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2008-05-07 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets . .

by Joanne Anderson

Helen Keller with her Pit Bull Sir Thomas Helen Keller with her Pit Bull Sir Thomas Life is the pits for far too many Pit Bulls. ASPCA statistics show that the Pit Bull and its permutations are more likely to be abused than any other breed; also more apt to be emaciated or chained. The glut of Pits in town shelters forms the tip of the iceberg. We don't see them all. Dog fighting victims aside-if a Pit Bull is sentenced to a life in a yard at the end of a chain, and no one intervenes, does the dog still suffer? It doesn't take a philosopher to answer that question.

Last weekend's Pit Bull Predicament conference sponsored by Last Hope, Inc. examined obstacles faced by Pit Bulls and explored strategies to reduce irresponsible breeding and enhance

POLICE their public image and adoptability. Pits deemed Canine Good Citizens, therapy

BLOTTER dogs, agility champs are all canine ambassadors promoting their kind. Speakers discussed breed myths and special shelter care needs. However, first priority is spay/neuter to shut the floodgates. Besides an influx of Bully breed adults, nowadays most puppies and litters at LI shelters are Pit mixes.

Shelter Pits: Pre-adoption spay/neuter needs to be mandatory and low cost. No dog leaving a shelter or rescue group should contribute to the surplus; no more "oops" litters or sources of breedable Pits to fuel the street gang market. Babylon Shelter is last to get on board, but, hopefully, a spay/neuter program will begin this month. A sterilized pet product no longer appeals to the customers who want a dog for the wrong reasons. In time dog intake will diminish at town shelters. Temperament testing to select for adoptability, humane education, reference screened applications, and home checks before placement help to solidify the dog's future well-being.

Repeat offender owners looking to reclaim intact Pits pose another problem. Town shelters are researching the legality of variable redemption fees with spay/neuter incentives while the dog is still impounded. In other words, it would be much cheaper to bail out your newly spayed Pit than to spring the same pooch unspayed.

What about the public's Pits? Long Island lags far behind NYC (thanks to the efforts of Maddie's Fund, Mayor's Alliance and ASPCA) and the rest of the country when it comes to free or low cost/spay neuter clinics for owned pets. These simple surgeries can cost several hundred dollars in Nassau or Suffolk. Many folks cannot afford to do the right thing.

The speakers enumerated innovative programs designed to make spay/neuter both inexpensive and accessible to those with limited resources. Plans target Pit Bulls and other unfortunate yard dogs. Some have catchy names like "Customize Your Pits" or "Pit Stops" with car racing tie-ins; others like "Bucks for Balls" provide free operations plus a $10 bonus for each unneutered Pit.

Bernice Clifford and Jane Berkey represented the Animal Farm Foundation of Bangall, NY (www.animalfarmfoundation.org) which supports numerous Pit Bull initiatives because, as they say, "Pits are the dogs with the problems". An Animal Farm grant helped fund the St. Louis OpSpot "Love Your Pit, Spay/Neuter" campaign kicked off on Valentines Day showing a poster of a little girl hugging her blind Pit Bull. With the help of 17 vets, 280 Pits were spayed and neutered in two weeks. Jane mentioned that in south Los Angeles subsidized pet spay/ neuter is advertised via churches, reinforcing the idea that a pet is part of the family.

Some cities have SNIP mobile spay vans, but Jacques Lynn Schultz, ASPCA national outreach director, described ASPCA Mission Orange in Austin, TX that goes a step further. A dog census focuses on Pits, and the 4 next plentiful breeds in the neediest area zip codes. Owners can get free spay/neuter and microchips for their qualifying dogs. Once entered in the system, their dog is entitled to other low cost medical services.

Mission of Mercy Close to Home: Linda Klampfl, a nurse and president of Almost Home (www.almosthomeli.org), spoke about her group's outreach program Training Wheels- where a dozen dedicated volunteers assist 110+ Wyandanch families ("Pets" online 11/22/07; 11/ 2/06 ) . Linda estimates that 80% of their recipients, many single parent families, have Pit Bulls. To improve quality of life for these animals, Almost Home shares expertise, free food, shelter, proper tie-outs and medical care for pets, many of them chained Pits who have never met a vet. At one stop Linda in a non-judgmental way demonstrates to a mother how to attach a dog so he doesn't wrap around a tree and freeze to death, only to learn that a previous dog had met that fate. Compassion is teachable; thus another goal is to enlighten the children so future pets are treated better.

Almost Home's jewel in the crown is free pet spay/ neuter with pick up and delivery. Many Training Wheels clients do love their pets and are trying the best they can, but lack transportation even to a free clinic or animal soup kitchen. Others are resistant to the thought of castrating a dog. It takes time, trust and gentle persuasion to convince them that neutering benefits both dog and owner. Just before her talk, Linda got word 6 spay appointments are booked for the coming week. She's thrilled. Every "litter" bit helps. Almost Home (631-627-3665) needs donated pet food /supplies and an extended outreach with more humane groups and cooperating vets to go into other impoverished communities.

Town shelters, rescues, veterinarians, the caring public...Helen Keller once said: "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." She wasn't speaking to Sir Thomas, her beloved Pit Bull, or referring to his breed's present predicament, yet her message resounded at last weekend's conference.

For Adoption: This week "Lilly" a Pit/Dalmatian in Cage 27 represents the Pit mixes at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon. Though she has been waiting months for someone to notice her, Lilly is young and sociable. Meanwhile "Scout" in the Cat Colony is a super affectionate longhaired tuxedo, only 7 months old, already neutered.

More Dogs: a purebred m. yellow Lab Cage 6; outgoing tan Shepherd Cage 22; "Mama Mia" Cage 37 raised a litter of 9 at the shelter and deserves a home.

Cats: "Mousy"- the condo kitty in the lobby; several mini-Morris young kittens.

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