Officials seek ways to curb loose dogs

The local SPCA is asking the city to allow it to ticket owners of unlicensed dogs running loose — a

The local SPCA is asking the city to allow it to ticket owners of unlicensed dogs running loose — a problem spotlighted by the savage mauling of a woman by three pit bulls Monday.

Just two weeks ago, the SPCA sent a letter to all municipalities in Schenectady County urging them to consider consolidating animal control services.

Around 3:30 a.m. Monday, 58-year-old Shirleen Lucas was running errands on Hulett Street when the three dogs attacked her. Police used a Taser to get the most aggressive pit bull off of her and then the other two retreated. Lucas lost sections of both ears and required more than 200 stitches to close her wounds, including a portion of her forehead. She also sustained injuries to her arms and legs.

Unsupervised animals are a persistent problem in the area, according to Mathew B. Tully, chief humane law enforcement officer for the Schenectady County SPCA.

“We routinely get phone calls for animals that are loose throughout the county,” he said. He also pointed out in the animal cruelty cases they investigate, more than 90 percent of the dogs were unlicensed.

Legally, the SPCA could write tickets for loose dogs. However, it has not exercised this authority because it does not want to step on the toes of other municipalities, according to Tully.

One concern in Schenectady, he said, is whether having the SPCA take over some of these animal control functions would be a violation of the police union contract. Also, if the SPCA were to take over or collaborate on ticket writing, it would want a portion of the fine revenue, Tully said.

There are extended periods of time when animal control officers are not available, he said. Schenectady animal control officers, for example, work a normal schedule of either 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and occasionally are called in at other times, according to city officials. This is not adequate to handle the incidents.

“We believe it would make sense for the entire county to consolidate animal control,” Tully said.

Despite their reputation, pit bulls are not brutal animals, according to Tully.

“They’re generally very loyal dogs. They’re good dogs to have around,” he said. “Pit bulls are not naturally born to do what this animal did to that woman. There are other factors that are at play here. A responsible pit bull owner should not have allowed that to occur.”

Tully attributed the popularity of the dogs to the hip-hop culture. “When you see an animal in a hip-hop video, it’s a pit bull,” he said.

Aggressive pit bulls are nothing new for local animal advocates. They are a popular breed. Of the 28 dogs currently at the Animal Protective Foundation in Glenville, nine are pit bulls, according to spokeswoman Marguerite Pearson.

“More than half of the dogs that we take in are pit bull mixes,” she said.

While an incident like this sticks in the public’s mind, Pearson also pointed out that pit bulls are friendly dogs by nature — eager to please their owners. It is very unusual for them to be aggressive toward humans.

“You have to wonder what was going on with these dogs, where they got so bloodthirsty to go after a human in this way,” she said. “They’re a very trustworthy family dog when raised properly and bred properly.”

Right now, pit bulls are the dog of choice in urban centers, Pearson said.

APF’s kennels have swelled in recent months with dogs — many of which the shelter officials suspect have been involved in fighting because of visible bite wounds and general temperament. About 300 dogs from the city come to the shelter each year.

Tully said he believes the incidents of dog fighting are actually on the decline, which he attributed to the SPCA presence. From 2008 to 2010, the group saw a lot of animal-fighting incidents but were never able to prove any of those cases beyond a reasonable doubt.

At one point a few years back, there was organized dog fighting occurring in Vale Cemetery, according to Tully.

“We’re no longer seeing that type of brazen activity,” he said.

Tully had raised the issue with then-Mayor Brian Stratton but had not yet discussed it with his replacement, acting Mayor Gary McCarthy. McCarthy said Thursday he referred that letter to Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett and Police Chief Mark Chaires for review.

“I have not received a response back, in terms of what their recommendation would be,” McCarthy said, and is waiting for that before forming a response.

Neither Bennett nor Chaires were available Thursday.

City officials are also evaluating its policies toward aggressive dogs.

“We are reviewing that to see if we have in the code the appropriate ability to respond to these situations,” McCarthy said.

He added he hoped pit bull owners would exhibit common sense.

“When you’re breeding dogs for just aggressive behavior, dog-fighting, it’s something that we’re not going to tolerate.”

Categories: Schenectady County

Leave a Reply