By Robert Guttersohn
Paul Bevak knelt and held a roast-beef sandwich near his head.
Clinging to their leashes, he had his two adopted pit bulls, Kelly and Cali, politely and gently take bites from the sandwich.
“They’re supposed to be so mean,” Bevak repeated as the dogs chewed the dark meat.
He did this as a demonstration of how dogs behave when you treat and raise them properly.
“You’ve got to take responsibility,” he said. “It’s all about the owner.”
He said someone who used to live in his neighborhood, along the 100 block of 16th Street, did not take such responsibility with a dog. Now, the dog, a black one, is roaming the streets of the neighborhood hunting for food, Bevak says.
Last week, Bevak witnessed the black dog with a brown dog hunt down and kill a groundhog next door.
“I’ve seen them all way up to [state Route] 616,” said Steven Bevak, Paul Bevak’s son.
Paul Bevak said he tracked the black dog to a vacant home and turned over the coop in which it was staying. This, he said, has kept the dog away.
“I really feel bad for the animal,” he said.
As long as dogs have been companions to humans, there have been strays.
Matt Ditchey, the Mahoning County Dog Warden, called stray dogs hunting for food “very rare.”
“Usually a dog that is a stray ... somebody’s feeding it,” Ditchey said.
Ditchey said the housing bubble burst and the recession accelerated the number of strays as owners, unable to keep their pets for one reason or another, leave behind the animals or dump them on the side of the road.
Today, the situation is not any better.
In fact, just last week the dog warden’s office found a 10-year-old dog abandoned by the Meander Reservoir. A bag of dog food was left with it.
Some try to bring their pet to a shelter the day of eviction, but that often is too late due to a lack of room at the shelters, he said. This can lead to the pet’s being euthanized.
“It’s 100 percent about planning,” Ditchey said.
He said at the first sign of financial trouble, owners need to make proper preparation for their pets by calling shelters and checking for availability to see if they can hold a place for a pet.
“The first payment they miss on their house or apartment, you start planning,” Ditchey said. “If they don’t do that, then it’s very difficult for the shelters. Last-minute drop-offs almost never turn out well. They only have a certain number of spaces. It’s a constant round-the-clock battle trying to find a place.”
He said that if the owners’ financial situation turns around, the owner can call the shelter and let them know they’ll no longer need the space.
“Anyone that makes any kind of effort can find a home for their pet,” said
Diane Less, founder of Angels for Animals.
She said the number of anonymous, evening drop-offs at Angels for Animals is down almost 50 percent over the past three years from 6,000 in 2009 to 3,200 in 2011.
This is due, Less said, to education on the importance of fixing animals, increased access to spaying and neutering of pets belonging to low-income owners and websites such as Pet Finder.
“Today, with the Internet ... take a good picture and express to people how desperate the pet is,” Less said. “We didn’t have this kind of stuff 10 years ago.”
The Internet also has created teams of transporters, volunteers around the country willing to drive a certain distance until a dog is delivered to a shelter that has room for it.
For the past two years, Friends for Fido has been organizing dog transportations, said one of its organizers, Lisa Hill.
She said the organization raises funds through the selling of candy bars.
Recently it paid for the transportation of a pit bull from the Mahoning County Dog Pound to a Texas shelter. The organization paid for leg surgery for another dog from the pound, and will pay to transport it to a shelter just outside of Cleveland.
She coordinates with transportation volunteers, or legs as he calls them, who drive their personal vehicle an hour or two to another leg’s home. The process repeats until the dog arrives at the shelter.
“It’s amazing the length people will go through to help these dogs,” Hill said.
Regardless of technology and volunteers willing to help, for those wanting their pet to be safe even after they can no longer afford to keep them, “the No. 1 key is planning,” Ditchey said.
“If people don’t plan ahead, they’re basically condemning their pet because shelters don’t have [enough] room,” he said.