Attack could not have been foreseen, claims SPCA president Weitzman
SAN DIEGO, California––The inherent unreliability of temperament testing and untruthfulness of pit bull adoption promotions depicting the dogs as safe were underscored on April 22, 2016 when a two-year-old pit bull named Polo, rehomed six months earlier by the San Diego Humane Society & SPCA, killed three-day-old Sebastian Caban.
San Diego Police Department child abuse unit sergeant Tuu Nguyen told media that Caban’s mother and father were watching television in bed with the baby and the dog at their home in Mira Mesa, a San Diego suburb.
Watching TV in bed with pit bull
Said Nguyen, “When the mother suddenly coughed, the dog made contact with the baby, leading to traumatic injuries.” Unable to reach 911 emergency assistance in two attempted calls, the parents rushed the newborn to a hospital themselves, where he was pronounced dead.
District of pro-pit legislator
Caban was attacked and killed in the 77th California state assembly district, represented by Republican Brian Maienschein, author of a pending bill––AB 1825––which would allow animal shelters to rehome dogs impounded in dogfighting cases.
Caban was the sixth human fatality in five years involving pit bulls from San Diego County. Five of the fatalities occurred within the county; the sixth, four-year-old América Viridiana, was killed in Tiajuana, Mexico, on June 19, 2012 by a pit bull her grandfather, Godofredo Cruz Martinez, 55, said he had found running at large in Balboa Park, San Diego, just a few days earlier.
Didn’t see “signs of aggression”
“The first question we asked was whether we had seen any signs of aggression in this dog before adopting him out,” wrote San Diego Humane Society & SPCA president Gary Weitzman to staff and volunteers.
“That answer is no,” said Weitzman, himself a pit bull owner, as also is San Diego Humane Society & SPCA vice president for community response and chief of humane law enforcement Stephen MacKinnon.
“Happy, social dog”
“His records tell of a happy, social dog who enjoyed going on walks and playing with other dogs,” Weitzman continued. “He was adopted quickly and greatly loved by his new family.
“This horrible accident was one that all of us in animal sheltering dread and not a single one of us could have foreseen,” Weitzman alleged, disregarding more than 70 articles posted by ANIMALS 24-7 alone since 2014 warning of the utter predictability of pit bull attacks, most often occurring without prior behavioral cues, grouped under sub-menus at The Pit Stop Archive.
Altogether, ANIMALS 24-7 staff and board members have published more than 200 articles issuing similar warnings in humane media since 1988.
Additional hundreds of similar warnings have been published by the pit bull victim advocacy organizations Daxton’s Friends and Dogsbite.org, more than 60 pit bull victim advocacy Facebook pages and groups, and by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Pit bull promotions
Claiming to be “a seasoned animal welfare professional with more than 20 years of experience,” Weitzman would appear to have been unlikely to have missed all the warnings, while aggressively promoting pit bull adoptions through events such as Yappy Hour and Bark & Brews fundraisers, “Pitties in the Park” festivals each fall, and “St. Pitty’s Day” on St. Patrick’s Day 2016.
“There was not a fragment of aggression seen in this dog before tragedy struck,” Weitzman forged on. “But tragedy did strike and there was nothing any of us could have done to prevent it,” Weitzman said.
Three basic rules
Actually there were many things the San Diego Humane Society & SPCA could have done to prevent the pit bull Polo from killing Sebastian Caban, beginning with observing three basic rules for ensuring adoption success and adopter safety which for decades were almost universally practiced:
- No adoptions of pit bulls and other dogs of dangerous breed to first-time adopters and other inexperienced petkeepers;
- No adoptions of pit bulls and other dogs of dangerous breed to families with small children or expecting the birth of a child;
- Discourage allowing dogs to claim beds and other places where people might sleep as their own territory.
