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home : news : news   October 6, 2016

9/14/2016 9:25:00 AM
IVAR Shelter takes in flood of pit bulls

This pitbull mix, one of two recovered Sunday in La Salle, sits in a pen at Illinois Valley Animal Rescue. Wounds on the dog’s head will cost the $200 in medical costs, shelter supervisor Jeremy McIntosh said.NewsTribune Photo/Chris Yucus
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This pitbull mix, one of two recovered Sunday in La Salle, sits in a pen at Illinois Valley Animal Rescue. Wounds on the dog’s head will cost the $200 in medical costs, shelter supervisor Jeremy McIntosh said.

NewsTribune Photo/Chris Yucus
Jeff Dankert
NewsTribune Reporter

The pit bull in the pen began wagging when three people walked up. Jeremy McIntosh bent down and let the dog sniff his hand through the fencing.

“We obviously had this dog before, because he has an IVAR tag,” said McIntosh, supervisor at Illinois Valley Animal Rescue.

The tan-and-white dog was one of 31 pit bulls stacked up Monday at Illinois Valley Animal Rescue, which saw an unusual rise in canines this summer.

The shelter had 44 dogs but usually averages 35 with less than half being pit bulls, said Chris Tomsha-Ellberg, director.

“It’s above average,” she said. “We’re used to certain times of the year when we get an influx of dogs but lately it’s all been pit bulls. Normally, it’s maybe 40 percent. They’re coming in a complete mess, hair missing, wounds, skinny, flea ridden, emaciated. It’s out of control now.”

McIntosh has worked at the shelter for six years, and this flood of dogs is unprecedented, he said.

“Eight of the last 10 dogs that came in were pit bulls,” he said. “That’s part of our dilemma now is matching the right house up with that perfect pit bull.”

Irresponsible owners, Tomsha-Ellberg said. And, the aggressive reputation of the breed discourages adopters. Decades ago this reputation did the same for Doberman pinschers and German shepherds, McIntosh said.

“The total count is normally in the mid-30s and they go pretty quick because they are adoptable dogs,” Tomsha-Ellberg said. “Now ,you’ve got a lot more pit bulls and people really shy away from the breed.”

“No one wants them,” Tomsha-Ellberg said on Facebook. “This is a drain on finances and a huge strain on our staff and volunteers.”

The shelter hired another person last week to help, she said, and issued a plea Monday for adopters.

The friendly pit bull that McIntosh showed the NewsTribune had scratches on its head.

“This dog’s probably going to cost us $200,” McIntosh said.

Some have offered donations to cover adoption fees, Tomsha-Ellberg said.

Dealing with the city
Tomsha-Ellberg and her sister, Sue Jacobsen, who handles cat strays at the shelter, came to the La Salle City Council meeting Monday to argue for city funding and assistance and present a report of activities for August in La Salle. It trapped or picked up 24 cats and 15 dogs, returning 11 dogs to owners.

If the city used a La Salle County Animal Control officer, it would have cost the city $11 to $21 per day to board each cat or dog. If after three days it is not claimed, it would cost $157 to $209 to euthanize the animal, according to the report.

The city has ordinances against pets running at large but the city refers most pet issues to Illinois Valley Animal Rescue, which does not have law enforcement authority. The rescue shelter goes easy on many pet owners, Tomsha-Ellberg said.

“I have a hard time squeezing $20 out of some people,” she said.

Alderman Jerry Reynolds said pet owners need to be penalized.

“If you’re not going to take care of the dog, then you’re going to get fined,” Reynolds said.

Mayor Jeff Grove echoed this.

“If people can’t take care of the dogs, you need to hold them accountable,” Grove said. He added that if owners can’t pay fees or fines, then they should be told: “Then you don’t get your dog or cat back, sorry.”

For years, Tomsha-Ellberg has struggled to make deals with local cities. Not every city handles dogs and cats the same. Peru police hold dogs at their station until Illinois Valley Animal Rescue can pick them up, she said. Others use county animal control officers.

“Are people getting dogs that shouldn’t have dogs?” Alderman Tom Ptak said.

“Yes,” Tomsha-Ellberg said.

“We’re treating a symptom rather than a cause,” Reynolds said. “We need to start enforcing the law.”

Grove asked Tomsha-Ellberg to come back with specific costs for services so the finance committee can review it.

17 years
Illinois Valley Animal Rescue was established in 1999 and opened a shelter in 2002 on Industrial Drive in north La Salle.

The nonprofit group also operated a store in Peru from 2012 until last month, closing Aug. 31.

It relies on volunteers, donations and fundraising.

The shelter can be reached at (815) 224-0061.

Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaSalle.

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