MINEOLA, N.Y.; NEW YORK CITY––A lawsuit filed on April 23, 2015 against Ruff House Rescue of Rockville Centre, New York might reasonably cause New York City-area shelters to rethink doing anything which could be judicially construed as misrepresenting the risk of adopting pit bulls.
Animal Care & Control of New York City, however, has hired pit bull advocate Ken Foster away from New Orleans to become “Community Dogs Program Coordinator,” according to a Foster web posting of May 1, 2015.
Given the media glare on Animal Care & Control of New York City at the best of times, the “Foster program” might have had little margin for error anyhow. But should plaintiff Allison Fowler prevail against Ruff House Rescue and Ruff House founding director Diane Indelicato, a considerable pack of personal injury specialists from among the nearly 75,000 lawyers whom the New York State Office of Court Administration lists as practicing in New York City may take note that the New York City agency entrusted with preventing dog attacks has put into a sensitive position an advocate whose public record favors promoting pit bulls ahead of safety.
New York City, after all, has far deeper pockets than Ruff House, an entity which does not appear to be listed––at least under that name––at www.Guidestar.org, the IRS service provider that posts IRS Form 990 filings from every U.S. nonprofit organization required to file a 990. That means every charity with annual income of $50,000 or more.
(A Ruff Start Rescue Inc. is listed, in Pleasantville, New York, but recent Ruff Start Rescue filings of IRS Form 990 make no mention of Indelicato, do not mention a Rockville location, and do not use the phrase “Ruff House.”)
Jimmy the pit mix
Fowler contends in her lawsuit against Ruff House Rescue, filed in Nassau County Supreme Court, that the organization induced her to adopt a pit bull mix named Jimmy, on October 26, 2011, “and falsely advertised the pit bull mix as a ‘pointer/black Labrador mix,’ summarized Santi Suthinithet of Courthouse News.
“Though the shelter allegedly described the dog was ‘not at all aggressive,’” Suthinithet continued, “Ruff House and its director failed to disclose that Jimmy had bitten the grandmother of his previous owner, according to the complaint.”
Fowler allegedly had the dog less than a year when on May 10, 2012, Jimmy ‘attacked and seriously injured an 80-year-old woman.’”
The victim sued Fowler; Fowler now faces more than $100,000 in liability damages, according to her complaint.
Concluded Suthinithet, “Alleging gross negligence, fraudulent inducement and breach of implied warranty of suitability, Fowler seeks compensation for any judgment that may be rendered against her by the woman her dog bit.”
Previous pit attack case
The Fowler case is not the first time Indelicato has been sued in connection with a pit bull attack. Former Rockville Centre resident Lisa Shulman reportedly sued Indelicato in February 2011, 11 months after a pit bull puppy injured Shulman’s three-year-old daughter in Indelicato’s hair salon, and after Shulman sought unsuccessfully to introduce local restrictions on possession of pit bulls.
“You can’t just try to ban a whole breed because a child gets bit,” Indelicato responded.
The outcome of the Shulman case is unknown.
Foster moving to NYC
Foster, meanwhile, on May 1, 2015 posted, “So what is it I’m moving to New York for? I’ll be working for Animal Care & Control of NYC (AC&C), with the title of Community Dogs Program Coordinator. Lots of community outreach targeting areas of high rates of abandoned dogs, assistance to keep dogs in homes, and some work in promoting adoptions as well.”
Foster, the author of several volumes of pit bull advocacy, in 2012 published I’m a good dog, subtitled “Pit Bulls, America’s Most Beautiful (and most Misunderstood) Pet,” which might most accurately be described as a 143-page illustrated anthology of misrepresentations about pit bulls, most of which occur by omission.
For example, Foster mentioned one of the most notorious bloodlines in the annals of dogfighting without mentioning the dogfighting connection. Later Foster mentioned the high prices paid for some dogs of fighting lineage, again without mentioning fighting.
Foster quoted the late pit bull advocate Vicki Hearne’s assertion that a pit bull who had attacked several people might be any of eight purportedly different breeds without mentioning that all eight are pit bull variants.
Pushed “nanny dog” myth
Foster also recited that pit bulls were featured in the “Buster Brown” and “Our Gang” film shorts without mentioning that the dogs’ roles included chasing and attacking people, and that some of the dogs who played those roles were biters in real life, too.
Foster mentioned that some pit bulls were mascots of troops during the U.S. Civil War, but not that pit bulls and pit bull derivatives, such as “Cuban bloodhounds”, were extensively used to track and dismember fugitive slaves, as a warning to other slaves who might think of escaping. Neither did Foster acknowledge the use of pit bulls by the Ku Klux Klan in connection with lynchings, as described–for example–by Cayton’s Weekly for August 2, 1919, easily accessible online.
Foster asserted that “The term ‘pit bull’ is used to describe 10-to-20% of the dogs found in the U.S.” Reality is that the entire molosser class of dogs, including pit bulls, Rottweilers, mastiffs, boxers, and many other breeds, comes to barely 9%, according to surveys of classified ads offering dogs for sale or adoption. Pit bulls, by all of the names commonly used for them, amount to no more than 5%.
Promoting the acquisition of pit bulls as family pets, Foster claimed that “The pit bull has been a family dog for more than a century–in short, for as long as the dogs have been known to exist.” But pit bulls have actually been known to exist for more than two centuries at least, while there are scant historical references to pit bulls being commonly kept for any purpose other than fighting until the past two decades. Even early 20th century breeders John P. Colby and Charles Werner, who sold pit bulls as pets, continued to breed fighting dogs.
The oft-claimed notion that pit bulls were ever a “nanny dog” is a complete historical fabrication, first propounded by pit bull breeder Lilian Rant in 1971, and retracted by BADRAP, a pit bull advocacy organization which formerly amplified it, in 2013.
The entire history of the “nanny dog” myth is outlined here:
Denying the relationship of form with function, Foster asserted that “Pit bulls do not attack like sharks. Or do anything like sharks do.” But the dismembering wounds inflicted by pit bulls have been likened to shark bites by, among others, the authors of medical journal articles about how to try to repair the damage.
“Pit bulls seem particularly suited for life with kids,” alleged Foster, offering photos of children engaging in behavior around pit bulls that would be ill-advised with any dog.
No human fatalities involving dogs rehomed from U.S. animal shelters are known to have occurred from the first record of shelters doing adoptions in 1858 through 1987. Then came two fatalities involving recently rehomed wolf hybrids, one in 1988 and one in 1989.
Eleven years elapsed before the next fatality involving a shelter dog, a pit bull. Former shelter dogs––a Doberman and a Presa Canario––killed two more people through 2009.
38 deaths in five years
From 2010 to the present, however, there have been at least 38 fatalities involving shelter dogs, among those dogs being 30 pit bulls, seven bull mastiffs, two Rottweilers, a Lab who may have been part pit bull, and a husky.
For every one of those deaths, there have been dozens of disfigurements and hundreds of other pets, equines, poultry, and livestock killed by rehomed dogs, among whom pit bulls and close pit mixes have accounted for more than 90%.
Logically, animal shelters should be trying to cut these losses, and their own liability for them, now often running into seven figures in death and extreme disfigurement cases.