Friday, August 9, 2013

Antelope Valley addresses roaming animal problem in wake of dog-pack killing

From the:

A pending trial in which an Antelope Valley man has been charged with murder after authorities said his pit bulls mauled a 63-year-old woman to death has highlighted the issue of wild dogs in the desert community, where some officials say there is an excess of animals that are either roaming loose or poorly controlled by their owners.
“The Antelope Valley has had a vicious dog problem for a number of years because of irresponsible pet owners,” said Tony Bell, spokesman for County Supervisor Michael D. Anton­ovich. “We have worked to ensure we have the appropriate enforcement procedures in place to have people know they cannot inflict harm.”
Alex Donald Jackson, 29, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to second-degree murder charges in the death of Pamela Marie Devitt. Investigators say she was out for a routine walk in Littlerock on the morning of May 9 when she was swarmed by a pack of dogs that inflicted 150 to 200 puncture wounds and ripped “significant parts of flesh” from her body. She died en route to the hospital. Authorities later used DNA tests to match blood on Jackson’s dogs to the victim.
Jackson, a Littlerock resident, owned eight dogs, including four pit bulls police say are connected to the death of Devitt. He is now sitting in Men’s Central Jail downtown, awaiting his next court appearance.
Authorities had received at least three reports since January of Jackson’s animals attacking people and horses, and neighbors reported the dogs were let out to roam the neighborhood every day. In 2006, L.A. County Animal Care & Control euthanized four other pit bulls owned by Jackson that had terrorized a flock of emus living in the area, about 10 miles southeast of Palmdale.
The brutality of the case has contributed to moves made by the county in recent months to take a deeper look at the dog problems plaguing the area.
In June, the Board of Supervisors approved additional funds for Animal Control: $365,000 for five new officers and $408,000 for six specially equipped trucks and new protective gear. An additional two officers will be hired to patrol unincorporated areas such as Littlerock.
But according to county animal control director Marcia Mayeda, the recent changes may not be enough to tackle the big issues. She noted a pattern of people specifically coming to the Antelope Valley to leave their unwanted dogs on the side of the road.
“Owners often don’t want to face us when surrendering their animal,” she said. “So they just let them go on their own, and they end up packing together. Plus, in rural areas like these, owners (who live here) are more likely to let their dogs run loose.”
Pit bulls, specifically, are often sought out by gangs, who go to great lengths to toughen them up. “Some dogs are used to guard meth labs and pot farms. Most are trained to inflict harm if allowed to roam,” said Bell.
Even with the budget bump, animal-control services in the Antelope Valley are “severely understaffed,” said Mayeda, estimating they might need to be doubled to be adequate. Currently, just 14 officers work at the Lancaster Animal Care Center, the only office in the valley. In the last fiscal year, 23 dogs were declared “potentially dangerous” or “vicious.”
County codes allow for restraints such as muzzles on dogs classified as potentially dangerous. And those officially labeled vicious can be seized and put down. But dogs that attack horses or other livestock ­do not yet qualify for these distinctions.
Animal control is currently working on a proposal for the Board of Supervisors that would change the ordinance so that dogs who attack horses with riders can be classified as a danger. The city of Lancaster has taken the issue upon itself in recent years, passing a regulation in 2009 that levies harsh penalties on owners whose dogs receive enough substantiated complaints to be viewed as a significant threat to the safety of the community. But the county plans more manpower in the long run, as an additional animal-control branch in Palmdale is expected to open by 2016.
The pit bull issue, as well, is in constant debate. Daniel Guss is director of the Southern California-based animal advocacy group STAND (Stop Torture, Abuse & Neglect of Dogs) Foundation, which aims to aid “less fortunate” dogs, including those of homeless people and neglected guard dogs. “In the right hands, pit bulls are wonderful, intelligent, very trainable dogs,” said Guss. “Unfortunately, we live in a culture where some people want a macho image, and they think that hurting or starving a dog makes them tough. When a dog attacks, it is a tremendous reflection of how the dog was treated in its life.”
Phyllis Daugherty, head of the Animal Issues Movement, who testified before the Board of Supervisors when it was considering policy changes in the wake of the May Jackson attack, views it differently.
“Pit bulls are genetically aggressive dogs, and they are very frequently what you call ‘man-biters.’ When they feel challenged, they kill,” she said. “They considered this woman a challenge to their territory, so they destroyed the challenge.”
Still, county officials say animal control and safety in the Antelope Valley is a work in progress, and they remind the public to stay wary of unsecured dogs. “People should be very mindful of their surroundings — avoid loose fences,” said Mayeda. “And if you can, try to evade unleashed dogs as much as possible.”


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