"I've never heard of a dog problem like we have in Tulsa," said City Councilor G.T. Bynum last week as he and other city leaders questioned the city's top dogcatchers about what they're doing about it.
The councilor related some incidences from recent memory about people in his district having been attacked by roaming pit bulls, one of which was a woman who was seven months pregnant, out walking her terrier.
Councilor Jack Henderson related an instance in his district in which a woman called animal control officers because her neighbor's aggressive dogs were loose and roaming the neighborhood, and she was afraid to leave her house to go out to her car.
"The whole community was held hostage," Henderson said.
When the animal control officers and police arrived, the neighbor was made to restrain the dogs and take them back into his home. But minutes after they left, the dogs were out roaming the neighborhood again, necessitating another call from the neighbor/hostage.
"It is a very, very disturbing situation to encounter a big dog. What are we doing to address this?" said Councilor Bill Martinson.
Dwain Midget, interim director of the Working in Neighborhoods Division, which manages the Tulsa Animal Shelter, said animal control officers are aggressive in trying to capture stray animals, but between the hundreds of calls received each day, perilous methods of capturing animals, and irresponsible pet owners, they can only make so much of a dent in the city's rogue canine population.
Jean Letcher, manager of the Tulsa Animal Shelter, said between 50 and 60 percent of calls for dogs at large are answered within one hour, and 99 percent of all calls are resolved within 24 hours.
She said there are two kinds of dogs at large: escaped pets, which are generally docile and people-friendly, and strays that grew up on the street, which are often aggressive.
The problem with the first kind, though, is that after an owner bails a loose pet out of the slammer, they often aren't any more careful about their dog getting loose than they were before, so there are repeat calls for the same wayward dogs.
When a loose pet is captured, owners are fined $75 when they go to retrieve it, and another $75 if the dog isn't spayed or neutered.
"I see some room for improvement in our ordinance," said Councilor Eric Gomez.
He added, "$75 is not a big ticket item for a lot of people, especially with an expensive animal."
A problem with the second category, though, is that stray dogs don't always stay put long enough to animal control officers to arrive on the scene to capture them.
"We ask the person calling to restrain the animal and keep track of it until we arrive," said Letcher.
Martinson, though, noted that the daily work hours of animal control staff are out of sync with the time calls are likely made.
Normal working hours are 8am to 5pm, but most people encounter stray dogs in the evening when they're out walking or jogging, he said.
"There is always an animal control officer on standby, and the Tulsa Police Department acts as triage," Letcher answered.
She said they don't respond to calls for strays after hours, though--only to calls regarding aggressive animals.
Midget pointed out, though, that current methods of capturing dogs sometimes prove to be injurious to the dogcatchers. He said there are currently three animal control officers with rotator cuff injuries that resulted from using catch poles to capture intractable canines.
"Staff injuries are hampering our ability to be out in full force," he told the councilors.
"We're exploring other techniques, like tranquilizers instead of the long catch pole," Midget added.
However, implementing tranquilizer guns isn't just a simple matter of buying them, loading them, and shooting them at dogs. Letcher and Midget explained that animal control staff must receive training, since the tranquilizers are controlled substances.
Also, Letcher said, "They need training to make sure they can hit their target."
Midget said the animal control office recently began the process of getting tranquilizer guns, and that they hope to "have something in the works" by the next fiscal year, which begins in July.
But, most agreed that the problem won't be solved simply by trading poles for tranquilizer guns.
"I don't want to change the pet ordinance--people will get mad if we start talking about changing the ordinance. I just want to talk about how we can fund you and get you the stuff to be able to do your job," said Henderson.
With that qualification clearly stated, Henderson went on to state, "If you check other cities, I'll bet you'll find their laws are tougher."
Midget concurred, but said it's the state law, with its prohibition of breed-specific ordinances, that's tying their hands.
"Our policy was to not adopt out pit bulls or pit bull mixes, but state law prohibits breed-specific policies," said Letcher.
"Now we have an abbreviated temperament process to determine if the dog is aggressive," she added.
But, ultimately, Letcher said the source of the problem is the citizenry of Tulsa.
"This community is not as educated about the need to spay and neuter their pets, and they don't understand that they must keep animals fenced," she said.Letcher explained that a dog that isn't neutered can escape and breed with strays or other loose pets, and then the offspring wind up breeding, so that single pet winds up becoming the source of thousands of strays through the course of its life.
"We cannot do it alone," she added concerning the Tulsa Animal Shelter's efforts to address the droves of rogue dogs roaming the city, explaining that the problem will persist as long as city residents neglect to spay and neuter their pets.
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