Second Topeka-area two-year-old killed since ordinance was gutted in 2010
TOPEKA, Kansas––Piper Dunbar, age 2, of Topeka, Kansas, was on September 24, 2016 killed by pit bulls in her own front yard, the latest victim of an ongoing drive by pit bull activists to repeal the breed-specific legislation which had long prevented fatal and disfiguring dog attacks in many Kansas communities.
Falling asleep earlier in the evening with the victim, her father Donnie Dunbar awakened at about 8:00 p.m., he told Daniela Leon of WIBW News, to discover her missing.
Found under tarp
“We looked everywhere, I screamed her name so loud,” Donnie Dunbar told Leon.
Reported Leon, “Police began searching the area,” after receiving a 911 call, “and found Piper dead underneath a tarp,” in a fenced area to which the victim had apparently gained access by undoing a supposedly child-proof safety latch. Donnie Dunbar later told WIBW News Radio that the tarp was his, taken from his truck by police and used to cover the scene where his daughter’s remains were found.
Two pit bulls belonged to friend
“Police say they obtained enough information to believe Piper had been the victim of an animal attack,” continued Leon. “Animal control responded to the scene and seized two pit bulls that [Donnie] Dunbar says belonged to Margaret Jaramillo, a family friend who had been staying with Dunbar to help take care of Piper since he is a single father. Jaramillo says she was running errands during the attack and made the 911 call as soon as she realized Piper was gone.”
Jaramillo appears to have previously been known as Margaret Johnson. Facebook photos show Margaret Johnson with one pit bull in 2013 and James Brook Johnson, believed to be her former husband, with pit bulls in 2013 and 2014.
Donnie Dunbar told WIBW News Radio that he and Jaramillo had at some point tried to leave the pit bulls who killed Piper Dunbar at another address, but that they were asked to reclaim the pit bulls soon afterward. Said Donnie Dunbar, “An hour after we picked up the dogs, that man’s apartment started on fire, on 13th and Western. These were dogs from hell, dude.”
ANIMALS 24-7 found no recent record of an apartment fire at SW 13th and SW Western, the Topeka intersection most closely mentioning the address Dunbar gave.
On August 22, 2016, however, an arson fire that police said was set by Janelle Owens, 52, killed Owens herself and 59-year-old Rhonda Gill and 41-year-old Letitia Gill at 1318 SW Buchanan, about three and a half blocks west on SW 13th and just around a corner from SW 13th and SW Western. Another resident of their apartment escaped.
At least one recent photo of Piper Dunbar appears to show facial injuries, including a gash above her nose and an apparent puncture wound on her chin, which might have resulted from a previous dog attack.
A person named Glenda Wright, claiming to be Piper Dunbar’s aunt, on September 29, 2016 told ANIMALS 24-7 that “The scratch she has on her face [in the photograph] was from an accident,” but did not specify what sort of accident.
Topeka Police Lieutenant Bryan Wheeles said Piper Dunbar’s death would be forwarded to the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office for review.
Technically Piper Dunbar was the first human fatality in Topeka since the city of Topeka in 2010 repealed a breed-specific ordinance banning the ownership, keeping or harboring of pit bulls who had not been licensed and microchipped.
The December 13, 2012 death of Savannah Edwards, also age two when fatally mauled, occurred in an unincorporated part of Shawnee County, of which Topeka is the county seat. The Topeka ordinance had not covered the unincorporated suburbs.
Pit bull rehoming
But one of the key changes in the Topeka dog ordinance in 2010 might nonetheless have contributed to Edwards’ death.
The revised ordinance “did away with rules that banned the Helping Hands Humane Society,” which held the Topeka animal control sheltering contract, “from adopting out pit bulls picked up by Topeka police animal control officers,” explained Tim Hrenchir of the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Previously, “if the owner of a pit bull dog didn’t claim it in the three days following the day it was brought in,” Hrenchir wrote, “the shelter assessed whether the pit bull was adoptable. If it wasn’t, it was euthanized. If it was, Helping Hands turned it over to a pit bull rescue organization, provided that group had room for it. If the group didn’t, the pit bull was euthanized.”
Killer pit came from unidentified rescue or shelter
The ordinance change enabled the Helping Hands Humane Society to rehome markedly more pit bulls, not only within Topeka proper but also in the unincorporated suburbs.
