AP NEWS

MSPCA Drive Aims to Reduce Dog Attacks

April 6, 2019

LOWELL -- A knock on the door. A conversation. An offer for an affordable -- or even free -- service.

Employees at the MSPCA hope this will be the recipe for reducing the number of dog attacks in the city’s most impacted neighborhoods.

“The intent of it is a preventative, proactive approach to addressing issues in our community related to dog safety and animal issues,” said Mike Keiley, MSPCA director of Adoption Centers and Programs.

The program, called Lowell Partnership for Pets, was launched earlier this year. Through it, the MSPCA connects to residents and community groups to provide low-cost spaying and neutering services and free, personalized behavior training for dogs.

The initiative comes after years of debate about dog attacks, which intensified in October 2017 when 7-year-old Javien Candelario was killed by two pit bulls contained in a fenced-in area.

Amid the conversations was a question: how much are one breed, pit bulls, responsible for this type of attack?

The MSPCA has cast these attacks as a “dog issue,” not a “pit bull issue.” The MSPCA believes pit bulls are the most-owned breed in the city, which Keiley said accounts for the number of this type of dog linked to attacks.

For this new program, the MSPCA has honed in on other factors they believe contribute to these attacks.

“We knew that certain communities within Lowell were struggling more than others,” Keiley said. “We needed to focus our energy a bit more toward where the largest amount of poverty is and trying to figure out a way that access to affordable care could be imagined in those communities.”

Keiley said the program will focus on the Acre and Back Central where these attacks occur more often and the poverty rate far exceeds the city’s average.

“Let’s say, for instance, somebody wanted to have their animal spayed and neutered -- and we believe that neutering will help to reduce aggression,” he said. “Well if you’re living in a neighborhood that has a 45-plus percent poverty rate the reality of spending $400 to $600 in neutering your dog is probably not realistic.”

The MSPCA currently offers reduced price spaying and neutering at its location in Methuen. Spaying a dog costs $75 and a cat $10, with funding for even lower prices depending on income eligibility.

Though this service has existed two towns over from Lowell for several years, getting to Methuen, especially during the times the service is offered, can be a challenge for someone without transportation, Keiley said. The service has also been advertised “passively,” meaning if a resident isn’t looking for it, they probably won’t find it.

In Lowell, Partnership for Pets, employees of the MSPCA will go door-to-door to spread information on these services, speak to neighbors and note dogs with aggressive behaviors before an attack happens. Depending on the situation, the MSPCA can also offer transportation to spay or neuter the dog, Keiley said.

“Our goals are really strongly suited to being able to bring services to people who need them,” he said.

The MSPCA is partnering with local organizations to connect with residents like Coalition for a Better Acre, Lowell Police Department, animal control officers and the Lowell Humane Society.

Representatives can also offer free individual behavior training for aggressive dogs with the MSPCA director of behavior services.

“We have the ability to get people behavior support if they have an animal that’s dealing with aggression,” Keiley said. “That’s one of the things that is unique and different about this program. There isn’t another program out there that offers free behavior support.”

A year ago, the MSPCA rolled out a program similar to Lowell Partnership for Pets in Dorchester. Anecdotally, Keiley said the program has been successful in spaying and neutering animals and helping owners keep pets. But the program doesn’t have the behavioral training component.

“That element is crucial, especially in Lowell,” Keiley said.

The Lowell program also includes funding for other components like emergency medical services for animals and food programs. Since Jan. 10 the MSPCA has dropped off meals for 1,441 dogs and 930 cats to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, Keiley said.

On Sunday, the MSPCA will host a free vaccine and microchip clinic from 10 a.m. to noon at North Common Park.

Lowell Partnership for Pets is funded through October by a $42,000 grant from PetSmart Charities. In this time Keiley said the program expects to help 970 animals. He said the MSPCA hopes to continue the program beyond this date.

Crystal Arnott, spokeswoman for the Lowell Humane Society, said her organization has started referring people to the program almost daily, including one recommendation for behavioral services.

“I think it’s going to be a nice holistic approach to some of the issues we have in the city,” she said.

Rodney Elliott, city councilor and Chair of the Animal Advisory Commission, said it’s clear the city cannot “enforce our way out” of this issue. He supports the new program, which is of no cost to the city.

“We’re trying to prevent what took place two years ago,” he said. “That will not happen again.”

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins