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Pittsburgh Zoo Defends Use of Dogs to Control Elephants

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is defending its use of dogs to help elephant handlers control the animals.

The move comes as the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, released a USDA inspection report that was critical of the practice. That report noted that the dogs displayed aggressive behavior toward the elephants and that the elephants were subjected to unnecessary anxiety from the encounter.

“The introduction of the dogs has been a valuable tool as we continue to elevate the care and management of our elephant herd,” Dr. Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh zoo, said in a prepared statement. “The safety of our keepers and animals is a top priority and we provide an additional safety level with the use of trained cattle dogs. The dogs read the behavior of the animals and alert the keepers to any disruption in the heard, preventing potential safety concerns for the staff and elephants.”

According to Baker, while the USDA inspector was at the zoo Jan. 6, the keepers demonstrated a drill simulating the dog’s response to a keeper being in an extreme and unlikely situation.

The USDA report says at least one of the two dogs lunged at the elephant while the inspector was present and it records a keeper recounting an incident where a dog bit one of the elephants.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is said to be cooperating with the USDA in examining stress in elephants.

The news release from the zoo goes on to read:

“Since the arrival of the dogs in 2012, no keepers, elephants, or dogs have been injured. Also, the USDA has conducted six annual inspections, at the Zoo and International Conservation Center during that period, and found no non-compliant concerns.”

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