STAMFORD, Connecticut––A fatal attack on a Dachshund named Dulce by a pit bull named Banks on June 4, 2014 reminded Stamford, Connecticut that the Stamford Animal Shelter has operated on a restricted basis for nearly six weeks while three city agencies investigate allegations that it improperly adopted out dangerous dogs.
Laurie Hollywood, the Stamford Animal Shelter manager since March 2005, was suspended on May 2, 2014 and volunteers were excluded from the premises, pending completion of the investigation. The investigating agencies include the Stamford Police Department, the Office of Public Safety, Health & Welfare, and the City of Stamford Human Resources Division.
“According to witnesses, Banks latched on to Dulce and started thrashing the 25-pound dog, nearly severing her rear right leg. The attack didn’t stop until two men beat Banks off the smaller dog with a rock and a brick,” reported John Nickerson of the Stamford Advocate.
Dulce died from her injuries several hours later at the Cornell University Veterinary Specialists’ clinic in Stamford.
Banks was not impounded. “Police would not discuss the incident and said they are still investigating,” Nickerson wrote. “It is unclear if Banks was adopted from the Stamford Animal Control Shelter,” Nickerson added.
The attack came two days after about 50 Stamford residents confronted Stamford mayor David Martin and director of public safety Ted Jankowski at a “Mayor’s Night In” community forum to defend suspended director Hollywood, object to the exclusion of the volunteers, inquire about progress toward building a new shelter to replace the 54-year-old existing structure, and protest on behalf of Tigger, a Staffordshire pit bull whom the Stamford Police Department has deemed to be unadoptable due to aggressive behavior.
Outreach to Pets In Need president Ali Girardi argued that the aggressive behavior resulted from lack of the physical activity formerly provided by volunteer dog-walkers.
Of the other 11 dogs still at the Stamford Animal Shelter, Jankowski said, four have been cleared for adoption. “The dogs are out being walked. We are working with the state; we are working at putting together procedures to make sure we have a safe animal control center,” Jankowski added.
Said Martin, “These investigations take the time that they take. I believe that we’ll have some resolution within two weeks or less.”
Martin said he had spent considerable time trying to find a new site for an animal shelter, and that two sites which had been considered had been found environmentally unsuitable. “The requirements of this investigation have delayed us temporarily,” Martin told Kate King of the Stamford Advocate.
During the week of May 5, 2014, Rob Varnon of the Stamford Advocate reported earlier, “Police sent letters to people who adopted dogs from the center after January 2011 that state: ‘We are writing to notify you that an investigation has been launched into allegations that the Animal Control Center may not have followed all state guidelines and proper procedures regarding the adoption of dogs. Although the city is not issuing this notification because we have identified your dog as potentially aggressive, if you are concerned that your dog has or is exhibiting aggressive behavior, or you have any questions concerning your dog, please contact the Animal Control Center.”
Assistant Stamford police chief James Matheny told Varnon that no disciplinary action had been taken against any of the Stamford Animal Shelter staff. “He could not provide further details about the complexity of the investigation or details on the allegations,” Varnon wrote. “Exactly what the center may have done wrong remains unclear. A review of state laws on aggressive dogs did not indicate it is illegal to adopt out an aggressive dog, but most provisions indicated such a dog was to be quarantined and could be euthanized after biting a human or attacking other dogs. Presumably, someone adopting such a dog would be told of its history.”
No recent fatal or disfiguring dog attacks on humans known to ANIMALS 24-7 have occurred in Stamford or have involved dogs adopted from the Stamford Animal Shelter. In nearby Wilton, however, a pit bull of unclear origin on November 12, 2013 tore the left arm off of Anne Murray, 65, and tore off her right hand too. The pit bull belonged to one of Murray’s 26-year-old twin sons, Ian Murray, who was convicted of robbery and conspiracy in 2005, and of violating probation in 2010. Ian Murray was also cited for possession of a dangerous dog and failure to comply with dog ownership requirements in connection with an August 2013 roaming-at-large incident, but the charges were not filed until February 2014.
Across Connecticut to the east, Rita Pepe, 93, died on May 25, 2014 in Branford from complications of an April 16 mauling by a pit bull who was adopted by neighbor Matthew Radulski from the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter in September 2013.
Laurie Hollywood, 41, the suspended Stamford Animal Shelter manager, took the Stamford job after 11 years as night hospital manager at Fairfield Equine Advocates. She inherited a shelter that “repeatedly failed state inspections in the 1990s for insufficient staff, overcrowding of animals and unsanitary and unsafe conditions,” recalled Stamford Advocate staff writer Christiana Sciaudone in August 2005, but oversaw improvements that allowed the shelter to remain open.
Hollywood also inherited a volunteer cadre who had been front-and-center in the rise of pit bull advocacy, led by local author Vicki Hearne, who died in 2001 at age 55.
Hollywood’s predecessor Robert Winski, in July 1987 impounded a pit bull named Bandit, who belonged to rental property owner Lamon Redd. Bandit, who had bite history, had injured two people during a domestic disturbance among Redd’s tenants and neighbors.
Returned to Redd six weeks later, Bandit also injured Redd. Winski in October 1987 ordered that Bandit be euthanized, but Redd appealed to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. In January 1988 the Department of Agriculture upheld Winski’s assessment of Bandit, finding that the dog’s behavior left “little hope of rehabilitation.”
Hearne then funded a long court fight to save Bandit arguing simultaneously that he had been discriminated against for being a pit bull and that he was not a pit bull. Hearne acknowleged in testimony that Bandit “may be an American pit bull terrier, but is also possibly an Argentinian Dogo, a Swinford Bandog, an Olde Bulldogge, a Dogue de Bordeaux, an American Bulldog, or an American pit bull dog.”
All of these are either pit bull variants or just variations in the names by which pit bulls are called. Hearne succeeded, however, not only in saving Bandit but also in establishing a tactical approach used ever since both by defenders of individual pit bulls and opponents of breed-specific legislation. Hearne recited her arguments in Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog (1991), while––as New York Times reviewer Sarah Boxer noted––omitting the details of how seriously his victims were injured.
Momentum built by the Bandit case continues 25 years later, not only in Stamford but statewide. In June 2013, for instance, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy endorsed into law a bill by North Stonington state representative Diana Urban that prohibits Connecticut towns and cities from passing breed-specific dog control ordinances.
The legislation for a time left Connecticut in the paradoxical position of having forbidden any legal recognition that pit bulls are disproportionately dangerous dogs, while having in place a 2010 state appellate court ruling that horses are “a species naturally inclined to do mischief and be vicious” to an extent that injuries inflicted by horses should be forseeable. The case originated from a 2006 incident in which a horse in Milford, Connecticut seriously bit a five-year-old boy. The boy, who was being carried by his father, had apparently tried to pet the horse. The ruling was unanimously upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court in September 2013, but was reversed by the state legislature in May 2014.
“Many owners among the 52,000 horses in Connecticut were scared by the ruling that declared horses are inherently dangerous,” wrote Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post. “The legislation says that the presumption that ponies, donkeys, mules and horses are not dangerous can be refuted case-by-case, based on past behavior and injuries that may have resulted.”