We've received a few terse e-mails about Monday's short post on the Chron's pit bull story. (Pit bulls are the spotlight on the paper's home page.) They all point out, correctly, that it's the SPCA, and not the Houston Humane Society, that is featured on Animal Planet's Animal Cops series. (The post said it was the SPCA, a regrettable oversight.)
I finally got to speak to Courtney Frank, who handles PR for the Humane Society. She described the conditions she saw when she surveyed the 23-acre Liberty County property where the dogs were rescued. A few pups and young dogs were kenneled in what looked like chicken coops. The other dogs weren't so lucky: "The animals were not being housed in outdoor kennels," she says. "They were staked to the ground outside with only barrels for cover, and they were standing in their own filth, as well as dirty, contaminated water." The adult dogs were chained just far enough so they wouldn't attack each other. That was the extent of any safety precautions. Not the most business-savvy decision, considering authorities value the dogs at anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million. That's without the retail markup.
Frank (and a few angry e-mailers) took issue with our assumption that the 320 pit bulls would be put down immediately upon arrival at the Humane Society. As she explains in her e-mail, that can't happen, as the dogs aren't Humane Society property:
...the animals are currently the property of the Liberty County courts, not the Houston Humane Society. These dogs are evidence in a multi-agency criminal murder case and, as such, we cannot adopt them out or transfer them, we simply hold them and await the court's next direction to us. We became involved in this case only because Liberty County knew we had the transportation and space to care for them. These animals were living in their own filth, in the sun and rain of a Houston August, with only the prospect of being killed in a fighting ring ahead of them. Liberty County has merely asked for our assistance in giving these dogs a decent environment while they investigate a major criminal murder charge.
Thus, the dogs are evidence and can't be adopted, though people have been trying. Frank says that yesterday several people tried bullying the Humane Society staff into being allowed back where the dogs are kept. The Humane Society has had to beef up security; they've called armed police officers to the site to deter any more attempts. The dogs will be protected, potentially "for years" says Frank, as the investigation continues.
I explained to Frank that we weren't alone in suggesting that the pit bulls could be put down immediately upon arrival. We've received e-mails and forwards from folks who're concerned about the dogs, and didn't mince any words about their fate at the Humane Society. "You just know they'll be killed the minute they get there," read one. So, given that Frank and few others objected to our assessment, I had to ask: Will pit bulls — not ones used as evidence — be put down immediately if they're brought to the Humane Society?
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"That is the case for the most part," says Frank. "Which is why when people call in, we direct them elsewhere. Our receptionist will flat out tell you, we do not adopt out pit bulls. They'll give you Spindletop's number and Web site. It's not about the dog, it's not about the breed. There is nothing to say that these dogs have a capacity to be X, Y and Z more so than any other dogs. It's truly about the way they are raised. But because they are a status symbol, we know that most of the people who come to the Humane Society aren't looking to give them a good home and a belly rub. Even if they're not looking to fight, they're looking for a status symbol and guard dog, and we want more for them."
It doesn't help that the Humane Society, while operating under a no-kill-for-space policy, has to euthanize animals that come from smaller counties' animal control facilities. That, plus the fact that they have a large incinerator, drives up their kill numbers. So it's right to assume they're put down. But there's a reason they're put down. Who wins this argument? Certainly not the pit bulls.
No harm, no foul. We're cool with the Humane Society, and they're cool with us. Frank has vowed to keep us updated on any developments.
We just wish it were for a happier story. — Steven Devadanam