Animal rights activists attack city over pit bull Elijah

Radical animal rights activists have targeted Columbus with a national misinformation campaign, alleging animal abuse and mistreatment at the city’s Animal Control Center, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said.

“Every week or so, they come up with a totally fabricated or radically exaggerated situation to spread around,” Tomlinson said. “It’s always something horrific.”

At the center of the current controversy is a pit bull named Elijah. The dog was originally brought to animal control in bad condition, suffering from starvation and dehydration and with open sores. A group called Animal Ark Rescue, which specializes in shelter animal rescue, adopted the dog, but then placed it with a woman who already had two small dogs, Tomlinson said.

“Pit bulls are very aggressive, especially with other animals,” Tomlinson said. “If we’d had any idea they were going to place Elijah with a family with two small dogs, we would never have turned him over to them.”

When the woman went to feed the three dogs, the pit bull attacked and nearly killed the beagle and bit the woman when she tried to intervene, Tomlinson said. The woman called 911 and Elijah was taken back to the shelter, where he is now under a veterinarian’s care. But because he attacked another dog and a human being, he has been legally deemed a vicious dog, so his options for being adopted are severely limited, Tomlinson said.

In fact, Tomlinson said, had the woman insisted that Elijah be euthanized, the city would have had no legal recourse other than to do it. But she did not, so Elijah is now under a veterinarian’s care at city shelter.

The city has located a rehabilitation facility that is willing to take Elijah and treat him. But Animal Ark Rescue isn’t satisfied with that, Tomlinson said, and is demanding the dog back, or at least the name of the facility that is going to take it.

“That’s never going to happen,” Tomlinson said. “I don’t want that facility subjected to the same kinds of threats and abuse we’ve seen.”

An e-mail exchange between Tomlinson and Katherine Poteat, a local animal rights supporter but not affiliated with Animal Ark Rescue, Poteat demanded that the mayor divulge where Elijah would be sent. She also informed the mayor that the issue was now in the hands of “The Lexus Project,” a Long Island, N.Y., non-profit that offers legal assistance in cases where pets are concerned.

“No one is looking to harass the owners of a facility that is truly caring for Elijah’s needs, and to think that’s why you and other city officials are being hounded for information about his whereabouts is ridiculous. People who are asking only want to know he’s safe and being cared for ” she wrote. “As I’m sure you’re aware now, the Lexus Project has taken up Elijah’s cause and eventually will gain access to the information through legal channels via the Freedom of Information Act. Would it not make you look more compassionate to release the information yourself?”

Tomlinson said she would be willing to allow an attorney for the animal rights group to see Elijah and see that he is being well cared for, but she will not divulge the name of the facility that will take him in.

Mareesa Torres, deputy counsel for the Lexus Project, said in an e-mail to Tomlinson Wednesday that their veterinarian had examined Elijah and they were satisfied with the level of care he is receiving.

“We have no evidence to substantiate the rumors of abuse and mistreatment,” Torres wrote. “Also, thank you for allowing our veterinarian to go in and see him. He also confirmed that Elijah is doing well and progressing.”

Further, Tomlinson released a report from Dr. Susanne Seward, the city’s contract veterinarian who examined Elijah on Thursday.

“Elijah walked into the clinic bright and alert. He moved energetically using all four limbs with no lameness. He showed interest in checking out his environment; he appeared mentally sound and normal. He was able to smell, take, and swallow a treat. No evidence of any neurological or orthopedic issues,” Seward wrote, then listed vital signs and concluded. “Overall Elijah is in good shape. He is slightly under conditioned which can explain poor hair coat and skin. His wounds are superficial and will heal overtime. He may need an e-collar to keep him from licking leg wounds. Elijah does not need any further medical care at this time besides immediate neutering and heartworm and flea/tick prevention.”

Reporters were allowed to see and photograph Elijah Thursday afternoon. The dog was thin, but appeared to have gained some weight when compared to photographs on a Facebook page called Free Elijah. The dog’s ribs are still showing, but not as badly. He was active, moving about energetically, standing on his hind legs and reacted to his name.

Tomlinson said at first she hadn’t paid too much attention to the phone calls and letters exclaiming the abuse going on at the shelter, until she received unsolicited letters from national organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Georgia Humane Society, which warned her that the city was under attack by radical elements of the animal rights movement.

Lisa Martin of the Georgia Humane Society wrote Tomlinson to tell her that, in her research of animal rights activists, she’d become aware of the campaign against Columbus and warned the mayor of their tactics:

“Their method of operation, nationwide, appears to be to create negative media publicity and stir up public outrage against the local animal control facility – and then begin ‘demanding’ the firing of the current director and/or staff and then it appears they are somehow able to get no-kill affiliated persons hired into key shelter positions.”

Tomlinson also received a letter from PETA headquarters in Washington, D.C., warning her of the tactics she could expect.

“On a daily basis, our office receives reports of shelters pressured to lower their euthanasia numbers by individuals and groups unfamiliar with the inner workings of animal care and control facilities (or the daily challenges and heartaches that shelter workers face), or, in some cases, efforts by volunteers or staff members to implement troublesome policies that are not in the animals’ best interests.”

Tomlinson said the current attacks on the city are ironic because the animal control center and PAWS, Inc. have reduced the city’s euthanasia rate substantially in the last year and substantially increased the number of animals that are adopted.