Rescue groups want Orange to free longtime shelter dog
Oreo is 70 pounds of muscle and energy — a friendly, happy pit-bull mix who lives to swim and chase sticks. He can knock you over, literally, with his exuberance.
He is also a resident of the Orange County Animal Services shelter, where he has spent most of the past year separated from the general population — a fact that has made him the center of a controversy with animal-rescue groups, whose leaders call Oreo “a hostage.”
They say he should be freed for adoption.
Animal Services manager Dil Luther — who had intervened in December when Oreo was slated to be euthanized — disagrees, saying the dog needs more time and training with him. After a pair of incidents late last year in which Oreo growled and lunged at shelter staffers who were trying to corral him after playtime, Luther has personally worked with the dog, teaching him some basic commands.
“He’s an extraordinary dog,” Luther said. “But he needs consistency in training, and I haven’t selected where I want him to go. If I let him go to somebody who can’t handle him, I can get sued. And I have a moral obligation to make sure that dogs that shouldn’t be released, aren’t. He’s a handful.”
But this week, as Oreo — now 3 — marks a year since his previous owner surrendered him to the
shelter, rescue group volunteers who have monitored the situation began calling on their supporters to lobby the county to free Oreo for adoption. They say most dogs are adopted within a month, and Oreo is no more difficult to manage than any other young, rambunctious pit-bull mix.
“It’s bizarre,” says Erin Swilley, president of Happy Trails Animal Rescue. “I’ve never seen a shelter hold a dog hostage before. If he’s not ready after a year, then he needs to be with someone who can provide him with more regular training, which we can arrange.”
Swilley said her group takes two or three dogs a week from the shelter to help get them extra socializing and training so they can be adopted. She has even taken dogs with a history of biting — which Oreo doesn’t have — and retrained and placed them. Having met Oreo herself, she describes him as sweet, and Luther doesn’t disagree. She has offered to find a suitable placement for the dog.
A series of emails between Swilley and Luther show a polite but continuing disagreement on what’s best for Oreo, dating back to February.
Luther said he likes the dog and considered adopting him but said he decided against it because he wouldn’t be home enough. He also considered having Oreo work for law enforcement at one point but said he learned the agencies prefer other breeds.
“I’d still like to have him as an ambassador for the shelter, to show people that these dogs can be well trained,” he said.
Oreo has been featured in a couple of publicity campaigns for the shelter already, and Luther said he wants him to appear in some obedience-training videos to be filmed in the next few weeks.
“Probably soon after that, I’ll let him go to a rescue group,” he said.
But Brittany Johnston, an administrator for the Facebook page Rescue Me Orlando, said there have been too many delays already and that Oreo is languishing in isolation. There, in an airconditioned section of the shelter, he lives in a single kennel surrounded by dogs with behavioral or medical issues. Only Luther is authorized to handle the dog, which means Oreo is left in his kennel each weekend and overnight, Johnston said.
“They told us he is no longer available for adoption or rescue,” said Johnston, a volunteer at the shelter, whose group helps shelter dogs find permanent homes. “Since Dec. 23, 2016, he has not been shown on the [county] website, and he’s still sitting in the isolation building. We have the best of the best rescue groups that wants to help him recover and get him any training he needs to help him find a home. Because that’s what we feel like he deserves.”
Luther said Oreo is in the same setting where any trainer would keep a hardto-handle dog — a kennel by itself — and that people are watching out for him around the clock. They are just not letting him out when Luther isn’t around to supervise.
“We had him available for adoption the first month, and nobody wanted him,” Luther said. “Quite frankly, I feel like we gave this dog a chance, and we put a lot of time into this dog, and he lives a great life. So this is all really demoralizing.”
Oreo has been at Orange Animal Services’ shelter for a year.