6-year-old killed three weeks after pit bull was rehomed
ASHEVILLE, North Carolina––Absent a lawsuit from the bereaved family, no person or agency will be held to account for the July 7, 2015 fatal mauling of six-year-old Joshua Phillip Strother by a pit bull adopted three weeks earlier from the Asheville Humane Society, after passing the American SPCA-developed SAFER test.
Instead, the Asheville Humane Society, which manages the Buncombe County Animal Shelter, has been given the green light by the county to resume rehoming pit bulls and transferring them to other agencies. Adoptions and transfers of impounded pit bulls had been suspended on July 16, 2015.
No criminal charges were filed, after Strother climbed over a neighbor’s fence that he had several times climbed over before under adult supervision, and was killed by a pit bull he had played with before, also under adult supervision.
“Best practice standards”
“Asheville Humane Society and Buncombe County have completed a comprehensive review of animal sheltering services at the Buncombe County Animal Shelter,” announced Buncombe County publicist Kathy Hughes on August 6, 2015.
“The County, in partnership with the Asheville Humane Society, reviewed the sheltering protocols in place as well as community best practices and industry standards nationwide,” Hughes said. “The analysis revealed that the sheltering practices of Asheville Humane Society meet or exceed industry best practice standards for an open admission shelter.”
Not mentioned was that current “industry best practice” has brought an exponential increase in both human and animal deaths and disfiguring injuries from adopted shelter dogs. Strother was the 38th human fatality from an adopted shelter dog in the U.S. since 2010, and the 30th from an adopted pit bull, after there were none from 1858 through 1987, and five from then through 2009.
“Community-wide education program”
“Both parties agreed to enhance current standards, Hughes continued, by “developing a structured process for the owner surrender of animals, assuring that all adoption agencies provide complete information gathered on the adoptive animal through the sheltering process to all adoptive owners,” and “Engaging in a community-wide education campaign to inform citizens about safe practices when dealing with animals.”
In addition, Hughes said, the Asheville Humane Society “will increase expenditures on spay/neuter services by 211% and safety net community programs by 556%.”
ASPCA pumps money into the region
Meanwhile, reported Beth Walton of the Asheville Citizen Times, “The ASPCA,” an adoption promotion partner of the Asheville Humane Society since 2010, “took its newfound love affair with Western North Carolina to a new level, announcing its acquisition of the local nonprofit Humane Alliance.” The merger came after the ASPCA had granted the Humane Alliance more than $6 million since 2004. ASPCA president Matthew Bershadker had confirmed to ANIMALS 24-7 on February 18, 2015 that merger talks were underway.
(See also ASPCA and the Humane Alliance move toward merger.)
“The news follows a January announcement that the ASPCA will open a $9 million, 35,000-square-foot animal behavior rehabilitation center in Weaverville [just north of Asheville] in 2017,” continued Walton.
The ASPCA, with a current operating budget of $202 million, “has invested heavily in Buncombe County, supporting both the Asheville Humane Society and Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in the past,” Walton noted.
Trying to keep dangerous dogs out of shelter
Buncombe County “hired local animal welfare consultant Sarah Hess to help with the review” of Asheville Humane Society operations, Walton observed. “Hess,” whom Walton previously described more specifically as a consultant for the Humane Alliance, “served as the interim executive director of the Asheville Humane Society,” between December 2014 and May 2015, when the job was given to Tracy Elliott, 54.
Elliott “has no professional background in animal welfare,” Walton reported at the time, but Elliott had for five years been executive director of AID Atlanta, described by Walton as “the largest and most comprehensive AIDS service organization in the Southeast. Elliott also served as executive director of The Damien Center, a nonprofit HIV/AIDS clinic in Indiana,” Walton mentioned. “Most recently, he was the chief executive officer of College Mentors for Kids, an organization working at 26 colleges and universities across the U.S.”
Said Elliott, “The county and Asheville Humane Society both agree that the ultimate solution to these animal welfare problems are in the community itself. If we can keep animals from coming to the shelter, it’s a win-win for everyone,” a surreal assertion in view that “these animal welfare problems” under specific discussion are children being dismembered by pit bulls, and that the normal role of an animal control agency is to protect the public, and other animals kept by the public, by permanently removing dangerous dogs from the possibility of doing harm.
No changes in dog safety screening
The Buncombe County recommendations “did not include any changes to the Humane Society’s animal behavior screening process,” Walton noted. “The Humane Society uses the ASPCA SAFER Aggression Assessment,” Walton confirmed, as ANIMALS 24-7 had strongly suspected but the Asheville Humane Society, Buncombe County, and the ASPCA had not previously confirmed.
“SAFER is state of the art,” Elliott claimed. “We are always looking for what the national and industry standards are.”
“Circling the wagons”
Responded Dogsbite.org founder Colleen Lynn, “That is exactly the problem. Currently, there is no way to reliably test for unpredictable pit bull aggression. The ‘state-of-the-art’ temperament assessment test SAFER cannot measure unpredictable aggression, nor can any current test. This is the risk every person accepts, knowingly or not, when adopting a pit bull.”
The Buncombe County and Asheville Humane Society response to the Strother fatality, Lynn alleged, resembles “a ‘circle the wagons’ strategy to cover both parties against liability claims. Both parties also manage to passively blame the community, the dog’s owner’s and the victim himself,” Lynn wrote in her blog. “The newly rehomed pit bull executed the killing bite, attacking the boy’s face and throat, right out of the blue. The pit bull was still so aggressive afterward that deputies had to shoot him to death.
“Given the limitations of even the most ‘state-of-the-art’ temperament assessment tests, only one conclusion can be drawn,” Lynn added. “More innocent children will be brutally attacked and even killed by shelter dogs who passed these tests. In the wake of this boy’s tragic death, Buncombe County officials had a chance to reevaluate their pit bull adoption policy, hopefully by restricting it, but they did not. It’s all systems go again with their fingers crossed.
“What also needs to be addressed,” Lynn said, “is the ‘pot calling the kettle black’ statement by Tracy Elliot,” to Walton of the Asheville Citizen Times, that ‘Animals are animals. They are not people and attempts to compare them to people or anthropomorphize them are a mistake.’ On June 20,” Lynn recalled, “Asheville Humane launched an anthropomorphic adoption campaign for a pit bull named Pearl, bling included. ‘Classy girls wear pearls!’,” in an ad clearly likening the pit bull to a human person.
Lynn also recalled that Strother’s death was apparently not even the first such incident involving a pit bull adopted from the Asheville Humane Society in 2015. Posted a woman named Tera Brown beneath media accounts of the Strother attack, “They should have started all of this when a pit we adopted this March that had passed all of their tests attacked my son resulting in [an ambulance] ride and staples in his head. The dog wanted my son dead.”
The attack occurred, Brown said, after her son tried to give the newly adopted pit bull a treat.
Adopt out more pit bulls who pass the test
Assessed New Orleans attorney J. Thomas Beasley, author of the recently published critique of pit bull advocacy Misunderstood Nanny Dogs, “County officials say that the shelter did nothing wrong. They conducted the industry standard temperament tests and the dog passed. That dog then mauled a 6-year-old boy to death three weeks later. The solution? Let’s keep adopting out pit bulls who pass this same damned test, because obviously it works so well.”