Seized dogs' fate uncertain

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The fate of the 26 dogs seized Saturday night by the Stoddard County Sheriff's Department remains uncertain, but Humane Society of Missouri officials say that euthanizing the animals will be a last resort.

"We believe in giving every animal that we rescue a second chance," said Tim Rickey, director of the Humane Society of Missouri's Rescues and Investigations.

With the exception of one beagle, all of the dogs were pit bulls or pit bull mixes. They were seized from an alleged dog fighting operation on a farm near Dudley, Mo.

Most of the dogs had either old wounds or fresh injuries of the type associated with dog fighting. Police also recovered special equipment commonly used for training fighting dogs, such as treadmills to build stamina and hammers used to pry the animal's jaws open.

Jamie Sifford of Dudley, Mo., Jessey Short of Cape Girardeau and Curtis Pickering of South Fulton, Tenn., were arrested and charged with the class D felony of dog fighting.

The Humane Society of Missouri, which has been caring for the dogs since they were seized, has been treating the animals' injuries and keeping them comfortable, Rickey said.

The beagle in particular has adjusted to his temporary new home nicely, he said.

"He's enjoying his big, fluffy blanket. Everybody's interested in him. I think he's becoming a really popular guy," Rickey said.

The Humane Society has requested a hearing in Stoddard County so a judge can rule on whether the dogs, which are technically considered evidence in the case, should be placed officially in its custody. The state would still have photos of the dogs' injuries and veterinarian reports, but the dogs themselves would become the property of the Humane Society, and the process of evaluating them for suitability as pets could begin, Rickey said.

The evaluation usually involves a temperament test of some kind, where the dogs will be observed for their reactions to a series of stimuli, such as a person startling them, to gauge how aggressive or fearful they are.

The Humane Society is assembling a panel of animal behavioralists to participate in the temperament testing, Rickey said.

Though the tests performed by the Humane Society will be slightly different, William Barclay, a chief tester with the American Temperament Test Society Inc., said his organization tests a lot of American pit bull terrier and American Staffordshire bull terrier mixes, and he has never seen one fail the test for aggression.

Of the three registered breeds covered by the term "pit bull," 61 Staffordshire bull terriers' temperament have been tested and 85.2 percent passed, and 84.1 percent of 542 American pit bull terriers passed. Of the 521 American Staffordshire terriers tested, 83.9 percent of them passed.

Still, Karl Herkstroeter, director of the American Temperament Test Society and a professional dog trainer, said he didn't think it would be easy to rehabilitate the dogs.

"These dogs were bred to fight," he said.

If the pit bulls in the Stoddard County case pass their temperament testing, the new challenge will become finding people willing to bring the dogs into their homes and filtering out those who only want to put them back into a fighting ring, Rickey said.

"I've seen instances where people have tried to bribe rescue workers out the back door to get dogs already trained to fight," said Marcy Setter, director of public relations for the Internet-based Pit Bull Rescue Central.

Because of its proximity to St. Louis dog-fighting rings, the Humane Society won't adopt out pit bull mixes. It intends to find a rescue group that will be able to do so and assist in screening potential homes, Rickey said.

The Humane Society has received several calls from people who saw pictures of the pit bulls on the news and believe they may have been stolen.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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