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More pit bulls mean difficulties for area shelters

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POTSDAM - Pit bulls are frequent residents at north country animal shelters, but the dogs’ stigma makes finding owners difficult.

The Potsdam Humane Society and the Massena Humane Society have both been at full capacity for months.

“We are handling about 50 percent more dogs now than we ever used to,” Heidi J. Bradish, director of the Massena Humane Society, said.

Approximately 75 percent of all dogs brought to the shelter are pit bulls or pit bull mixes.

“It’s nationwide,” according to Anne M. Smith, director of the Potsdam Humane Society. “It’s not just our facility.”

The number of pit bulls in Jefferson County has also increased over the last five years, according to Todd L. Cummings, supervisor of Jefferson County Dog Control.

However, Jefferson County shelters have not seen the massive increases experienced in St. Lawrence County.

“We’ve not seen any dramatic change in the numbers that we generally receive here,” said Doug J. Marlow, director of the St. Lawrence County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Ogdensburg. “We have always seen a fairly significant number of pit bulls and pit bull mixes coming into the shelter.”

Pit bulls are popular among a certain crowd because of their “bad boy” image, according to Ms. Smith.

“There’s a certain status, I think, to owning a certain dog,” she said.

Many misinformed owners choose not to spay or neuter their pets, instead choosing to breed their pit bulls to try to sell the puppies. They do not know about the surplus of unwanted pit bulls and when the puppies fail to turn a profit they end up in a shelter.

“That’s what people are breeding out there. They’re not buying into that spay-and-neuter message,” Ms. Smith said.

Despite their vicious reputation, properly trained pit bulls are actually very friendly breeds. All dogs that come into a shelter undergo temperament testing, and pit bulls regularly score better than many other dogs, according to Ms. Bradish. Since beginning work at the shelter she has adopted two of her own, and she says she will never own any other breed.

Unfortunately for shelters, many prospective pet owners cannot see past the stigma. Convincing them to adopt pit bulls is an uphill battle.

“It’s a reputation, and a lot of it is folklore,” Ms. Smith said.

Often those looking to adopt a dog will refuse to adopt a pit bull. Sometimes their minds can be changed, uniting dogs with happy homes, but these changes in opinion are rare.

“For every one win, there are three losses,” Ms. Smith said.

Most area facilities will not euthanize animals because of a lack of space, even if they are at capacity.

When the Massena and Potsdam shelters are full, they will add dogs to a waiting list. These lists can be lengthy, however, so shelters try to work with dog owners to find alternatives. Owners are encouraged to rehabilitate an unruly dog rather than surrender it to a local shelter, and those who must give up their pet are urged to try to find new homes for their pets themselves rather than rely on local shelters.

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