fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Dogged by doubt

Pit bulls top the list of dog-bite cases involving humans in 2013, a report by Jackson County Animal Services shows.

Countywide, there were 46 cases of pit bulls biting humans, or 17 percent of the 266 reported cases. Labrador retrievers were the second highest with 31 cases, or 12 percent.

Pit bulls have become the center of attention recently as the city of Medford explores options to deal with dangerous dogs.

More than half of the bite cases in Medford for the past three years were by pit bulls or pit-bull mixes, according to Medford police.

Jackson County Animal Services reported that 131 people were bitten by dogs in Medford in 2013.

Barbara Talbert, manager of Jackson County Animal Services, said the animal shelter sees both sides of the pit-bull issue.

Most of the dogs sitting in cages waiting for adoption are pit bulls or pit-bull mixes.

The shelter hears from pit-bull owners who don't want their dogs euthanized, she said, and it hears from others who have been bitten by pit bulls.

"We have successfully placed many pit bulls in homes, but they have to be the right homes," Talbert said. "They are very strong dogs with an intensity that if they get riled up, you have to be careful."

Every dog that is placed in adoption is screened according to a standardized test that determines temperament, Talbert said. She said the animal shelter attempts to determine how the dog will behave in a home setting. Dogs can become agitated and stressed out in their cages at the shelter, but mellow out once they are in a calmer home environment, she said.

Talbert, who has been a foster parent for many pit bulls, is quick to verbally reprimand Murphy, a 3-month-old pit bull, which was playfully mouthing someone's shoe on Friday.

The statistics prepared by Animal Services have been forwarded to the city of Medford and the Police Advisory Committee, which will recommend a course of action to deal with dangerous dogs by April.

Despite the high number of bite cases involving pit bulls and pit-bull mixes last year, only 653 of the 15,399 licenses issued since June 2013 were for this type of dog, or 4.2 percent.

Talbert's statistics show there were 19 human bite cases involving pit bulls or mixes in Medford ZIP codes last year. Labrador retrievers came in at a close second, with 16 bite cases. A total of 131 bite cases were recorded in Medford from all breeds, or 49 percent of all the cases in the county.

Central Point has the second highest number of bite cases at 46. Pit bulls or pit-bull mixes were involved in 10 cases, or 22 percent, followed by Labrador retrievers with six cases, or 13 percent.

Ashland, with a total of 23 bite cases, had three for pit bulls and three for Australian/German shepherds.

Border collies, heelers and cattle dogs had the most bite cases in White City at three, with two for pit bulls.

Pit bulls, which are also the most common shelter dog, had the highest euthanasia rate at 30 percent.

Rachelle Long, a 43-year-old Phoenix resident who has spoken before Medford City Council on the pit-bull issue, said she's frustrated that many homeless people in the area seem to have pit bulls.

"If you're seeing somebody who owns a pet, and they're acting irresponsibly, seize the dog, then make them pay for a license if they want the dog back," she said.

Long, who owns a 3-year-old pit bull named Ellie, said pit bulls have been around for decades, but it's only in recent years that the breed has been targeted as being overly aggressive.

She said the dogs have gained a bad reputation because they are used by gangs, drug dealers and in dog-fighting.

"If a dog is so far gone, you have to euthanize it," said Long, who has volunteered at the animal shelter.

Long said the city of Medford should avoid an outright ban, but she does think police need more tools to deal with the problem.

"I do see their side, and I do see their frustration," she said. "As a responsible pet owner, I want to work together."

Councilor Daniel Bunn said the city has waded into a delicate issue and will be seeking information from a variety of sources before taking a stance.

The discussion started when two different parties complained to the city about attacks by pit bulls, he said.

"The problem exists, and people are asking us to do something about this," Bunn said. "It's all driven by what people report."

Bunn said most pit-bull owners are responsible and care for their dogs appropriately. He believes irresponsible owners are the most to blame when a pit bull bites.

"That's too bad," he said. "The pit-bull community isn't wrong. It's not the pit bull's fault."

Maureen Swift, who is co-chair of the Police Advisory Committee along with police Chief Tim George, said the committee hopes to come up with ordinances that are enforceable and will have an impact on the problem.

A big component of what the eight-member committee with three members of the police department will recommend is some kind of education initiative that will help local citizens, and particularly small children, deal with potentially dangerous dogs, Swift said.

Mayor Gary Wheeler said at a recent council meeting that a breed-specific ban was off the table, but other councilors wanted the advisory committee to discuss all options.

"I sat in the back row of that meeting and shook my head," Swift said.

However, Swift said, a breed-specific ban could be problematic to enforce.

"Asking the police department to discern and identify certain dog breeds — I don't think they have the time," she said.

Swift said she expects the committee will wade through a lot of information and will hear a lot of testimony at the public hearing.

Some of the issues that will come up include having dangerous dogs in the park. Other communities, such as Ashland, have banned dogs from many parks.

"That's something we could look at," Swift said. "Anytime I go up to Prescott Park, easily three-quarters of the dogs are not on a leash."

Swift said she's personally uncomfortable when dogs are not on leashes and isn't comforted when owners say their dogs don't bite.

"A badly behaved dog of any breed is a problem," she said. "The only way we can control the situation is that every dog is on a leash."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Five-month-old Toby is among the many pit bulls and pit bull mixes awaiting adoption at the Jackson County Animal Shelter. Pit bulls accounted for 17 percent of reported dog bites to humans and 30 percent of the shelter's euthanizations in 2013.