Taking in stray animals may be risky

June 17, 1999

McKinsey SoudersBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

Paul Highbarger was walking on Lexington Avenue in Hagerstown on June 1 when he was attacked by a golden retriever mix.

Although the 65-pound dog was chained, it bit him on the buttocks and scratched his calf.

"I was really startled, I wasn't expecting it," said Highbarger, 43, of 17507 Lexington Ave.

Later the same day, the dog attacked 10-year-old McKinsey Souders when the youngster stooped down to pick up an ice cream wrapper from the sidewalk.

McKinsey had to have more than 150 stitches near her right temple. She also had puncture wounds on her right arm.


"I was very scared. It all happened so fast, but I remember seeing its mouth opening," said McKinsey, of 17508 Lexington Ave.

The female golden retriever mix was a stray that a Hagerstown man found and claimed, said Rebecca Sauceda, rabies coordinator for the Washington County Health Department.

The dog likely was scared and defensive because it was in unfamiliar surroundings, she said.

It may seem like an act of kindness to take in a stray dog or cat, but people should think twice before giving it a collar and calling it their own, according to the Washington County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"You don't know its temperament. You don't know if it's healthy. There's just too many unknowns," said SPCA Executive Director Shelly Moore.

If you find a stray the first step should be to notify the SPCA, which will send an animal control officer when available to retrieve it, she said.

If the animal is a puppy or appears to be docile you can try to pen it in, she said.

Don't attempt to touch or confine the animal if it appears aggressive, Moore advised.

"Basically, it depends on your comfort level," she said.

The SPCA also should be called for animals routinely seen running loose so the owners can be contacted, she said.

The agency will check to see if the pet had been reported missing. An unclaimed pet is kept at the SPCA for a minimum of five days, she said.

If you adopt a stray it is not considered yours until you've had it for 30 days, Moore said.

The SPCA took in 2,479 stray dogs from July 1, 1997, to June 30, 1998. More recent figures were unavailable.

Moore recommends securing identification tags on a pet's collar so it can be returned if it gets loose.

Moore said a person who takes in a stray instead of notifying the SPCA should keep it away from other animals until it can be examined by a veterinarian.

The Washington County Health Department receives an average of 300 reports a year of dog and cat bites. Most bites occur when pets are eating, Sauceda said.

The dog that bit Highbarger and Souders was quarantined until it was determined it did not have rabies, she said.

It is being held by the SPCA, and personnel there are trying to arrange for it to be taken by a golden retriever rescue group, Moore said.

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