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Oklahoma City tries to rein in dog pack at Capitol

Oklahoma City’s animal welfare division is typically working 10 animal bite cases a day, vastly dog bites. While the recent bites at the state Capitol shed light on the issue, it’s an ongoing problem in the city. In 2013, the animal welfare division completed 887 bite reports, mostly for dogs.
by Juliana Keeping Published: June 23, 2014

photo - Animal Welfare Supervisor Sheridan Lowery checks baited animal traps on the east side of the State Capitol Wednesday afternoon, June 18, 2014. In recent weeks, two incidents of dog bites on the grounds of the capitol have been reported to authorities. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Animal Welfare Supervisor Sheridan Lowery checks baited animal traps on the east side of the State Capitol Wednesday afternoon, June 18, 2014. In recent weeks, two incidents of dog bites on the grounds of the capitol have been reported to authorities. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

A pack of reddish-brown dogs have been having the time of their lives at Oklahoma’s Capitol building.

They’ve had the run of the grounds, rooting for rabbits and bounding over grassy lawns, for at least three weeks.

The problem is, the pooches have gone on the attack — for people. Two visitors suffered dog bites at the northeast Oklahoma City Capitol building in recent weeks. Others report being chased. Animal welfare workers laid traps to capture the dogs. Three were caught since the bite incidents, said Sheridan Lowery, a field supervisor with the city’s animal welfare division.

Commentors on the dog bite stories report on NewsOK’s Facebook page that strays are an issue elsewhere in Oklahoma City.

“People are aggressively pursued by dogs,” one woman writes.

Lowery, the supervisor, confirmed the division works multiple dog bite cases every day. In 2013, there were nearly 900 reports made for animal bites — vastly, dogs.

Calls for service

On Wednesday, the seven animal welfare officers assigned to the field arrived at the animal shelter at 8 a.m. with more than 250 service calls that needed attention.

A painted sign of sad-eyed kittens and dogs greets visitors to the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter, 2811 SE 29. In glass rooms near the entrance inside, kittens snuggle together beds while older, bolder felines eager for a scratch slink toward visitors who enter. In the back of the shelter, metal cages house lost and abandoned dogs whose barks reach a fever pitch when a prospective dog parent passes by. One pup skyrockets itself a good four feet into the air again and again.

Down a different hallway, a handful of supervisors occupy small offices. On a computer screen, a list of ongoing calls for service includes a report of city workers being chased by a pit bull at Lake Stanley Draper.

In 2013, the animal welfare division received around 35,400 calls for service, from loose livestock on the roads to injured or sick animals and cruelty complaints to deceased animal disposal. The most common type of call is for loose animals — mostly dogs.

Animal welfare officers completed 887 animal bite reports in 2013. The majority of the animal bites are from dogs, and about 20 percent involve cat bites. Now and again a call comes through for a wild animal bite — fewer than 10 per year.

On Wednesday afternoon, Lowery drove to the Capitol to check the traps that had been set for the wayward dogs. The metal cages are in the shade and plenty roomy enough for a dog’s short-term comfort, and they do not hurt the animals; upon entering, a trap door swings shut behind the dog. Cages are baited with a fresh can of dog food and checked daily.

Three of the dog suspects have been captured this way and taken to the animal shelter for observation. It’s likely they’ll be put down.

Under normal circumstances, the dogs would be considered for adoption, sent to a foster parent for socialization and further training, or to various animal rescue organizations that work with the city.

“The bad part is that the dogs may not be able to pass the evaluations due to health, temperament, or there just may not be room physically for them,” Lowery said. “At that time, they would be euthanized.”

The dogs will likely be administered a shot of a euthanization solution in pursuant to state level directives by the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, Lowery said.

At the Capitol, plum parking spots for state Senate leaders are vacant; the legislative session ended in May.

From his position on the Capitol building’s east side, security officer Steve Lehr has had a good view of the grounds. He described the dogs as reddish brown and said they look like a mom and her pups. He theorized one of the pups was covered in spots — ticks, perhaps. Another guard guessed someone at the Capitol had been feeding the strays.

Lehr has helped escort to their cars two women who felt jumpy after being chased by the dogs outside of the Capitol building, he said. He’s not seen the dogs in recent days.

The four traps are empty and Lowery heads back toward the shelter. Then a call comes through from dispatch; there’s a domestic dispute over a dog in far northwest Oklahoma City.

Lowery drives that way.

An emotional encounter

The city’s 14 welfare officers drive Ford F250s outfitted with air-conditioned dog paddy wagons. Directed by a computer-aided dispatch system, the officers respond to calls in the sprawling, 620-square-mile metro. On duty, they wear ballistic vests for protection against people and animals, and carry with them other tools of the trade: an aluminum catch pole with a noose on one end for the safe and humane handling of cats and dogs, leashes, gloves, pepper spray and a baton. Officers have been wearing the vests for about five years, Lowery said. Before then, at least two were injured on the job; One officer was stabbed, another mauled when a problem dog owner turned his dogs loose to attack.

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by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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