Aggressive dogs often vulnerable at the end, page 2 | Pit Bull | Dogs

The Huntsville Times, Sunday, September 23, 2007 A19

Continued from page A13

Huntsville Animal Services shelter
Houses animals in the city of Huntsville and Madison County, with the exception of the city of Madison. Entire shelter (includes cats, dogs and other animals) Intake 9,595 Live release* 2,442 Live release rate 34% Euthanized 7,153 Pit bulls and pit-bull mixes Intake 1,058 Live release** 185 Live release rate 21% Euthanized 873 * Includes adoptions, rescues and returns to owners ** Five American Bulldogs passed temperament testing and were adopted. The other pit bulls were sent to rescue groups or returned to owners.
Numbers from 2006

reported. Yet the three breeds classified as pit bulls regularly score above the norm, an 81.5 percent passing rate, during temperament testing, according to the American Temperament Testing Society. The nonprofit association tested about 215 breeds and more than 27,000 dogs as of December. American Pit Bull Terriers have an 84.1 percent passing rate. American Staffordshire Terriers have an 83.9 percent passing rate, while 85.2 percent of Staffordshire Bull Terriers pass the test. It’s difficult to say, though, how a pit bull will react in every situation based on a 12-minute test, said Madison County Animal Control Director Mike Fritz. “The natural programming of the pit bull is to fight,” Fritz said. “People do talk about the loyalty of the dog. That’s all part of the design of that breed.” Pit bulls are specifically bred not to be aggressive toward humans, Fritz said. They were originally bred to fight other dogs, and the rules of dogfighting dictate that dog owners must be able to control their dogs. “Yes, there are people who are hurt and mauled, but that’s probably bad breeding as opposed to the natural instincts of the dog,” he said. Fritz gets calls at least once at a day about roaming pit bulls, and some days county animal control officers have to pick up as many as eight. People buy the dogs without doing any research on them and later dump them because they’re not what they expected, Fritz said. “They don’t know what they’ve got,” he said. “I think a lot of people get them as a status symbol.”

such as people who want a dog that hasn’t been spayed or neutered, or applicants who list the dog’s primary home as a backyard. Both the rescue group and Huntsville Animal Services perform temperament testing on the dogs if they’re being considered for adoption. “Our goal is to never put a bad dog back in society,” Ralph said. Huntsville Animal Services allowed five American bulldogs to be adopted in 2006 after they passed the Safety Assessment for Evaluating Rehoming, or SAFER, temperament test. The test measures the dog’s response to situations involving people, other dogs and cats. “We’re very careful when we do these tests,” Sheppard said. “Even if the dog tries to kill the cat, that doesn’t mean we won’t adopt it. We just warn the people about what they’re getting into.”

know if it got up and ran away or someone stole it.”

Solution to the problem
Virgie Graham didn’t hear much about pit bulls when he became a Huntsville Animal Services officer 18 years ago. But he sees them often now, roaming around town and tugging on chains in backyards. He’s familiar with the signs of a pit-bull home – broken chains around trees; stakes, bricks and even grocery carts used to reinforce ragged chainlink fences. That’s not the kind of home a pit bull should have, Graham said. “I think if we could get the information out, then we could cut down on the pit-bull problem, and on a lot of the city’s problems with dogs,” he said. It’s a matter of education, he said. That’s the key. Graham’s other solution? Stop it. Stop the breeding. Stop the dumping. Stop the fighting. That’s Ralph’s solution, too. And Foote’s, and Fritz’s. Legislation banning certain breeds only adds to the problem, they say. Irondale, Midfield, Gadsden, Lannett, Orange Beach and Warrior have either banned the dog or adopted restraint requirements. This legislation only prevents responsible owners from getting the dogs, dog trainer Barribeau said. And once responsible owners drop out of the picture, Barribeau said, all that’s left are the people who have no regard for the law. So why should these people have any regard for what they consider an accessory?

Man in porn case, wife are suicides
Michael Cometa was psychologist in Huntsville
Mobile Press-Register

Dogs a liability?
Sept. 12, Huntsville – A pit bull escapes from its home on Blue Spring Road and kills a poodle on nearby Shadow Lawn Drive. Aug. 24, Anniston – A 51year-old woman ends up in intensive care after four pit bulls attack her near Blue Mountain. July 29, Huntsville – A grandmother is seriously injured when her neighbor’s pit bull attacks her, leaving bite marks on her arms and hands. June 8, Golden Springs – A woman has to get 60 stitches in her leg after a pit bull attacks her and her poodle during an afternoon walk. It’s a mystery why these dogs choose to bite, but to Ralph at Turtle Moon Rescue, it’s no surprise that more bite reports are showing up in the news. There are too many pit bulls across the country, she said, and more dogs means more attacks. “I used to get really upset because the shelter euthanized most of those dogs, but they don’t have the resources to screen all these people,” she said. “I would rather see them euthanized than sold to fighters.” It’s hard to know where all these dogs come from and where they go, said Fritz and Sheppard of the county and city animal services. Adding to the uncertainty is the theft of pitbull puppies, which investigators with the Huntsville Police Department estimate are stolen every other week or so. Sgt. Wayne West, an investigator with the west precinct, said it’s hard to find the truth behind these thefts. “Whenever we have a dog theft, it’s almost always a pit bull, and usually a puppy,” he said. “But other property can’t get up and walk off. We don’t

