Fatal dog mauling. That’s all I heard last Thursday when our Captain of Animal Rescue & Control called from Pacifica to say we picked-up one dog who had been shot by police, and a second dog not believed to have been involved in this horrific attack. As the contracted provider of animal control services, we respond to dog bites and attacks; never before have we been be involved in a human fatality.
I figured people would draw comparisons to Diane Whipple and the horrific, sensational dog mauling case that rocked SF Animal Care & Control, which was responsible for housing both dogs during the legal proceedings. We saw the dogs behind chain link kennels, nightly, on the news, as well as the footage of the dogs being led from animal control trucks on catch-poles.
We decided we would not allow media access to either dog for photos or footage. I fielded calls all day on Friday, gave three interviews for TV, two for radio and a dozen or so for print media. We granted every media request for interviews, but would not budge on photos. We knew this would be best for us, that it would be best for the victim’s husband and family. I do not regret that decision.
We had another decision: what to do with the second dog. We knew her owner, the victim’s husband, very much wanted her back. For someone who lost his wife and unborn child, getting his second dog back would mean everything. Unfortunately, that wasn’t our decision. It was our role to perform a necropsy on one dog and examine the second dog, and information from these procedures told us it was very likely the male dog was involved in the attack and that the female was not. Still, this was not enough.
The County’s Medical Examiner and two odontologists compared our dental impressions from both dogs to bite wounds on the victim, and concluded, with no uncertainty, that the male dog was involved and the female was not. Of course, this meant returning the second dog to her owner, which we did on Monday.
End of this story for now.
A sidebar throughout the media coverage centered on breed-specific legislation. San Francisco currently has a law on the books that requires owners of pits and pit mixes to get their dogs fixed. And, unknown to many, the Peninsula Humane Society helps SF residents comply by bringing our mobile spay/neuter clinic to the City two times each month to offer free fixes.
This past week, we were repeatedly asked how we felt about a similar law for San Mateo County. We feel all dogs (and cats) should be fixed, but we don’t push for legislation. For one, our County is different from SF, where city and county are one. In San Mateo County, legislation would have to be proposed and passed in 20 cities; cities currently struggling with budgets, cutting or merging police and fire services. I doubt many would have the bandwidth to tackle an animal issue.
There’s that, plus the fact that spay/neuter laws often look good on paper, but come with little or no enforcement and no funding for those for which it’s being required. Just because something becomes law, it doesn’t mean people will comply. Legislation, like this, targets the least responsible people, since the most responsible get their pets fixed without it. And, the least responsible people are highly unlikely to respond when enforcement is spotty and the surgery costs them $200 to $350 at their vet office.
Finally, we don’t pursue legislation because we’re not good at lobbying city councils. That work is far from our organizational strengths. But, we are very good at being a humane society. Five years ago, with support from a donor, we purchased a mobile spay/neuter clinic and began visiting targeted communities offering free fixes. No strings attached, no appointments needed. And, since that time, pits and pit mixes have dropped from 23% to 18% of our incoming dog population. Our 25ft.-long surgery suite on wheels has custom graphics and says “Go Nuts!” on the back. We have to have fun where we can!
We average 1,000+ surgeries on our mobile clinic each year; this is in addition to the 5,500 low-cost spay/neuter surgeries performed in our on-site clinic.
This, combined with education, is the answer for our county; the best way to control companion animal population and the best way to reduce the number of dog bites and attacks, given more than 90% come from unneutered males.
Our cities have serious issues and we can’t expect them to focus on animal legislation. But, we control our clinic. We have no agenda other than to get it out and make it difficult for people to say no.