Veterinary Information Network notes rising shelter dog attacks
KANSAS CITY, Missouri––The numbers on two recent dog attacks furnished by the Kansas City Pet Project to Fox 4 news reporter Robert Townsend don’t add up, but the total of victims and the severity of their injuries mounted in mid-November 2016 after the no-kill shelter founded by pit bull advocate Brent Toellner sent a Cane Corso home despite the recommendation of Kansas City Animal Control that the dog should be euthanized.
The Kansas City Pet Project won the Kansas City Animal Control contract through competitive bidding in 2011, took over the job in January 2012, and claims to be “the third largest open-admission, no-kill shelter in the U.S.”
Cane Corso injures 3 people in 8 days
The Cane Corso, who injured at least three people in eight days, may still be at large, or may have been shot by the owner’s family, the story given to a Kansas City Animal Control officer on November 17, 2016 by a resident of the house where the Cane Corso lived. Having not seen a corpse, Kansas City Animal Control continued to seek the Cane Corso.
Reported Robert Townsend of Fox News 4, “For several days now, animal control officers have been desperately wanting to get their hands on the dog they said bit 19-year-old Victoria Eve and her boyfriend while they were walking on November 6 and then attacked the owner’s 54-year-old father on November 13,” putting the man into the hospital for at least four days with undisclosed injuries.
“Please do not release”
After Eve suffered near-amputation of a finger during the unprovoked November 6 2016 attack, Kansas City Animal Control division manager Patrick Egberuare “e-mailed Teresa Johnson, the executive director of Kansas City Pet Project and told her ‘please do not release to owner or transfer ownership,’ Townsend summarized from Egberuare’s written statement.
“Egberuare also said that ‘the dog needs to be euthanized.’
“However, more than 24 hours [after Egberuare e-mailed to Johnson], animal control officers say the animal shelter gave the dog back to its female owner,” Townsend narrated.
“We had major concerns about it being out among the general public,” affirmed Kansas City Animal Control spokesperson John Baccala.
Fingers & toes
Kansas City Pet Project director of marketing and development Tori Fugate told Townsend that the shelter quarantined the Cane Corso for 10 days after the attack on Victoria Eve, as required by law. But, had the Cane Corso remained in quarantine for 10 days from November 6, the attack on November 13, 2016 could not have happened.
The Kansas City Pet Project in a media statement blamed “ongoing issues of poor and inadequate communications” from Kansas City Animal Control.
But an e-mail stating “please do not release to owner or transfer ownership” seems clear enough, while 10 days can be counted on fingers or toes, assuming a dog custodian still has the normal numbers of each.
Reading the box score
Kansas City Pet Project founder Toellner has since 2011 distributed a blog post alleging of the ANIMALS 24-7 log of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks, kept since 1982, that “the numbers just don’t add up.”
In the post Toellner erroneously presumes, as ANIMALS 24-7 informed him in 2011, “that separate categories of information are derivatives of each other. They are not. Each column tracks a different issue –– like at bats, hits, runs, & errors in a baseball box score.”
Toellner also erroneously presumes that the data for any given year remains static. Instead, as he was informed, if new information comes to light about attacks occurring in previous years, the information is corrected and updated.
A frequent speaker at the annual “No More Homeless Pets” conferences hosted by the Best Friends Animal Society, Toellner is among the leaders of an ongoing campaign to repeal breed-specific dangerous dog ordinances in Kansas.
An early “success” was repealing the breed-specific ordinance in Topeka, Kansas, in September 2010. The repeal appears to have contributed to the pit bull mauling deaths of Savannah Edwards, age 2, and Piper Dunbar, also age 2, later in 2010 and in 2016, respectively. Edwards was reportedly killed by a dog from a local shelter that has never been identified in print.
The mounting dog attack injury and death toll in Kansas mirrors the nationwide trend––especially the trend involving shelter dogs. No dog from a U.S. animal shelter is known to have killed anyone before 1988, and only five shelter dogs had killed people before 2010.
Since then, however, at least 48 dogs released from animal shelters have participated in killing at least 22 people. Among the dogs were 32 pit bulls, seven dogs of bull mastiff/Presa Canario configuration, three Rottweilers, three boxer/pit bull mixes, a husky, and a Labrador retriever who may have been part pit bull.
Veterinary Information Network takes note
Veterinary Information Network news service writer Phyllis DeGioa took note of the escalating numbers of shelter dog attacks on November 17, 2016, five days after discussing the rising numbers of dog attacks on veterinarians.
Beneath the headline “Aggressive Pets Adopted Out in Quest to Save Animals’ Lives,” DeGioa asked, “Has no-kill philosophy gone too far?”
