By SALATHEIA BRYANT
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
A spay clinic this week targets a breed officials rarely see for that purpose — the pit bull.
Officials with Harris County's Veterinary Public Health Department said that in the past few years they have noticed more pit bull-type dogs in shelters, more involved in bite cases and more running loose on the streets.
Working with the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program, officials have scheduled a spay-and-neuter day for the breed on Friday.
The event will be in the county's east side, an area where the highest number of pit bull bite cases are reported.
Clinic sponsors admit they aren't sure if pit bull owners will attend, because of a belief held by some that altering the animal will take from the tough-dog image.
While some own the dog as a family pet, others want the dog to be able to breed, protect their property or to fight.
"This is an exploration mission. We're trying to change perceptions that an unaltered pit bull is better than an altered pit," said Colleen Hodges, spokeswoman for Veterinary Public Health. "It doesn't turn them into the doggy version of the 98-pound weakling."
County officials along with SNAP will offer free sterilizations for the first 30 pit bull or pit bull-mix dogs that show up.
The promotion is being funded through a private grant.
Hodges said special care will be taken for safety, including for animal control officers on site.
"We're going to have a whole lot of pit bulls in one area. We don't want any incidents," said Hodges.
Historically, pit bulls were not the breed brought in to SNAP's mobile clinics, said Susan Lamb, community program manger for SNAP Houston mobile clinic.
However, over the last year, Lamb said, officials have seen slightly more pit bull owners and estimated that during a given week, the mobile clinic might sterilize six to 10 pit bull-type dogs.
Before, the number was much less.
Lamb said a dog most likely to bite is an unneutered male.
"What we're up against is the current bad boy or bad girl image," said Lamb. "We don't know what to expect.
"It's the first time we've ever done this. We know there are aggression issues with unneutered animals."
If the event goes well, others might follow.
Hodges said officials will also collect data to determine how the owners got their dogs.
The data will be used to possibly tailor services for the area. Information will be taken anonymously.
Adam Goldfarb, issue specialist with the Humane Society of the United States, said a number of pit bull spay events are being held around the country, including ones in California and Arizona.
He said these events make more of an impact on overpopulation of the breed than breed bans.
"We're looking at the pit bull population in an unprecedented way," said Goldfarb.
"These type of events are great because they bring information where it wouldn't otherwise go."
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