Animal Friends puts down pit bull after two attacks

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When a 5-year-old pit bull named Blue attacked and killed a small Jack Russell terrier at the Animal Friends shelter earlier this year, the staff gave him a second chance because he was friendly and affectionate with people, was responding well to training, and the circumstances that led to the death were unusual. Blue was euthanized Thursday because of a second incident just before Thanksgiving when he made an unprovoked attack on a leashed dog that didn't fight back and, in fact, tried to get away from Blue. That dog, also a pit bull, survived.

Blue was rescued from "an abusive home," had been in the Ohio Township shelter for 11 months and was a favorite with many of the staff and volunteers, said Kathleen Beaver, chief operating officer. "It is very sad here. We did love Blue."

"It was not safe to place him in our community" in a private home, says the statement Animal Friends put on its Facebook page Friday. It had "become clear to us that Blue has scars beyond what even we -- or we believe anyone else -- can heal."

Blue was killed "because of his behavior, not because of his breed," Ms. Beaver said.

Public comments on the Facebook page, which has more than 32,000 "likes," were cut off mid-day Friday "for the protection of our staff and volunteers" who were threatened -- by name, in some cases.

Much of the public angst over Blue's death is because Animal Friends has been a "no-kill" shelter. Many people in the animal rights and welfare community believe that means no animal should be killed for any reason.

"We don't use that term any more," Ms. Beaver said. "We do not euthanize for space" to take in new dogs or cats. "The 2012 annual report said we euthanized 58 animals, including 24 dogs with behavior problems." The others had medical problems that could not be cured.

Only the most experienced volunteers were allowed to walk Blue, Ms. Beaver said, and "you couldn't ask for a better trainer than Lillian Aiken," the staff trainer who worked with Blue.

Ms. Aiken said Blue walked nicely on a leash, learned many commands and was making good progress at behaving around other dogs.

In the first attack, the Jack Russell terrier had gotten out of his cage and ran right by Blue, who was being walked on a leash. The incident was a result of "human error," she said. "Animal Friends gave Blue every option. They did the right thing and should not be attacked. It was a heart-wrenching decision to euthanize this dog, but it was the right decision."

Ms. Aiken resigned from the shelter in October, but she said it had nothing to do with Blue. She works as a private trainer and is also a practicing attorney.

At least one private trainer offered to take Blue. Ms. Aiken said that's not an option because "there is not a waiver that a shelter can sign that would absolve [it] of liability if the dog kills or injures someone" after leaving the shelter, if the shelter was judged to be "negligent."

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.


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