Owning a dog comes with responsibilty

The elderly woman probably couldn’t move fast enough. At 81, it’s hard to expect Alice Broom to run from anything: especially 13 mixed-breed pit bull terrier dogs.

Less than a month ago, the Marion County woman stood in her front yard surrounded by the enemy — the pit-bull pack. Human instinct may have caused her to freeze, yell, scream for help and eventually claw at the unyielding earth. All the while wishing she could reach the safe place behind her front door.

No one came. If they did, they came too late.

Broom’s neighbor’s pit bulls mauled her to death. They pulled limbs from her body.

It happened because one man didn’t pay enough attention to his pets.

Prosecutors filed manslaughter charges against 67-year-old Robert Freeman. He remains in jail. His dogs face their own fate: the Marion County Animal Center plans to euthanize them next week.

All dog owners possess the power to prevent similar tragedies. Hillsborough County Animal Services urges dog owners to send their pet(s) to obedience school. Have them spayed or neutered. Such animals are less likely to grow up with a mean streak.

Growing up, I’d watch my older brothers and their friends feed ground pepper to puppies. Their theory was that doing so would make the dogs more aggressive and protective of their master. It was nothing more than an ego trip to see who could raise the toughest dog. Obviously, that wasn’t a good idea.

About this time last year, my brother and I got a German shepherd-black Labrador mix puppy named Shaker. My brother’s girlfriend would carry the tiny dog around in her purse while shopping. Everyone thought she was so cute. Fast forward to today: she’s a year old, overly energetic and still enjoys pooping under my dining room table.

Where my brother and I have gone wrong — besides the potty training — is we still haven’t gotten Shaker fixed. After reading what happened to Ms. Broom, I contacted the Humane Society for information on doing something we should have done months ago.

On New Year’s Day, Hillsborough County Animal Services began tightening the leash on regulations regarding dogs that bite. Animal Services doubled some of its fines and fees and plans to create a Web site, similar to the one for tracking sexual predators and sexual offenders, for the public to locate registered dangerous dogs throughout the county. Animal Services considers a dog dangerous if it attacks a human without being provoked. The registered dangerous dogs list in Hillsborough contains about 60 animals.

Depending on whom you ask, you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try.

Dogs act on their natural animal instincts. The people who live inside your house are part of the dog’s pack. Others aren’t.

Animal Services officials say don’t pick out a new dog to bring home based on its looks. Ask questions about the dog’s temperament. Tell the pet shop or Humane Society what your home life is like. Don’t forget to train young children how to respond to the new addition in the home as well.

A few months ago, a family puppy chewed off four fingers on the paralyzed hand of a Tampa boy while the child slept.

In this post season of giving, there are likely hundreds of homes with new puppies. Heed the advice of Animal Services officials. Have your pet spayed or neutered. Take it to obedience school. The life you save because of it could be a loved one.

Kevin Graham is a former Oracle Editor in Chief.