Early Sunday morning, July 17, a pack of five feral dogs slipped into the Indianapolis Zoo and wiped out the Australian bird exhibit. Now, the pack's high-profile attack has officials reinforcing the importance of sterilizing pets and not dumping them.
This dog captured by Animal Control after the attacks at the zoo is facing euthanasia this week.
Police and Animal Control arrived around 6:30 a.m. and attempted to corral the dogs. After darts and other Animal Control efforts failed, police used shotguns. By 9:30 a.m., three emus, three magpie geese, two black swans and four feral dogs - three male lab-chow mixes and one female terrier mix - lay dead. Animal Control later captured the remaining dog, a male pitbull mix.
"We're very upset," said Judy Gagen, communications director at the Indianapolis Zoo. "It's hard on the people that worked with the animals. We've never had anything like this."
Packs of stray and feral dogs are nothing new for Indianapolis. But the break-in at the zoo certainly was. Given that a full-grown emu stands 5 feet tall and weighs 120 pounds, it's a logical step to wonder if packs like this pose a danger to people - especially small children.
"We're lucky we haven't seen that," said Sgt. Judy Phillips, public information officer for the Indianapolis Police Department. "Any dog has the ability. But, certainly, the strays are worse."
Officials at the Division of Animal Care and Control shared different thoughts. "There's a difference between the dogs that broke into the zoo and ordinary strays," said Jeff Bennet, administrator at the Department of Public Safety's Division of Animal Care and Control. "Those weren't neighbors' dogs. They either grew up wild or got dumped. There's really no parallel to what happened at the zoo.
"And pack activities are usually linked to chasing a female in heat," Bennet added. "There was a female in that group."
According to Bennet, 90 percent of the runs by Animal Control involve a dog-pack centered around a female in heat.
"The first thing we do is capture the female," he said. "We know the importance of getting the pack broken up. A pack can show aggression toward people but that's usually not the case. We haven't had reports like that. We've had attacks but it was usually the neighbor's dog that had climbed over a fence."
Bennet said that sterilization is the best solution because it prevents pets from roaming. "Even if a dog has never gotten loose before, one time is too many," he said. "If we can do one thing to make a gain from the tragedy at the zoo, we want pet owners to know who they can call instead of abandoning their pets by the river."
Gagen said workers at the zoo were slowly recovering from the tragedy. "The only good thing that could come from it," she said, "is if it calls attention to the importance of spaying and neutering pets."
Bennet said that affordable spay and neuter services are available for people on tight budgets. "We wish to raise awareness about low-cost and no-cost spay and neuter operations," he said. "Money should never be an issue. Under no circumstances should they feel like they have to abandon the animal - that's not correct."
Bennet mentioned that if Animal Control finds a stray animal with tags, they would spay or neuter it for free.
He pointed to organizations like FACE on Massachusetts Avenue for feral cats and various affiliate hospitals of VCA and Central Indiana Veterinary Medical Association or CIVMA.