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Pit bulls proliferate, authorities concerned

A number of recent incidents has animal control and animal welfare advocates worried about the proliferation of pit bulls and other aggressive dog breeds on Whidbey Island.

Oak Harbor veterinarian John Mangiameli is caring for a kindly chocolate lab that was mauled by two pit bulls and another large dog on its own property Wednesday. He said the dog, Hunter, is lucky to be alive, given the deep wounds to its undersides.

Island County Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes said the Wilson Road residents arrived home in the afternoon to witness the three neighbor dogs viciously attacking their pooch in the driveway.

The owner of the pit bulls, Barnes said, claimed that they gnawed their way our of a chain-link kennel. Nevertheless, she said the owner will receive a criminal citation for “control off premises.”

“Neighbors said they spoke to the dog owner previously,” Barnes said, “about the dogs being loose and growling at children and the other pets in the neighborhood.”

The case is one of many attacks involving pit bulls and Rottweilers that she’s investigated in the last year.

“There seems to be a growing popularity of pit bulls among young adults,” she said, “and our department is concerned with the safety and welfare of the community.”

In Oak Harbor, a city ordinance defines all pit bulls and pit bulls-crosses as “potentially dangerous dogs.” That means they can’t be adopted out from the shelter, but a stray pit bull must be euthanized if not reclaimed by the owner.

Shari Bibich, shelter manager for WAIF, said the number of pit bulls that end up in the animal shelter has skyrocketed this year. She estimates that three times as many of the breed came to the shelter — as strays or surrenders — this year as compared to all of last year. Even more worrisome, many of the dogs are non-neutered males, which can be the most aggressive.

“They are big bullies when they are not altered,” she said.

Shelter staff recently had to euthanize three pit bulls because they were so aggressive. But the fourth pit bull in the group, a female, is adoptable after staff members spent time working with her. The shy doggy is scarred up from being attacked by the other dogs.

Bibich categorizes pit bulls as a “specialty breed,” along with Rottweilers, akitas and chows. She said all of these dogs can be very nice, loyal pets, but they also have the potential to be dangerous. They tend to be aggressive, especially towards other dogs, and they are very strong.

Pit bulls, especially, have extremely powerful jaws. Bibich said it’s a myth that they can lock their jaws. Actually, their jaw muscles are so strong that it can be very difficult to pry their mouths open.

Bibich isn’t sure why so many pit bulls are suddenly showing up at the shelter. She’s heard that there are some unscrupulous breeders on the island. Also, she said a lot of young people seem to think having tough, strong dogs is cool. But they are not good dogs for “beginners,” she said.

“There seems to be a lack of understanding of what this breed’s needs are,” she said. “They can be wonderful dogs. To me it has a lot to do with how they are raised, socialized and how they are bred.”

Before the attack on Wednesday, Barnes said a Rottweiler attacked an elderly man on Fairway Lane, at the edge of Oak Harbor, on Sept. 20.

The man was walking back from the mailbox when the neighbor’s dog knocked him to the ground from behind and bit his hand. He managed to get back on his feet and literally had to run home with the angry dog at his heels.

Barnes said criminal charges are pending against the dog owner. The owner didn’t know how the gate was open, allowing the dog to get out.

On Sept. 9, a large Rottweiler-type dog killed three goats and injured a horse on Lyon Road. Barnes said she’s still trying to locate the canine suspect.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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