Rochester, N.Y. - Puppies being euthanized- some just days after being born. Backyard breeders hoping to cash in on a popular breed of dog are abandoning hundreds of unwanted animals.
“I love my dogs,” says Darryl Bridges Jr. who lives on Cedarwood Terrace in the city. “I just don’t think it's right for a person to take the road of being a parent to these animals and abandoning them,” he adds.
But that is just what’s happening.
The dogs are pit bull terriers. In urban neighborhoods they are the most sought after breed especially among young males. Some see them as a menacing status symbol. Others, like 23 year-old Bridges seek them out because of the way they are portrayed in movies and in pop culture.
“There’s just sort of an epidemic now on pit bull dogs especially in the inner city,” says Bridges. They’re running around everywhere.
Hundreds of Pit Bulls Euthanized
On the other side of the city, the cages at Rochester Animal Control are filled with pit bulls and pit bull-mixed breed dogs. For nearly all of them, this is the end of a short, sad road.
“We’re injecting them, we do it every day,” says Andy Dunning who no longer works at RAC. “We do it professionally but it’s day after day, week after week.”
Patches, Rocky, Prince, Honey. They are among the hundreds of pit bulls who were euthanized in the year that ended last June, according to documents 13WHAM News obtained under the Freedom of Information Law.
“They just come in and they’re glad to be out of their cage- when they get there they like the attention, they’re wagging their tails” says Dunning.
Most of the dogs are around 18 months old. But in the age column many are listed as “0” – new born puppies.
As part of our investigation, 13WHAM News obtained photos of a mother dog – and her eight puppies- injected one at a time. “It’s like a look of surprise sometimes, then they just keel over,” says Dunning. “Every time it’s sad, this innocent creature has been put to sleep.”
Because of liability issues most shelters rarely adopt out pit bull dogs of any age. In the last year Rochester Animal Control put down 1,028 dogs of that breed. Almost three a day.
“It’s a breeding problem,” says Dunning.
Back yard breeders trying to cash in on the popularity of the bread are saturating the streets with unwanted animals. Darryl Bridges says he “rescued” his two dogs Yaayo and Bella from the guy who lives around the corner.
“He had about 12 puppies in just one room,” Bridges says, but no sign of the mother dogs. “One room, 12 puppies, one bowl of food,” he adds. At four weeks old the puppies hadn’t been weaned and nearly died.
He fed them formula from a baby bottle. “Their ribs were showing and they wouldn’t eat for the first week I got them,” he says. He figures the rest of the dogs either died or were dumped at a shelter.
“People are jumping on the backyard breeding bandwagon thinking they can make a quick buck,” says Chris Fitzgerald director of Rochester Animal Control. “We get all kinds of dogs with genetic deformities coming in.”
Yet Fitzgerald acknowledges sick, injured or dangerous dogs account for just one in 10 euthanasia cases. Records show most dogs are healthy and young.
Jenn Fedele- founder of a put bull rescue organization called Pitty Love Rescue- says pit bulls are often surrendered or left to run the streets when they become too much for an owner who is often unfamiliar with the breed.
“If you buy from a backyard breeder and you have a problem with your dog- even at six months old- you’re stuck,” says Fedele. “People end up taking them to a shelter.”
So many pit bulls are euthanized at the shelter on Verona Street, it’s too expensive to cremate their bodies. Photographs obtained by 13WHAM News show the mother dog and her eight puppies being wrapped in a black garbage bag.
They are kept in a freezer and eventually taken by dump truck to a landfill. “They’re dumped basically,” says former employee Andrew Dunning. He says employees “do it humanely and with compassion” but it also takes a toll on morale.
“You have employees in this industry because they love animals,” says Director Chris Fitzgerald. “To actually hold an animal you’ve cared for and euthanize it is tough.”
The City of Rochester has an aggressive policy that all dogs that wind up in the shelter must be spayed or neutered before they are returned to their owners. That has helped with population control but it’s clearly not enough.
“I think it’s everyone’s responsibility, the community’s responsibility when you have that number of dogs dying,” says Jenn Fedele of Pitty Love Rescue.
“We could do more, the community could do more,” says Fitzgerald.
A Dime a Dozen
With the explosion of backyard breeding, the value of pit bull puppy has fallen to nearly “a dime a dozen.” Darryl Bridges Jr. says he paid “about $30” for his puppies.
He also paid for vet care to get them well, though he knows that puts him in the minority of friends who have also purchased from backyard breeders. “There’s a lot of abandonment,” he concedes.
Sadly, the disposable dogs taken to landfills are replaced almost immediately with others at Rochester Animal Control. Four out of five will not survive the week.
“I’ve held hundreds of dogs while they were put to sleep,” says Dunning. “It’s sad every time.”