U.S. Army slow to release information about the case
FORT POLK, Louisiana––A May 22, 2016 pit bull attack on five-year-old Wyatt Herrington of Fort Polk, Louisiana, appears to have evolved into a test of the U.S. Army’s determination to enforce a 2009 ban of pit bulls and several other categories of dangerous dog from Army and U.S. Marine Corps base housing.
The Army and Marine Corps policies were emulated by the U.S. Air Force in 2011.
Fort Polk had banned pits since 2006
A similar order has been in effect at Fort Polk specifically since January 10, 2006, which allowed pit bulls already in base housing at that time to remain, but only if they had earned an American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certificate and were insured for liability of at least $300,000.
But whatever is happening at Fort Polk today, the Fort Polk media affairs office did not respond to inquiries from ANIMALS 24-7 until June 17, 2017, two days after the initial ANIMALS 24-7 posting about the case.
Said information strategies officer Kim Reischling then, in response to our third attempted contact, “Apologies, cannot locate the original email. No developments that we can report as of now. The investigation is still underway. We’ll be releasing details as soon as policy allows.”
The attack and apparent blatant defiance of the U.S. Army dog policy came to light through a June 6, 2016 report by Luke Carberry Mogan for Army Times.
Pit who attacked still at large
Wrote Mogan, “The soldier’s dog who viciously bit a 5-year-old boy on Fort Polk, Louisiana, last month remains at large. Neither the base’s military police nor animal control have been able to find the animal since the May 22 attack. Fort Polk spokeswoman Kim Reischling confirmed the Army was investigating the incident, and that the dog in question was still missing,” believed to have been transported off base soon after the incident.
“Fort Polk officials take this very seriously and are dedicated to the safety and well-being of everyone who lives and works on the installation,” Reischling told Mogan, but more than two weeks later the Army has released no further information.
Army has not named owner
“The Army would not name the alleged dog owner,” Mogan said, but the victim’s mother told Mogan that the owner was a female staff sergeant, who grabbed the pit bull and drove away after the boy was injured in an unprovoked attack from behind. Postings to the Beauregard Daily News Facebook page identified the owner as recently promoted staff sergeant Anya Brown-Ashley.
“This dog will attack again,” predicted the victim’s mother, Angela Herrington. “My biggest fear is the dog is still somewhere in housing at Fort Polk or in the immediate area. I am a dog lover, but it is ridiculous to leave an obviously dangerous dog out where it could possibly kill someone next time.”
Rabies status unknown
Because the rabies vaccination status of the attacking dog could not be ascertained, Wyatt Herrington has had to receive post-exposure injections. The boy also had surgery to repair damage from the pit bull attack. The Herrington family gave up their own dog, Mogan reported, after Wyatt Herrington began having nightmares.
The attack occurred shortly before the victim’s father, infantry staff sergeant James Herrington, was to return home from his sixth deployment to Afghanistan with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
“Corvias Military Living, which manages Fort Polk neighborhood housing, has had a dog policy in effect since March 1, 2009,” Mogan wrote. “It specifies ‘pit bulls, American/Staffordshire bull terriers, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, chows, wolf hybrids, and crosses of these breeds’ are not allowed.”
The Corvias Military Living policy echoes uniform policies in effect in U.S. Army and Marine Corps base housing worldwide, which have not always been effectively enforced against organized resistance.
Military.com spouse and family blogger Amy Bushatz, for instance, on January 30, 2013 posted a blog installment entitled “How to Get Banned Pups on Base (Without Breaking the Rules),” which advised troops and their families to call a dog “something––anything––other than the banned breed,” and to “Ask your vet or shelter to help you out,” because “Vets and clinics want you to adopt the dog, and they want you to keep the dog.”
The ANIMALS 24-7 log of dog attack fatalities and maimings occurring in the U.S. and Canada since September 1982 shows that breeds banned by the U.S. military policies together amount to just 13% of the U.S. dog population, but have committed 96% of the incidents qualifying for listing through March 22, 2009, causing 94% of the human deaths and 97% of the human disfigurements.
As might be expected, the exclusion of pit bulls, bull terriers, Rottweilers, Dobermans, chows, and wolf hybrids from military housing appears to have markedly reduced the numbers of dependents of military personnel who have been killed or disfigured by dog attacks, but there have been at least two noteworthy exceptions involving German shepherds.
Valerie Grace Carlson, then 30, in September 2011 pleaded guilty to child endangerment, was sentenced to a year in the San Diego County Jail, and was placed on probation for five years, after her German shepherd on July 31, 2010 killed her two-year-old son Aaron, in front of three older children who tried unsuccessfully to save him.
“Another neighbor in the military housing complex told police that Carlson was passed out drunk on the couch downstairs,” reported Dana Littlefield of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Therapy dog” attack
The second German shepherd attack occurred on January 30, 2012 at Fort Campbell, a base straddling the Kentucky/Tennessee border near Clarksville, Tennessee. Flown by helicopter to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the six-year-old victim reportedly sustained severe injuries to his face and head.
The German shepherd in question had apparently been given to a Fort Campbell soldier as a “therapy dog” to help him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, Major Dennis Cunningham of the Oak Grove Police Department told Dave Boucher of the Kentucky New Era.
Marine was acquitted
A Marine stationed at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina was in February 2011 charged with felony child abuse for allegedly leaving his son alone with a pit bull who subsequently mauled the child, but was acquitted after a jury trial a year later. The Marine in that case was not subject to military discipline because he, his family, and the pit bull lived off base.
The Army in January 2009 became the first branch of the U.S. armed services to adopt breed-specific housing rules, after at least six dog attack fatalities in five years and one near-fatal mauling either occurred in military housing or involved personnel who had lived in military housing.
