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Monday, April 23, 2007

Programs try to curb Pit Bull numbers

Sun staff writer
September 24. 2006 6:01AM

Ray Sim calls pit bulls "the national dog of Alachua County" for good reason - lots and lots of them live here.

But as director of Alachua County Animal Services, Sim knows that yes, they are popular, but they are also difficult to find homes for. They take up kennel space at the shelter and drive up costs.

Veterinarian Debbie Cottrell of West End Animal Hospital in Jonesville realized the same thing and came up with an idea to cut the pit bull population - Operation Pitnip.

She began offering free spaying and neutering to any pit bull or pit mix - a service that typically costs about $150 at her clinic. Her efforts have been rewarded with $20,000 in grants to keep the program going.

"Now we can start pushing more and try to reach these people who don't understand or are unaware that they are contributing to the problem," Cottrell said. "At least two or three times a day people come in with pit bulls and when I start to talk about spaying or neutering, they say, 'Oh no, we're going to breed her because she's special and all my friends want a puppy.' They are completely unaware that that is the problem. Nationwide, close to 40 percent of all dogs euthanized at shelters are pit bulls."

No More Homeless Pets of Alachua County - a coalition of veterinarians and animal advocates - donated $5,000 to Cottrell to pay for surgeries for 100 dogs living in low-income families. No More Homeless Pets several years ago landed a multiyear grant from the nonprofit Maddie's Fund to try to end euthanasia of healthy cats and dogs at the county shelter.

Meanwhile, another $15,000 was awarded to Cottrell from Florida Animal Friend - the organization that administers money raised through the sale of spay/neuter license plates.

University of Florida veterinary professor Julie Levy, president of the coalition and board member of Florida Animal Friend, said the grants are well-deserved and should help reduce the population of unwanted pit bulls.

"(Cottrell) was very farsighted and saw that we need to nip the problem at its source, which is reproduction, rather than trying to deal with this huge number of animals after the fact," Levy said. "They are trying to save adoptable animals at the (county) shelter and there are so many pit bulls. Even though they are technically adoptable, nobody wants to adopt them. It's a burden on the shelter, it's a burden on the community, it's a burden on the Maddie's project to try to find homes for all of these dogs that nobody wants."

Pit bulls are either reviled or adored. They are a breed so associated with dog fighting and maulings that many communities nationwide ban them. Florida now prohibits such breed-specific laws, but an ordinance that was already in place in Miami-Dade County was grandfathered in.

Yet others say that with proper training pit bulls are loyal, family-friendly pets with a clownish, loving personality.

Sim said some county shelters in Florida will not put pit bulls up for adoption, euthanizing them instead. Alachua County evaluates pit bulls to determine if they can make a good pet in the right hands and tries to find homes for them.

"They are hard to adopt and I think a lot of that is the stereotype of a pit bull. They are a powerful dog. Are they always a bad dog? Definitely not," Sim said.

Jerri Sullivan said her six pit bulls are wonderful dogs. She had all six sterilized by Operation Pitnip, giving the program a $250 donation for its efforts.

Sullivan said she found a pit bull in her yard when she moved into a rural High Springs home. Despite her prevention efforts, it bred with another dog. Eventually one of the puppies had a litter. Sullivan was able to give most of the puppies away, but got some of them back because the owners couldn't take proper care of them.

Operation Pitnip was a godsend for her."It was great to get it done, and I donated because there might be another family that can't afford it, as well. It was a whole lot cheaper than the regular veterinarian," Sullivan said. "It would be taking me another year to get all of the dogs done if Dr. Cottrell didn't have this. It's very expensive."

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