550% Increase in Stray Pit Bulls
Houston, TX - Harris County's animal control division wants the Legislature to allow its officers to use batons -- also known as bite sticks -- to fend off attacking dogs amid a sharp increase in the number of aggressive stray pit bulls in unincorporated areas. Officers say the bite sticks can prevent serious injuries by intimidating aggressive animals and blocking their attempts to bite.
What's the difference between a bite stick and a break stick? In the context of animal control, a bite stick is a protection baton. In the context of pit bull ownership and dogfighting, a break stick is used to pry open a pit bull's jaws. Responsible pit bull owners are told to carry one in case their dog gets into a fight. Break sticks were developed by dog fighters to break up battling pit bulls.
Currently, bite sticks, in the context of animal control, are prohibited in Texas under a state law that bars most people who are not certified peace officers from carrying clubs. Several cities, including Houston, have adopted ordinances exempting animal control officers. But counties are not allowed to draft their own rules and must ask the Legislature to craft an exception.
The National Animal Control Association (NACA) approves of the use of bite sticks, allowing their officers to carry the weapons, which clip onto a belt for handy access in an emergency, as long as officers are fully trained. But a Texas-based organization for animal control officers is wary of the weapons, saying dogs could get seriously hurt or killed if they are used improperly.
Dr. Dawn Blackmar, the Harris County Director of Veterinary Public Health, said she felt compelled to try to get the law changed. Harris County has seen a 550% percent increase in the number of stray pit bulls admitted to its shelter since 2000, and her employees frequently put themselves in danger to protect the public from aggressive animals, she said.
"If one of my officers got knocked down by a pack of dogs and got hurt and didn't have any way to defend themselves and I hadn't tried to do this, I'd never be able to forgive myself," Blackmar said. She added that a bite stick would provide the same protection of "barricading" as a catch pole if an officer is not carrying a catch pole or if there are several dogs, which is often the case.
Debbie Dawson, an animal control officer in Edmonds, WA and vice president of the NACA, said she has not had to use her bite stick as a barricade because the loud, metallic noise the weapon makes as she flicks it open and the sight of the expanding pole has been enough to scare off aggressive canines. She said she does not want to hurt a dog, but considers her safety first.
Perhaps Houston letter carriers should start carrying bite sticks. Houston, which is located in Harris County, leads the country in dog attacks on postal employees.
07/03/08: Animal Control Officers Bit by Pit Bull Responding to Attack
05/17/08: Houston Leads the Nation in Letter Carrier Attacks