Recycle plastic, not dogs. That’s a lesson Lake County must learn.
After at least two recent instances of pit bull mixes biting people, Lake County Animal Control has changed its rules so that those adopting the animals know up front whether the creatures have been aggressive at the shelter and whether they’ve been returned by an owner for biting.
It’s a good policy, but it’s not enough.
Starting about two weeks ago, the shelter began giving all potential adopters copies of an animal’s record, which includes notes by workers taking care of the critters at the shelter south of Tavares on County Road 561. Workers don’t tend to be shy in their evaluations. A couple, for example, had noted, “Not adoptable!!” after they tried to deal with Big Man, a pit mix that repeatedly bit a Disney mechanic while his pregnant wife tried to escape from the viewing room where they were meeting the dog at the shelter last month.
Knowing a dog’s record also might have helped a Eustis resident who took home a pit mix from an adoption event Feb. 22. Four days later, the dog named “Heaven” bit Matt Waldron on his arms after he spoke sternly to her for doing her business in the house.
The animal enforcement officer who came to fetch Heaven noted in her report, “Once I physically saw the dog, I recognized her from Lake County Animal Services due to her documented aggressive behavior while at the facility and her prior aggressive action with our Animal Enforcement Unit.”
Yep, another recycled dog. Heaven had been surrendered to animal control for the first time on Dec. 20 because she kept trying to attack the owner’s three children. He requested euthanasia. At the shelter, Heaven bared her teeth, snarled at people walking by and lunged against the chain link fence. The shelter director labeled her “unadoptable.”
Later, however, the animal consultant helping Lake change to a “no-kill” shelter for $12,000 “evaluated” the dog and saw “no concerns.” So much for the experts.
So has this two-time loser been put down? Of course not. We don’t want to kill nice puppies. She went to a rescue group that probably will pawn her off on someone else.
Saving dog lives is a worthy goal but never at the expensive of people. Aggressive dogs should not be offered to the general public, but animal control is unwilling to make that hard decision. Instead, the operation has instituted a color-coded warning system.
A green tag on a kennel indicates the dog has no history of bad behavior and all observations from the time the animal came to the shelter are “positive,” said Brian Sheahan, Director of Lake County’s Department of Community Safety & Compliance, which includes Animal Control.
Yellow warns that the animal has something in its history that might cause the adopter to pause. For example, the dog may be aggressive to other animals or may have bitten someone, but not severely. Also, the dog may be aggressive in a kennel but friendly on the outside.
A red/pink tag tells the public that the dog has a “severe” behavior problem and that it would be more like welcoming the Hound of the Baskervilles than Lassie into the house. Still, a person who wants an aggressive dog can adopt it.
Sheahan said allowing aggressive dogs to be readopted “is currently being evaluated.”
So for now, shelter workers ask questions about the circumstances — was it a little nip, a slight snarl? Or did Bruno grab the family cat, break its neck and toss it onto the sofa? They try to determine whether the aggression was a “warning” behavior or something more.
That’s risky. Lake needs to tighten the rules for allowing adoption of aggressive animals. Such creatures shouldn’t be up adoption by the public.
Another change since Big Man attacked in February is that people who want to view dogs are required to sign forms saying they won’t sue the county if the animal rips their face off during visit. This is just lawyer gunk. The goal shouldn’t be to avoid legal action while adopting out aggressive dogs. It should be to match safe animals with responsible families. If the shelter stops recycling mean dogs, chances are good there won’t be trouble.
Lritchie@orlandosentinel.com. Lauren invites you to send her a friend request on Facebook at www.facebook.com/laurenonlake.