Bred for violence

Many people buy pit bulls because they look tough, said Chrissy Barribeau, a dog trainer at Huntsville Obedience Training Club. But just because the dog looks tough doesn’t mean it can survive being tethered by a heavy chain in a barren backyard. Socialization is key for any dog, Barribeau said, but it’s critical for pit bulls to be around other dogs when they’re young. Like shepherds are born to herd, pit bulls are born to fight other dogs. “I don’t think a pit bull is any harder to train than another dog, but they do have certain traits that have to be worked with,” she said. “Ignorance plays a big role in what’s happening with pit bulls.” That ignorance of basic dog care results in neglected dogs, said Gwen Ralph, a local volunteer for the nonprofit pit-bull rescue group Turtle Moon. The lack of socialization and neglect, combined with inbreeding – a technique that dogfighters use to make their dogs more aggressive – creates violent, unstable pit bulls, Ralph said. Although many of the dogs Ralph sees are docile or can be rehabilitated, the Linevillebased rescue group occasionally has to send some dogs to be destroyed. Ralph said five 12-week-old puppies were euthanized this year because of their aggressive tendencies, a trait that should not appear in puppies that young. “It’s just like with humans,” Ralph said. “When you start inbreeding, you have genetic de-

fects.” The inbred viciousness is a trait sought by people who want the dogs as status symbols or macho accessories, said Michael Foote, a New Hope resident who owns six pit bulls and seven pit-bull puppies. Often, Foote said, those people get the mean dogs they’re looking for – at the expense of the dogs. “No dog is born vicious. It’s made that way,” he said. “Can you look at me and rationally say, ‘I believe every single one of these dogs have developed some congenital disease to be aggressive toward people’?” That’s the perception, Foote said, and policies such as that of Huntsville Animal Services don’t help the stigma. But Sheppard said it’s not just a pit-bull problem. The shelter receives about 9,500 animals a year, and more than 7,000 of those animals have to be destroyed, some because of temperament, others because of illness, age or simply the shelter’s lack of space for so many dogs.

Another one gone
It’s been more than the fiveto seven-day grace period for No. 24. Shelter workers decide that her odd appearance – the mismatched eyes, the missing fur, the scars and sagging skin from mothering many litters of puppies – won’t attract a family looking for a cuddly house pet. The dog didn’t have a collar, and her owner never claimed her. No. 24 is dead.

No place to call home
Turtle Moon has seen 126 pit bulls this year. More than 339 people have contacted the nonprofit wanting to adopt – or dump – a pit bull. The group’s adoption rate hovers around 20 percent. The application process is so stringent, Ralph said, that some applicants have said it’s easier to adopt a baby than a pit bull. “We’re just picky about where our babies go,” she said. The rescue group watches for red flags in its applications,

MOBILE – A former Huntsville psychologist facing child pornography charges and his wife killed themselves Friday under a Baldwin County beachfront home. Michael Stephen Cometa, 59, and Keri Cometa, 45, of Trenton, Ga., died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds under the stilted duplex along Fort Morgan Road, according to Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Anthony Lowery. Earlier that day, Michael Cometa failed to appear for an arraignment hearing in Madison County Circuit Court, his attorney, Larry Morgan, said Saturday. Cometa was accused of videotaping a nude 16-year-old girl in his office, Morgan said. A report in The Huntsville Times, citing the indictment, stated that the girl was under 16, and police said she was a client. Cometa was charged in 2004 with six counts of production of obscene matter and one count of possession of obscene material. The charges did not allege that Cometa had touched the girl in a sexual way, Morgan said. Cometa was free on bail pending his Oct. 29 trial. Prosecutors were prepared to recommend that Cometa spend five years in prison and five years on probation, Morgan told The Times. In March, after a bank foreclosed on Cometa’s Huntsville home and he filed for bankruptcy, he and his wife moved to Georgia, and he did not renew his license to practice psychology, Morgan said. “His life was absolutely turned upside down as a result of the whole incident,” Morgan said. “He couldn’t practice, his home was foreclosed, his wife was seriously ill.

“He paid a big price for his involvement in this situation,” he told The Times. Cometa was the sole provider for his wife, and “if he had gone to prison, there would be nobody there for her,” Morgan said. Morgan said his client “was very remorseful and very contrite” over the charges he faced. He said he and Cometa were trying to delay court action in the criminal case while trying to help the victim win a declaratory judgment from U.S. District Judge Lywood Smith that Cometa’s malpractice insurance company should pay her damages. Cometa was arrested about six months after his previous wife and secretary, Stephanie, 31, committed suicide in November 2003. On the Web site, where people can anonymously review therapists, three comments were about Cometa. One was positive. Another, posted by a 21year-old named Courtney from Huntsville, said she started seeing Cometa when she was 16. “He kept telling me I should be a model,” Courtney wrote. “To make a long story short, one year later I am being called ... (by) an investigator to look at pictures of girls to see if I recognize them.” On Friday, a witness reported hearing two loud blasts, and the bodies were discovered about 5 p.m. Inside a Jeep Grand Cherokee parked near the bodies, the couple left separate notes that indicated their suicide intentions, according to Lowery. Investigators found two shotguns at the scene. There was nothing to suggest the couple had ties to South Alabama, Lowery said. The two were not renting the vacation home.


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