DeGioa particularly faulted animal shelters and rescuers who “are so focused on increasing adoption rates and avoiding euthanasia that they rationalize that every animal deserves a chance, despite signs that an animal may be unstable.”
“I see this all the time”
“I see this all the time,” affirmed Laurie Bergman, DVM, of Keystone Veterinary Behavior Services in Villanova, Pennsylvania.
Bergman mentioned “red flags” in advertisements of dogs for adoption, including mentions that a dog is “not good with children” or “needs a quiet home.”
Wrote DeGioa, “In her experience and estimation, such problems tend to originate with smaller rescue groups that look upon saving animals as a crusade.
Shelters under pressure
“Public shelters, too, can come under pressure to make more animals available for adoption,” DiGioa continued, “including those with questionable dispositions. Bergman, who previously worked as a behavior consultant, researcher and educator in California, recounted in an interview being told once by a municipal shelter director in that state that the shelter could refuse to adopt out an animal only when prospective adopters had a record of animal abuse charges. In other words, animals could be protected from dangerous people but not the reverse. The shelter also was allied with rescue and shelter support groups that pressed the agency to euthanize less.”
Bergman also observed, she posted to the Veterinary Information Network message board, that “The vast majority of adopters are not looking for projects; they’re looking for pets. They’re not prepared for what’s involved with a pet with serious problems.”
“People end up getting hurt”
Agreed animal behavior consultant Kelley Bollen, of Animal Alliances, in Northampton, Massachusetts, “A lot of rescues are placing aggressive dogs these days. People who are doing the right thing by adopting a shelter dog end up getting hurt, emotionally and physically. We should always strive to save as many animals as we can, but we shouldn’t put adopters or communities at risk.”
When shelters rehome dangerous dogs, Bollen pointed out, “Not only are they risking the safety of the public, they are putting every other shelter dog at risk of not being adopted as the public starts losing trust in shelters to provide them with a safe pet.”
No Kill philosophy
DiGioa recalled that Lynda Foro, organizer of the first six No Kill Conferences, 1995-2003, argued that no-kill caregivers and organizations should “put down dangerously aggressive animals.”
Foro, also publisher of the No Kill Directory during those years, included on the cover of each edition the statement that, “Implicit to the no-kill philosophy is the reality of exceptional situations in which euthanasia is the most humane alternative available. Those exceptional situations include irrecoverable illness or injury, dangerous behavior, and/or the need to decapitate an animal who has bitten someone, in order to perform rabies testing. They do not include ‘unadoptable, too young, or too old,’ or lack of space.”
No Kill Advocacy Center founder Nathan Winograd, who began organizing annual No Kill Conferences in 2007, two years after the original conference series ended, argues that “It is not ethical to kill any animal for behavior reasons.”
Espousing a similar belief, Best Friends Animal Society chief national programs officer Holly Sizemore told DiGioa that risky dog behavior can be controlled by “preventing an animal from encountering situations known to set it off,” DiGioa paraphrased. “For example, if a dog is aggressive while eating, the dog is fed behind a closed door, away from others. If a dog is tense around children, the dog is kept away from children.”
Dog-handling with a crystal ball
In the real world, however, anticipating every situation that might detonate a dog attack would require clairvoyance.
Often the first indication that something might be a “trigger” for large, highly reactive dogs such as pit bulls is an incident resulting in a fatality or disfigurement. Many dogs, especially pit bulls, have broken down doors to attack others, or to attack human passers-by, especially children.
“Shelters and rescues should be adopting out behaviorally safe dogs,” opined Miranda Spindel, senior director of shelter medicine and development for the American SPCA, acknowledging that as DiGioa wrote, “Some dogs are bred to be more aggressive.”
The SAFER test
But the ASPCA has long been among the leaders of the trend toward rehoming dangerous dogs. Many of the shelter dogs who have killed people in recent years were cleared for adoption through use of the SAFER test, introduced by animal behaviorist Emily Weiss in 1999-2000, amid complaints by pit bull advocates that too many pit bulls were failing the older behavioral screening tests developed by Sue Sternberg of Rondout Kennels and others.
The ASPCA hired Weiss as senior director of shelter behavior programs in 2005, and on May 5, 2007 made promoting the SAFER test an ASPCA program. The ASPCA appeared to step away from the SAFER test, if only to reduce potential liability for accidents, after a pit bull killed Joshua Phillip Strother, age 6, on July 7, 2015, only days after the dog passed SAFER screening and was rehomed by the Asheville Humane Society, of Asheville, North Carolina.
“Effective immediately, the ASPCA will be discontinuing the certification process for SAFER (Safety Assessment to Evaluate Re-homing),” the ASPCA announced on December 2, 2015 via the ASPCApro blog distributed to shelter workers.
But the ASPCA is still promoting the test itself.