Since a horrific dog mauling attack in Yermo on Christmas evening, dog-related calls to county animal control and the sheriff's department have risen.

The Barstow station of the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department, which is not responsible for animal control problems but often times is called to respond, reported a five call increase so far this month over December totals. As of Thursday, deputies from the station have responded to 13 animal-related calls, compared to eight in December. January's to-date total also marks the highest monthly total since June, according to statistics provided by the sheriff's department.

Kelly Caldwell, a Yermo resident, was killed by pit bulls Christmas evening as she walked along Second Street toward Yermo Road. Her death has traumatized the community, her mother Carol Tanner said, and caused it to take a hard look at animal control in their area.

Tanner thinks animal control needs to be more strict. According to Tanner, the dogs suspected of killing Caldwell have been reported before as vicious, and Tanner said that if animal control, the county in this case, had done their job properly, her daughter would not be dead.

"They're very lax. They don't always follow-up," Tanner said of animal control.

Brian Cronin, the division chief of San Bernardino County Animal Care and Control, said animal control responds to calls based on priority and a report of a vicious dog or dog attack is a top priority call. He said during the 30-day period from Dec. 24 to Jan. 24, animal control responded to three aggressive dog reports, up two from the same time period last year. The rise, according to Cronin, is consistent with other rises throughout the county.

Animal control looks for solutions The two animal control agencies that serve the Barstow area are pursuing different strategies in order to clamp down on loose and aggressive dogs in the area. The Barstow Humane Society, which provides animal control service to the city, wants more money to put more officers on the street. San Bernardino County's Animal Care and Control department is looking to reorganize the way it provides its services.

Barstow currently has one animal control officer to handle complaints throughout the entire city, said Bill Cook, a spokesman for the Barstow Humane Society. The small staff, one person, combined with the large number of animals in Barstow, means that the officer spends most of the day responding to calls and has little time to patrol the streets.

"The problem we have right now is that we have one, and we really need two. We actually need three," Cook said. "Bottom line, it comes down to a dollar issue."

The humane society receives funding from the city, county, the United Way, donations and money people pay to adopt pets from their shelter. Cook said the shelter needs to expand but lacks the money to do so. He said extra animal control officers would allow people to patrol, looking for stray and aggressive dogs that could pose a threat before they actually do.

"We would love to be able to get out there and get some of those animals on the street," he said.

The county is looking to change the way it organizes its animal control efforts. Currently, six county animal control officers work in the High Desert, said Cronin. They interact with the dozens of animal shelters and control agencies that dot the region's cities, but that could change. Cronin said the county is looking for ways to involve cities in creating regionalized animal control bodies. He pooling resources within regions will provide enhanced services to all, cities and county areas included.

The plans are in their infancy, Cronin said. Already two Victor Valley cities have expressed interest, and more High Desert cities will learn about the program when the county presents to city managers at an upcoming meeting. Cronin suspects, however, that Barstow, which is served by the humane society, will not be interested.

Education seen as important Both the humane society and the county agreed, however, that education is a key part to stopping aggressive and stray dogs. Cronin said the county already has extensive education efforts and dedicated education staff for animal control issues. At the humane society, Cook said they are looking to begin a broad education campaign that will target children by reaching out to schools and the Desert Discovery Center. He said education, not laws, will eventually lessen the problem.

"It's nothing that's going to happen immediately. The only way to solve the problem immediately is to implement a bunch of laws and enforce them," Cook said. "And I don't see that happening."

Tanner agrees that owners need to care for their dogs better. She said pet owners need to take responsibility for their pets. If someone cannot treat a dog like a member of the family, Tanner said, then they should not be allowed to have one.

"Pet owners in Yermo should have animals in their yards and should not be able to run around," she said. "It's the people's responsibility, not the animals."

The investigation into Caldwell's death continues. Anyone with information can contact the sheriff's department at 256-4838. People with information that wish to remain anonymous can call WeTip at 1-800-78-CRIME or leave information on the WeTip Web site at www.wetip.com.

Contact the writer: (760) 256-4121 or aaron_aupperlee@link.freedom.com


Aggressive dog reports in Yermo Dec. 24, 2007 to Jan. 24, 2008: 3
Dec. 24, 2006 to Jan. 24. 2007: 1

Aggressive dog reports in Barstow county areas Dec. 24, 2007 to Jan. 24, 2008: 6
Dec. 24, 2006 to Jan. 24. 2007: 3

Animal related calls to the sheriff's station June: 11
July: 5
August: 11
September: 11
October: 9
November: 10
December: 8
January: 13