Pit-bull paranoia?

Today, PetPAC founder Hemby and Guss, founder of Stop Torture Abuse & Neglect of Dogs, debate pit bull deprogramming. Earlier they discussed the stymied California Healthy Pets Act. Later in the week they'll debate muscle-dog culture, leash laws and more.

No-kill shelters that work


Being an animal rights activist, I imagine you would agree that the pit bull is the most maligned dog in dogdom. What at one time was the favored dog in the U.S. has now turned into public enemy No. 1. Pit bulls aren't born that way; they're made aggressive by macho owners who revel in siccing their pits on others. The most extreme example is the Michael Vick controversy raging right now. Dog fighting is a felony in California, and PetPAC will never support such a travesty. I have met some really neat pit bull owners. They take good care of their dogs, keep them socialized and don't let them run loose.

As for the program proposed L.A. Animal Service General Manager Ed Boks, not having it properly discussed with all of the appropriate decision-makers, including the Los Angeles City Council, is irresponsible. A new program with the liability issues this one brings up requires Boks to do his homework first.

Who trains the trainers? Police dogs receive months of training and more throughout their service. Who will carry on with this training when these dogs are released to families? The families? Not likely.

Who establishes the criteria for placement? Will the city of Los Angeles accept a huge liability if one of these dogs were to attack someone? Who decides which dogs are selected?

The Times' article alluded to the fact that nonaggressive dogs would be the only ones considered. This reminds me of my stint as a commissioner with the Youthful Offender Parole Board. I had to assign California Youth Authority students to anger-management and behavior courses. The selection criteria for students were so strict as to be almost impossible to pass. Of course, the CYA's success rate was terrific.

Is a behavior veterinarian from a local school of veterinary medicine consulted? Do Boks' shelters give dogs with behavior problems adequate evaluations? Or are they just poked with a sharp stick to see if they will react? I have never met Boks; I only know him by his reputation as has been extensively reported. He doesn't have a stellar report card.

I think Boks could really achieve wonders if he adopted a true no-kill policy. By that I mean I subscribe to the Nathan J. Winograd school of no-kill shelters. Winograd was the director of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the executive director of the Tompkins County SPCA, two of the most successful shelters in the nation. He helped push the lifesaving rate of dogs and cats to more than three times the national average.

Winograd's philosophy is to require accountability; a lifesaving plan; flexibility; a well-trained staff; high volume; low-cost spay/neuter; a well-run program of trap, spay and release of feral cats and working actively with animal rescue groups.

A no-kill shelter would need to create a large volunteer staff with foster-care homes along with comprehensive adoption programs. As mentioned above, medical and behavior rehabilitation is a necessity. Add to that an active public relations and community-involvement program, and mix in a compassionate director, and we can achieve more than a 90% save rate.

Unfortunately, from what I know about Boks, I doubt he is up to the challenge.

So, Dan, instead of striking out at everyone, could you support this type of solution, which has an almost perfect success rate?

Bill Hemby is the chairman and founder of PetPAC, an organization that fights for the rights of pets and their owners and is also the lobbyist for COPS, the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs.

Boks botched a good idea


On Monday, you had the audacity to write that animal breeders "rarely make a dime," a ponderous comment. But then you wrote that breeders "pay their taxes." How are you paying taxes if you're not making money? You also made other mendacious comments like my not wanting dogs and cats in California.

At what time did you concoct that notion? 4:20, perhaps?

On Monday, we talked about good government intervention: mandatory spay/neuter. Today, it's the other way around: how a grandstanding hack ruined a great idea. Pit bulls and pit mixes are known for intelligence, playful personalities and ease of house-training. They are wonderful if adopted into the right home, where they are given a fair chance to succeed. In fact, we all deserve a fair chance to live and be happy.

But their handsome looks sometimes attract people incapable of providing the right environment -- dolts in it for the macho-ness and implied power. Ironically, those craving this "macho high" often lack the alpha presence needed to make their pit bull a lifelong love.

People should only buy a Corvette if they know how to shift. So for the love of Petey (from "The Little Rascals"), only adopt a pit bull or pit mix if you've done lots of homework. Hint: Adopting any animal should always be about complementing your lifestyle; a pet is a friend, not an accessory.

So how did Boks shockingly ruin a great idea? Large-dog rescuer Tia Torres created a unique program that takes the gentlest pits and pit mixes (not ones involved in fighting) and employs parolees to house-train the dogs, to train them to walk nicely on a leash and all the things good dogs do. Pits are definitely better-than-average students!

The parolees get a paid, noble purpose and job skills to become dog trainers, groomers or veterinary technicians. (Like the dogs, the parolees are here, and society gains if we set them up to win.) The parolees were also going to provide overnight care for neonatal kittens whose mothers died or abandoned them. It was a great chance for the parolees to love, care and contribute to society.

Because Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is too distracted to hold Boks accountable for continually fumbling humane programs, Boks did an end-run around every stakeholder in the city, from A-to-Z. Literally.

City Council members Richard Alarcon ("A") and Dennis Zine ("Z"), their colleagues and other major stakeholders placed the project on the back burner when they learned that Boks got permission from no one when he needed to get it from everyone. Embarrassed by Boks' shadiness, Torres has withdrawn. It's off the burner altogether.

Boks didn't think outside the box; he worked outside of the system. That's why he's known as "Ed Hoax."

While Boks is still telling people that the program is alive, Linda Barth, his assistant general manager, sent the following e-mail last week to Torres, essentially firing the parolees who Boks hired (without permission) just a week earlier. It reads, "Well, here is the thing ... we really need to pull off working any of the parolees after this week ... which is most likely to tell us that the many aspects of the program are okay, but no paroles." (sic)

Sick indeed: This is government at its worst, killing hope where it should thrive. It is hardly the first time that Boks blew a great idea, but Villaraigosa should now make it his last.

I have to say that I agree with you on this, Bill: It is definitely time for Villaraigosa to bring in Winograd as a consultant and Laura Beth Heisen (a rescuer and attorney) to replace Boks.

Daniel Guss is a Los Angeles-based writer and MBA who founded Stop Torture Abuse & Neglect of Dogs (

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