On the reality TV series Dog the Bounty Hunter, the grisly Duane "Dog" Chapman sniffs out human fugitives. But if the city administration has its way with a new stray-dog policy, Memphis citizens may soon become bounty hunters for canine fugitives.
In late July, 71-year-old William Parker was killed by two pit bulls as he walked near Poplar and Manassas. The incident prompted the city to consider new ways to deal with stray and vicious dogs, including placing a bounty on strays.
"We talked about offering something in the range of $25 to $50 per dog," said George Little, the city's chief accounting officer. "We don't want it to be so low that there's no interest in it, and we don't want it to be so high that we promote the stealing of pets."
But the idea has many animal welfare advocates upset, claiming a reward for stray dogs will encourage theft of pets. Some also have complained that encouraging citizens to trap dogs on their own could be a safety issue if the dogs are vicious.
Michelle Buckalew, president of the Memphis Animal Advisory Board, said more education about proper animal care is a better solution to the city's stray-dog problem.
Buckalew and several others from the animal welfare community met with city councilman Shea Flinn on August 2nd to discuss a revival of his proposed mandatory spay/neuter ordinance. Flinn's ordinance, which would force all pet owners to spay and neuter their animals, was postponed last year.
"Pit bulls that aren't spayed and neutered are going to be more aggressive," Buckalew said. "We know that spaying and neutering makes for a better companion animal, and they'll live longer."
Buckalew also would like the City Council to pass an ordinance against chaining dogs outside. Donna Velez with Hearts of Gold Pit Rescue agrees.
"Many animals in this city are tied to trees with no food, water, or shelter," Velez said. "They are beaten when they bark. They are bored and starving for attention."
The dogs that attacked Parker were loose on the day of the attack, but witnesses said the dogs normally were tied to a post at an apartment building.
Velez also suggested that the city should hire more animal control officers, and Little agreed that more resources are necessary to control the stray-dog problem.
"We have 18 positions for animal control officers now, and we certainly don't have enough officers. The notion of the dog catcher, just riding around and catching dogs, doesn't hold here," Little said. "We're in the posture of responding to calls right now."
That's one reason the city is looking at a possible dog bounty, but Little said the city also is studying the issues surrounding this new idea.
"The bigger issue is coming up with a strategy to encourage responsible pet ownership to help manage the overall population at the shelter," Little said. "If we don't, just as soon as we open the new state-of-the-art [shelter] facility on Appling, it will be overcrowded."