String of fatalities
The string of fatalities began in May 2005, when a pit bull whose family acquired him while living in military housing in Texas killed a two-year-old girl in Huntington, West Virginia.
A Rottweiler in February 2006 fatally mauled the four-year-old son of a woman who was stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base, near Ulm, Montana. The victim and his mother were staying with relatives when the attack occurred.
Two pit bulls in May 2007 killed a three-year-old boy in base housing at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia.
Fatal attack by huskies
A July 2007 fatal attack on an 11-month-old boy by two Siberian huskies in a home near Cookeville, Tennessee, involved two families who met while living in U.S. Marine Corps housing.
The father of the victim was a U.S. Marine Corps recruiter, who was still on active duty, but the attack appears to have occurred on private property. Huskies have not been included in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force dog breed bans.
More pit bull fatalities
Eleven-year-old Seth Lovett, mauled by a pit bull at Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas, died on November 6, 2007 at the Carl Darnall Army Medical Center.
Finally, in May 2008, a visitor’s pit bull killed a three-year-old boy at Camp Lejeune.
The May 2008 Camp LeJeune fatality came as the U.S. Marine Corps faced a $5 million lawsuit over a 2005 attack by a Rottweiler at Camp Lejeune that cost a child an ear.
Alarmed at last, the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force high commands all began moving toward adopting unified breed-specific housing rules.
By then many individual bases, Fort Polk among them, had already adopted breed-specific housing rules at instigation of concerned base commanders.
Pit bulls had also banned from housing at the U.S. Marine Corps bases in Quantico, Virginia, and Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
All 10 bases in the U.S. Air Force Space Command had prohibited pit bulls and Rottweilers from base housing, along with Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, and McGuire Air Force in New Jersey. The Ellsworth and McGuire orders additionally named Dobermans, while the Kirtland order named wolf hybrids.
Believed to have had the least restrictive dog policy of any major Army installation, prohibiting possession only of wolf hybrids, coyotes, and jackals before Seth Lovett was killed, Fort Hood banned pit bulls in November 2008, but allowed pit bulls who were registered at the Fort Hood Veterinary Clinic before July 10, 2008 to remain on base.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lydon, then the Fort Hood provost marshal, told Amanda Kim Stairrett of the Killeen Daily Herald that over the preceding six years, 68% of the dogs who were declared dangerous after biting someone on base had been pit bulls and 8% were Rottweilers.
Army was first to move
U.S. Army commanders at more than 40 bases around the world were on January 5, 2009 ordered to implement a new Pet Policy for Privatized Housing. Issued under the Army’s Residential Communities Initiative Privatization Program, the new pet policy prohibited pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, chows, and wolf hybrids; limited personnel living in base housing to keeping no more than two dogs or cats; forbade keeping exotic pets and farm animals, required all pets to be microchipped for identification, and forbade keeping pets “tied or staked outside the home or any building.”
Voice command unacceptable
The order further prohibited keeping “Any other dog who demonstrates a propensity for dominance or aggressive behavior,” indicated by “Unprovoked barking, growling or snarling at people approaching the animal, aggressively running along fence lines when people are present, biting or scratching people, or escaping confinement or restriction to chase people.”
Additional provisions of the U.S. Army order stipulated that “Voice command is not an acceptable means of control,” that “Pets are not allowed in playgrounds or tot lots at any time,” and that pet keepers in military housing must “Maintain appropriate, humane care of pets (e.g. food, water, shelter from extreme weather, etc.)”
Marine Corps followed
Residents of U.S. Marine Corps base housing worldwide were on August 11, 2009 prohibited from acquiring pit bulls, Rottweilers, or wolf hybrids. Those who already had dogs of the prohibited breeds were given until October 11, 2011 to meet the requirements for remaining in military housing under a “grandfather clause.”
Prefaced Major General Edward Usher, deputy commandant of installations and logistics worldwide, in signing the Marine Corps order, “Pet ownership for service members and their families,” provides a real and tangible benefit, and contributes to quality of life for resident families. However, the rise in ownership of large dog breeds with a predisposition toward aggressive or dangerous behavior, coupled with the increased risk of tragic incidents involving these dogs, necessitates a uniform policy to provide for the health, safety, and tranquility of all residents of family housing areas.
“Dominant traits of aggression”
“Pit bulls, Rottweilers, canid/wolf hybrids, or any canine breed with dominant traits of aggression present an unreasonable risk to the health and safety of personnel in family housing,” Usher assessed. “Consequently, full or mixed breeds of pit bulls, Rottweilers and canid/wolf hybrids are prohibited aboard Marine Corps installations.”
Stipulated Usher, anticipating possible disputes over breed identity, “In the absence of formal breed identification (e.g. certification by a civilian organization such as the American Kennel Club), a determination of ‘majority breed’ will be made by a Veterinary Corps officer or a civilian veterinarian.”
As in U.S. Army base housing, “There is no requirement that dogs or cats be spayed or neutered,” the Marine Corps appended to the ban of pit bulls et al, “but owners are encouraged to pursue this procedure. The choice to spay or neuter a pet is a responsible and prudent measure which ultimately benefits all residents.”
Both the Marine Corps order and the earlier U.S. Army order went on to restate all of the other rules applying to keeping dogs and cats in base housing worldwide.
“This policy does not address feral animals, which are covered under installation pest management plans,” said a paragraph of definitions.
The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force all have global policies against allowing feral cats and dogs to live on bases.
No uniform Navy policy
The U.S. Air Force Standardized Pet Policy, substantially identical to those of the Army and Marine Corps, took effect on March 28, 2011.
Many U.S. Navy installations exclude dogs including pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and wolf hybrids from base housing, but the Navy still leaves the adoption of exclusion policies up to individual base commanders.