Edwards was killed by a recently “rescued” pit bull belonging to a tenant of a home she had visited with her mother. The pit bull was said by neighbors to have been aggressive, and was believed to have been rehomed from a local rescue or shelter, but the rescue or shelter was not identified by law enforcement. Inquiries by ANIMALS 24-7 and other media to rescues and shelters that might have been involved brought only denials of involvement.
How Topeka ordinance was repealed
“A chain of events which began in late August 2005 and culminated with Savannah’s death seven years later provides a fascinating study of causal relationships,” SRUV blogger Thomas Mair observed soon afterward.
The story began, Mair recounted, after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. “Among the hundreds of volunteers who returned home with pit bulls was a young woman from Topeka named Katie Bray,” Mair wrote.
Best Friends Animal Society
Within two years Bray was interning with the Best Friends Animal Society and working with Best Friends senior legislative attorney Ledy Van Kavage to repeal legislation restricting or prohibiting possession of pit bulls, a goal Bray further pursued after forming a student chapter of the Animal Legal Defense Fund at the University of Kansas School of Law.
Winning repeal of the City of Topeka bylaw prohibiting unlicensed and un-micochipped pit bulls came a year after that. As amended, the Topeka bylaw reportedly prevented judges from ordering the death of any dog after a first attack.
“Bray, along with her husband, manages GameDog Guardian, a pit bull rescue working in the Topeka-Lawrence area. She currently serves as the program/legislative analyst for Best Friends pit bull terrier initiatives,” Mair noted.
“Bray’s role in the removal of Topeka’s BSL, as well as her role in rescuing and adopting out fighting breeds, has resulted in the death of this child,” Mair assessed. “Bray and her mentor must now hold themselves accountable, even if the authorities do not.
Civic leaders “must also accept responsibility”
“Cities which have never adopted breed specific legislation may bear less responsibility for pit bull attacks in their communities than cities which have had BSL but then abandoned it, as Topeka did,” Mair added. “Cities which have enjoyed the protections of BSL, then grow indifferent and discard these protections for their citizens, are culpable. The leaders who voted to abandon BSL must also accept responsibility for Savannah’s death.”
Mair called upon Topeka to reinstate the ordinance repealed in 2010, and this time to extend the prohibition of pit bulls to the whole of Shawnee County, but there appears to have been little or no effort made to reinforce Topeka dog law until June 2016.
New ordinance revision pending
On September 2, 2016, reported Tim Hrenchir of the Topeka Capital-Journal, Topeka City Council public health and safety committee members Sylvia Ortiz, Elaine Schwartz and Jeff Coen “voted 3-0 to recommend approval of a revised version of the city’s dangerous dogs ordinance” which would enable “municipal judges to destroy dogs who cause great bodily harm or death, regardless of their history. The city currently doesn’t allow judges to have a dog destroyed on a first offense, but makes destruction mandatory on a second offense,” Topeka chief prosecutor Chuck Kitts told Hrenchir.
The need to reinforce the dog law, after it was gutted in 2010, was made clear by several more incidents after Savannah Mae Edwards’ death. Among them were an incident in August 2015 in which two pit bulls were shot by police after attacking two children and an adult in a public park, and an unprovoked disfiguring attack by a pit bull who was running at large on a seven-year-old boy in November 2015.
St. Patrick’s Day parade attack
But perhaps making the strongest impression was a fatal attack on a poodle by a dog handled by Jan Price of Saving Death Row Dogs during the 2014 Topeka St. Patrick’s Day parade. The organization was founded in June 2010, soon after the Topeka city council agreed to revise the city dog ordinance and appointed Bray to a committee delegated to draft the revision, but about three months before the revision was approved.
The dog who killed the poodle was identified by media as a German shepherd, but municipal court administrative judge Vic Miller had apparent doubts that the identification was accurate.
Was dog really a German shepherd?
Price was in October 2013 ordered to pay a $250 fine to the city, as well as $500 in restitution to the poodle’s owners, plus court costs and witness fees, reported Aly Van Dyke of the Topeka Capital Journal.
“However,” Van Dyke continued, “Judge Miller ordered the release of a dog kept in custody in connection with the attack, because the city didn’t convince him it was the dog in question.”
Said Miller, “I don’t have any doubt that there was a dangerous dog in the possession of Jan Price, as the principal officer of this entity, who did in fact, unprovoked, attack a domestic animal, but I don’t know how to determine that this was the animal.”
Chief prosecutor Luther Ganieany Jr. agreed that the evidence pointing toward the German shepherd was insufficient.