MERCED — The brown and white pit bull came into the Merced County animal shelter skinny and unloved.
The shelter staff fed the owner-released dog and took him out for his photo to be taken. In a week, the dog gained weight and learned the routine of the shelter.
Now his time is up. The brown and white dog, who came in so thin and abused, ramped up his aggression during the week he has spent at the shelter.
He won't make it out. The big, pretty dog will be euthanized.
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There are too many friendly dogs, too many dogs who greet shelter workers and guests with happy tails and grins on their faces, too many dogs who still can't find homes to give this wary, unloved pit bull a chance.
"It's bittersweet to put animals like this down," said Kristi Caseri, animal control supervisor for the Merced County Animal Shelter. "They may not be leaving, but for most of them, it's the nicest place they've ever been."
And the new shelter, at Castle Commerce Center and built for $7.5 million, is nice. Dogs have individual cages, and cats have huge playrooms where they can interact with other cats. There are big areas for dogs to be exercised, and disease can be kept to a minimum.
Still, animals are euthanized almost every day.
Despite the efforts of local rescue groups, who get thousands of animals a year out of the shelter and into homes in faraway places such as Canada and Colorado, more and more cats and dogs are showing up at the shelter.
The older woman was nicely dressed, in a coordinated pantsuit, carrying a small pink animal carrier Friday afternoon.
She gave the carrier to the woman behind the desk at the shelter and said she was pretty sure the cat was a female.
"If I was a cat person, I'd keep her," the woman said. "But I don't like cats."
The cat, a sweet calico and white female, sat in a cage in the receiving room after the woman took her crate back to her car and drove off. The cat came readily to a finger stuck through her cage bars, and she rubbed against the hand that petted her.
"It's nice to see a friendly one," said Caseri, who was checking on another drop-off, a female chocolate Labrador retriever cross. "Hopefully we'll get her out of here."
Since the new shelter opened in March, about 200 to 400 more animals a month than usual are coming in, Caseri said.
Many of those cats, and especially dogs, go to rescue groups, but too many are left at the end of the day, when the rescue vans drive away.
"What gets left behind is a lot of pit bulls, a lot of Chihuahuas, a lot of German shepherds, and cats. Lots of cats," Caseri said.
Staff at the shelter, and at the county, believe the numbers of animals being abandoned has gone up because of the new shelter.
"People think we're a no-kill shelter, that we'll find their animal a home," Caseri said. "That doesn't always happen."
Rick Blackwell, animal services manager for the shelter, keeps sobering statistics as part of his job.
In July, 411 more animals ended up at the shelter than in July 2008, Blackwell said. And those numbers aren't unusual. "In July of this year, we put down 647 animals," he said.
It's hard on staff to euthanize the unwanted pets, Caseri said. "Staff does get attached to some of the dogs or cats, and try to give them more time."
But some animals — the aggressive ones, the sick ones — will not get out, no matter who is on their side.
"It all comes down to spaying and neutering," Caseri said. "When pets are not spayed or neutered, the results end up here."
One of the county's unwanted animals was found by shelter staff early Friday morning. Someone had left Oreo, a black and white beagle cross dog with his name tag still attached to his collar, tied up in front of the shelter. Oreo had chewed through the leash and was running around the building in the cold.
Caseri tried to lure the little dog to her, but the scared, shivering dog was having none of it. So Caseri sat down on the cold cement and outwaited the dog. "He was so cold, he was shivering," she said. "Finally he got close enough to me that he realized I wasn't going to hurt him."
The little slick-haired dog pressed up against Caseri's leg, growling and shivering, until she was able to pet him. By Friday afternoon, Caseri was Oreo's buddy.
"He knows I'm OK," she said as she walked the little dog back to his kennel. "He'll get out of here, he's cute and has a good personality."
In a kennel just yards from the personable little beagle was the brown and white pit bull, lying on a blanket, staring at the door of the shelter. The sight of a person brought the dog quietly to his feet, and he was lunging at his cage door by the time the person got close.
"It's too bad," Caseri said, watching the dog. "He wants to hurt me. I bet he wasn't born like that."