DEAR READERS: Treating impulsively aggressive and fear-biting dogs takes expertise and expense. This can mean that animal shelters that are unable to deal with such dogs and with a “no-kill” prohibition on euthanasia may ship them from shelter to shelter to avoid euthanasia, putting handlers and veterinarians at risk, or adopt them out, putting the public at grave risk.
I found the following report unbelievable and would like to issue a call to action by all responsible parties:
From "Aggressive pets adopted out in quest to save animals’ lives: Has no-kill philosophy gone too far?" by Phyllis DeGioia for Veterinary Information Network:
"A man was mauled to death by a Rottweiler he'd adopted three hours earlier from the Jackson Madison Rabies Control shelter in Tennessee, local media reported last November. Anthony Riggs, 57, was said to be an experienced dog owner who had previously owned a Rottweiler, Doberman and wolf hybrid.”
The following letter by a man dedicated to trying to help such dogs is a warning to all well-intended animal rescuers and dog rehabilitators.
DEAR DR. FOX: Concerning some "no-kill" animal shelters adopting out dangerous dogs, I would like to share my experiences working in such a shelter.
I worked mainly with pit bulls, many being very adoptable, adorable and safe, but others with post-traumatic stress disorder, who needed rehabilitation, and a few who were unstable and dangerous.
I recently had to resign from the shelter where I was employed as director of dog behavioral evaluation (or director of rehabilitation) because of this sort of thing. I would assess a dog and deem it too aggressive for adoption and dangerous to shelter staff, but my supervisors would take no action until the dog had caused great bodily harm to my staff and friends.
It still happens to this day. I get phone calls all the time asking for guidance and insight into dogs who I would recommend for euthanasia based on potential aggression toward humans. For instance: Some sweet gal will try to walk a trained guard dog, only to be mauled violently. I'm not sure how to fix that situation, but I do know that "no-kill" shelters fall victim to the paradigm that human abuse and fear are the only root causes with every aggressive dog. I wish that were true. Unfortunately, many dogs learn to use aggression as a means of dominance with the staff. It's simple control.
Once again, dogs prove to be very much like humans in the personality spectrum. Almost all dogs are victims of our system, but some truly are criminal in mind. Though these dogs are extremely rare, I have seen them in my time as a trainer. I suspect that this Rottweiler was one of these. A dog has tried to kill me more than once. It is terrifying. -- P.S., St. Louis
DEAR P.S.: Bad breeding, bad rearing and handling and bad nutrition all contribute to the growing problem of our dogs becoming dangerous and injuring, even killing, us and our loved ones. Breeders must be more cognizant and screen to eliminate aggressive parent dogs and any whose pups later develop impulsive and uncontrollable aggression.
Researchers at the University of Zaragoza in Spain have found that blood serum levels of serotonin are lower in dogs aggressive toward humans, and especially in English cocker spaniels showing impulsive aggression, than in non-aggressive dogs; they also have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Puppy owners must teach proper care, socialization and basic obedience. Many dogs on the edge of being unstable and aggressive can benefit from a high-tryptophan diet, such as turkey, and supplements that increase brain serotonin, such as the product NutriCalm, which can be prescribed by vets. Over-the-counter options include Animal Health Options’ ProQuiet and PetzLife’s @-Eaze.
Research has also indicated that SSRI drugs improve the aggression problem in combination with behavior modification. There has been enough demand for Prozac for dogs that Eli Lilly has created a beef-flavored version of the medication.
The “bonding” hormone oxytocin and calming music may also facilitate the assessment and decision to euthanize or socialize these poor, disturbed dogs -- some with temperament-changing thyroid disease, painful old injury, human abuse and PTSD -- back to never behaving aggressively toward humans and other animals.
Regardless of no absolute guarantees and legal liability from owning a once-aggressive dog, all dogs with severe cases of impulsive aggression should be euthanized if there are no veterinary behavioral services available, rather than being permanently incarcerated in “no-kill” shelters, as I have witnessed, or adopted out, which is insanity. There are circumstances when the decision of euthanasia is a kindness, since these unstable dogs would otherwise be imprisoned for life.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)