County officials react to online pit bull petition

GREENVILLE – For Duane Sanning, it’s a moral issue.

“How can I adopt out a pit bull to a family with kids, with another dog or a family cat without being able to evaluate them? People can type anything they want,” said Sanning, director of the Darke County Animal Shelter in reference to a petition questioning the county’s policy on euthanizing aggressive dogs.

Sanning said he became aware of the petition a few weeks ago from a local pet rescue. The petition was posted on the website by Luke Westerman of the Westerman Family Foundation, Ohioans Against Breed Discrimination and Citizens for Shelter Reform.

In brief, the petition asks the Darke County Commissioners to change their “discriminatory policies” and to “begin adopting out all dogs and all breeds at the Darke County Animal Shelter.”

As of mid-week, commissioners had not received a copy of the petition – but they’re getting lots and lots of comments from the public, mostly via email.

“I just wish people would find the facts out before commenting,” said Commissioner Diane Delaplane. Especially those who believe the county shelter is rushing to kill dogs instead of attempting to either find their owners or place them for adoption. “They’re making statements that just aren’t true.”

Commission chairman Mike Stegall agrees.

“His (Sanning) policy is very, very satisfactory. Duane is very sensitive about the pit bull issue. He’s gone over the limit (required number of days to keep a dog at the shelter) trying to work with them. Animals are treated well by our shelter. He’s following the guidelines and goes above and beyond.”

Ohio policy states that unlicensed dogs brought to the shelter are to be kept for three days; while licensed dogs may be kept up to 14 days in hopes of finding their owners.

The Darke County Shelter spends a lot of resources, Sanning said, promoting dogs they have for adoption – with a radio spot, newspaper advertising and on the shelter’s website.

“Our adoption rate is 85 percent, the best in the state. Other shelters run about 45 percent,” Sanning explained.

Sanning said he has concerns about adopting out pit bulls or other aggressive dogs.

“The problem I have with pit bulls is the damage they do when they bite,” he said, noting that the breed originally was bred to fight. “How do I know they will not end up in a fighting ring in California?”

“The story, I think is simple. A golden retriever is a retrieving dog – it’s their instinct. A border collie is a herding dog. Pit bulls are a fighting breed. It’s in their DNA. They were bred to fight bears and other large animals. There’s just no way to know.”

Conducting temperament testing for dogs also is questionable, Sanning believes.
“None of them (tests) have been proven to the degree of yes you do or no you don’t,” he said.

One such test, Sanning says that is used often is conducted by placing a dish of food in front of the dog. A fake human arm is then introduced within close range of the dish while the dog is eating.

“If the dog is aggressive concerning their food, well, there’s no cure for that,” Sanning points out.

Carla Hill-Clark of BARK Animal Rescue in Greenville, says she’s had positive results rehabilitating dogs that she has prepared for adoption – even pit bulls, including three of her own.

“Depending on where they’re coming from, I let them decompress and get more at ease,” Hill-Clark said, explaining that she slowly introduces new dogs to her own dogs, cats and chickens to test their behavior.

“I also test them to see if they are food aggressive,: she said. “Dogs need time to see if they are going to change and come down. It may take about a week, but within a couple days you can start to see how they are. I don’t normally adopt adult pits out to anyone with kids under age 10. People need to be experienced.”

Hill-Clark said she has “encountered so many dogs that came out of a bad situation that I’ve turned around and many are pits.”

BARK Animal Rescue also relies on a number of individuals who act as foster homes for dogs before they are eligible for adoption.

“I have a hard time euthanizing them, but under the correct situation would have to agree to that. It’s a case-by-case situation,” Hill-Clark said. “People-aggressive pit bulls are the ones that come out of bad situations. I believe for the most part they can be rehabbed.”

Since the petition has appeared on, Sanning said he’d received many calls from those for and against the shelter’s policy.

“I’m getting calls from across the United States. A man in Wisconsin called and told me ‘you’re doing the right thing.’ The man’s 12-year-old son had been killed by a neighbor’s pit bull – a dog he had known since he was a little boy.”

Sanning said he was called to two dog bite incidents in the county a couple weeks ago – both involving pit bulls.

“We follow up on them,” Sanning said of dog bite complaints. “We get calls all the time about this. The policy will remain the same. We are not anti-dog, but how can I put the citizens of Darke County at risk?”

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