none of them can take another pit bull. Pickett has even listed them on Petfinder.com.
He has the two dogs in foster homes, but is looking for more to help house strays he picks up.
Pit bulls aren't the only breeds keeping Pickett busy.
"I've probably picked up 10 dogs since I started and I've only been doing it three weeks," he said. "And five or six cats."
Only one of the dogs had a collar but he found the owners for all the other breeds within hours.
Pickett has also recovered a cardboard box holding an abandoned cat and her two kittens outside an apartment complex.
Pickett named one of the abandoned dogs Arlington after the street on which it was found. She was wearing a pink collar with a broken leash.
The lease indicates she may have been abandoned and tied to a tree or post, Pickett said.
He and Leominster Health Director Chris Knuth believe the dog was bred for puppies, then abandoned.
The other dog was named Gracie and was found on Franklin Street. It appears to be a mix with a boxer or American bulldog.
Gracie had a microchip and Pickett tracked down the original owner, but the dog had passed through so many hands that he couldn't find the last owner.
"They were obviously someone's dogs," Knuth said. "They warm up to people, walk on a leash."
A quick Internet search of abandoned pit bulls shows how prevalent the problem is nationally.
Knuth theorizes that people get pit bulls for the breed's machismo, but by the time they get to be 2 years old they are strong and can act like temperamental teenagers.
Homeowners insurance is also a problem, said Leigh Grady, executive director of the Sterling Animal Shelter. Some insurance companies refuse to insure a home if there is a pit bull living in it.
"Pit bulls are pretty hard to adopt out," Grady said. "Even if they are sweet, friendly dogs, unfortunately the media has portrayed them to be killers and you never hear about the other breeds, you hear about the pit bulls."
More pet owners need to spay and neuter their pets, to bring the populations under control, Knuth said.
"I want to see something change because it's crazy," he said.
Sterling Animal Shelter created Operation Pit Stop in May to encourage responsible pit bull ownership and lower the rate of euthanasia for the breed.
Operation Pit Stop offers discounted spay or neutering with valid rabies vaccine certificates.
"Sadly, the pit-bull situation is something shelters/rescues are overwhelmed with," Grady said.
Sterling Animal Shelter also offered to spay and neuter other breeds though at a higher cost.
Females are $125 to $225 and males are $100 to $150, depending on variables such as weight.
Knuth wants the city's regulations for loose or abandoned dogs updated.
"They are old and fines need to be increased," he said.
It costs $15 annually to register a dog in the city but $10 if it is spayed or neutered, said Robin Dantini in City Clerk Lynn Bouchard's office.
The fine for not registering a dog is $50 plus a $10 late fee, Pickett said.
Bouchard's office has registered 1,880 dogs since March 1 but believes the number should be closer to 2,400, Dantini said.
"If you're going to dump animals, do it at a shelter," Pickett said.
Allie Tellier, the executive director for Worcester Animal Rescue League in Worcester, said it's more difficult to find homes for large, muscular dogs.
She's reluctant to characterize dogs as pit bulls because physical characteristics only account for 5 percent of their DNA.
She gets as many hounds, retrievers and Chihuahuas as pit bulls.
"They just get adopted much quicker," Tellier said.
The trend for pit-bull ownership is changing, she said.
"The demographic of pit-bull owners isn't what most people think it is," she said. "Not rough-and-tough people. It's the American white-picket-fence sort of folks coming in because they understand what great animals they are."
Smaller and younger dogs get adopted quickly but larger dogs tend to stay anywhere from two weeks to three months before adoption.
Black dogs stay the longest for some reason.
Cats get adopted in about 14 days on average, Tellier said.
For more information about Operation Pit Stop telephone the shelter at 978-442-8449 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Prices and more detail for spay or neuter other breeds are available at www.sterlingshelter.org.
Anybody interested in being a foster home for dogs can contact Pickett at 978-514-2381 or by email at email@example.com.
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