Since March of 2004, the Erath County Humane Society has euthanized any dog that appears to be a “pit bull,” formally known as the American Staffordshire Terrier. Any dog believed to be the product of the breed is also euthanized — with no chance of adoption.

“The decision was based not only on our 23 years of experience with dogs and cats of all breeds and cross breeds, but also the statistics and facts provided by various other types of organizations and media sources. The information provided and used in our decision indicates that pit bull dogs, also known as the American Staffordshire, whether full blood or crosses, pose the greatest risk and liability threat of all dog breeds,” Gail Johnson, president of the organization, said in a letter.

Pit bull is not actually a breed, but rather a common name used to describe several breeds including the American Staffordshire Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, according to Wikipedia, which causes mistaken identity. Similar breeds that are often mistaken for this breed of dog are the Indian Bull Terrier, the Argentine Dogo, the American Bulldog, the Bull Terrier and Perro de Presa Canario. According to the same source, all of these animals as well as Great Danes, Newfoundlands and Rottweilwers are member of the Molosser family. The local humane society said they have the best interest of the public at heart and believes the genetics of the breed expose the shelter to potential liabilities.

Therefore, any dog or puppy that resembles the pit bull is automatically put down and never offered for adoption after the required three-day reclaim waiting period.

“I don’t think there are any good pit bulls,” Johnson said.

Director Judy Hallmark echoed the sentiment.

“We don’t have any choice, we can’t run the risk of them turning,” Hallmark said.

Hallmark said she used to notify rescue centers for the dogs’ retrieval, but now even they do not want them. In the past, she said she could sometimes get pig hunters to take them.

Kathy Tompson, program specialist for the Tarrant County Humane Society of the U.S. said, “In Texas we have a state law against breed specific legislation. We are against breed specific legislation in all ways.”

She said the center has recently conducted a “class on pit bulls and how to tell which are adoptable and those that are not.”

The Erath County Humane Society was mailed a notification but no one from the shelter attended the class.

Hallmark said many shelters have the same policy and Tompson agreed.

“Unfortunately, that is the case and anything with a square head gets dubbed a pit bull,” Tompson said. “Bad dogs go in trends, before it was the pit bull, it was the Doberman in the ‘70s, and the Rottweiler in the 80s. Some breed is picked on every 10 years or so.

“We recommend that shelters evaluate dogs on an individual basis. We don’t advocate specific discrimination based on breed. Irresponsible owners are the problem, not the dogs.”

In a report supplied by Hallmark dated Nov. 14 2006 titled “Fatal Dog Attacks on Humans in Texas,” attacks dating back to 1980 indicate pit bulls were responsible for 23 out of 53 fatal attacks or 43.4 percent. (No source for the statistics was provided.)

Other breeds responsible for fatal attacks according to the report were Chows, Dobermans, Rotweilers, Great Danes, and Huskies, as well as various others and mixed breeds.

The shelter contacted Ron Cornelision, zoonosis control specialist for the Texas Department of State Health Services, for his opinion of the shelter’s current policy.

In an email he said: “My own opinion (not a law) on this issue is, if I was the person making the policy for the shelter on a pit bull or any animal that I felt was a potential threat to any adopter, which would be more upsetting to me; euthanizing an animal that I thought or perceived might be a danger to the community, or an adopter, or, explaining why I allowed an animal to be adopted by a person and that animal injured a child or other member of the community after it was adopted. Especially, when I believed in the first place, the animal was a high risk animal to begin with…I do not believe anyone has the right to make this decision for an agency, unless they are on the board of the agency or they are the person in control of the agency.”

Cornelision could not be reached for further comment.

Meanwhile, Johnson said the board stands firm in their decision to euthanize these animals.

“Looking back in history, we can learn of the purpose man had in mind when they used selective breeding of certain breeds of dogs to perform certain tasks. Such are the retrievers, the sheep herding dogs, and the sled pulling dogs,” Johnson said. “All of these dogs were developed to provide a useful service to man. Tragically, for the Pit Bull Terrier, man has perfected this breed to be aggressive, fearless and capable of providing ill-gotten income to its owner, even if its death is the final outcome.”

ANGELIA JOINER is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at angelia.joiner@empiretribune.com or (254) 965-3124,ext. 238