What happens to stigma-carrying dogs that get loose? The SPCA is doing its best

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Many of the 12,000 dogs picked up by the Cincinnati Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals each year are not registered.

"When you see a stray dog running around, you don't know it's history," says Nyketa Gaffney with SPCA Cincinnati.

Some of those dogs simply got away their owners, perhaps escaping while they were at work. Those owners usually retrieve their pets -- but that's not always the case.

FOX19's cameras recently looked around the SPCA's adoption facility in Sharonville. Nearly every animal in the particular holding area FOX19 saw was a pit bull.

"Pitbull would be one. Of course, we've got the German Shepherds, and you've got your Cane Corsos," said Gaffney.

"Stray," "abandoned," and "seized" marked the animals' tags that day. Some were noted as "NO KIDS," or not considered to be safe around children. Of the 12,000 strays picked up each year, 7,000 get adopted, leaving 5,000 who may never be adopted.

"It's just unfortunate that there are irresponsible people in our community, who handle animals in that way, in an aggressive way, intentionally, and then let them loose into the community," said Gaffney. "It's just something that shouldn't happen."

In the past six months, Gaffney said three Cane Corsos, or Italian Mastiffs, have come through the SPCA shelter. It's the same kind of large, aggressive breed that attacked Bill Kohler with no provocation May 3.

The Romans used Cane Corsos as frontrunners in warfare. They're an expensive investment. FOX19 found Cane Corso pups for sale in Cincinnati from $1,000 to $1,200 per pup.

"Cane Corsos were bred by the Roman Empire to kill human beings, OK?" said Kohler. "So, if that kind of animal is off a leash, you have to assume it might be there to kill a human being!"

Kohler was walking through his own Cincinnati yard at the time of the attack.

"Running loose in all of the city, because of the drug epidemic and the dealers getting caught, going to jail, and they don't want to put their dogs in any kind of pound or really give them to anybody else who would want them, so they're just releasing them on the street to live for themselves," said Kohler.

This past summer, Brian Fisch was leaving work when three pit bulls jumped him outside his office in Winton Woods. The dogs were not on a leash and got away from their owner, who was just playing with them on a grassy area nearby, leaving Fisch bloodied and with dozens of stitches. A judge ordered the animals to be put down.

The SPCA said they work to rehabilitate and adopt out as many of the seized animals as possible. But how challenging is it to handle a dog that might not be socialized?

"We receive them and yes, there is a level of fear," said Gaffney. "It's a stigma, unfortunately, for that breed."

On the street, stigmas over certain breeds can carry weight.

"They want to create that image of fear," said Gaffney, adding that SPCA staffers have to look past that once the animals come into their care. "Every single animal out there has the potential to be loving, to be loyal, to be a family pet and to make our lives better."

Kohler doesn't necessarily agree.

"So you're gonna take 500 years of DNA out of a dog because you're going to play nice with it? I don't think so," he said.

SPCA Cincinnati is a no-kill shelter, so euthanization is always the last resort, Gaffney says.

"We just make every effort to get them where they need to be to get them adoptable, and if not, we also try to figure out the next option for them," said Gaffney.

A judge ultimately decides what happens to vicious dogs -- especially those who've injured someone.

Chief Dog Warden Brandon Corcoran tells FOX19 there are plenty of responsible owners who do come back to pick-up their confiscated dogs.

Police are still looking for the Cane Corso that bit Kohler. They say the man that was seen walking with the dog that day, Melvin Austin, is not cooperating with police in giving the dog up. He's been fined $5,000. His case was continued until next month.

Kohler's offering a reward for anyone who can tell police where it is.

Kohler has had 17 rabies shots since getting bitten -- he gets one more round of those shots Thursday. The SPCA believes if the Cane Corso that attacked him gets confiscated, it can be rehabilitated and adopted back out.

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation also offers these tips to keep your child safe and avoid dog bites.

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