43 shelter dogs have killed people since 2007
When the 1989 first edition of the National Animal Control Association Training Guide went to press, no dog adopted from a U.S. shelter was known to have ever killed anyone. Two wolf hybrids rehomed from shelters killed children while the first NACA Training Guide was in production, but the next fatality inflicted by a shelter dog––a pit bull––did not occur until 2003.
Since 2007, however, at least 43 U.S. shelter dogs are known to have killed people. Among the dogs were 31 pit bulls, seven bull mastiffs, three Rottweilers, a husky, and a “Labrador mix” who appeared to be part pit bull.
Many of the shelter dogs who went on to kill people 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 American SPCA hired Weiss as senior director of shelter behavior programs in 2005, and on May 5, 2007 made promoting the SAFER test an ASPCA program. But 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, days after the dog passed SAFER screening and was rehomed by the Asheville Humane Society, of Asheville, North Carolina.
ASPCA backed away
The Strother case was only the most serious of many pit bull attacks coming to light in 2015 that involved dogs who had cleared SAFER screening.
“Effective immediately, the ASPCA will be discontinuing the certification process for SAFER (Safety Assessment to Evaluate Re-homing),” the American SPCA announced on December 2, 2015 via the ASPCApro blog distributed to shelter workers.
San Diego Humane Society & SPCA use their own test
The SAFER test was formerly used at the North County Humane Society, of Oceanside, California, which merged into the San Diego Humane Society & SPCA in 2010. But the entire San Diego Humane Society & SPCA shelter network now uses a behavioral screening protocol developed by the organization itself. This was the protocol that was used to pronounced Polo safe for adoption to Sebastian Caban’s family.
Assessed ANIMALS 24-7 board member Alexandra Semyonova, author of The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs, “The real problem here is not the 911 dispatch response time. It is not exactly which of the various pit bull type dogs killed this infant. It is not about figuring exactly what triggered the pit bull mix to execute its inherent motor pattern. Neither is this latest infant death about children and ‘any dog,’ which will be the next damage control response pit bull advocacy predictably comes up with. The tragedy of this child’s death is about exposing a newborn baby to the type of dog that has been responsible for more child killings than all other breeds and types of dogs combined.
“Not talking about a bite here”
“Yes, many types of dogs have bitten children,” Semyonova blogged, “but we are not talking about a bite here. We’re talking about an instant killing, not preceded by any warning signals, not triggered by anything that would offend any normal dog, and so vicious that the parents of the child had trouble getting the pit bull mix off their baby. These parents took a loaded Kalashnikov to bed with them,” Semyonova charged, “because it’s the fashion of the moment. The Kalashnikov shot their baby in the head when the mother coughed with her finger on the trigger.
“The normal domestic dog is a conflict avoider,” Semyonova explained. “At startle or threat, it will try first of all to increase distance and assess the situation. A normal dog would have jumped off the bed and, if jealous, slunk off to pout. Jealous normal dogs don’t go into a sudden gripping death-hold attack.”
“Fire Dan DeSousa”
Dogsbite.org founder Colleen Lynn argued that San Diego County Department of Animal Services deputy director Dan DeSousa “should be fired for deliberately manipulating this dog’s breed to confuse the media and public.”
Blogged Lynn, “Let’s start from the earliest report at 11:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, where the dog is a ‘2-year-old American Staffordshire terrier, according to DeSousa.’ In the next report, at 1:56 p.m., the dog is a ‘2-year-old, neutered male American Staffordshire terrier-mix, DeSousa said.’ By 2:31 pm, the dog became a ‘Great Dane-American Staffordshire terrier mix, according to DeSousa.’
“There are two parts to DeSousa’s manipulation,” Lynn continued. “Part one was calling the dog an American Staffordshire terrier, which is exactly the same breed as the American pit bull terrier. Part two of the manipulation is more sinister. The first part of a ‘mixed breed’ label indicates the predominant breed.
“Within three hours of media reports, DeSousa tried to make the confusing Staffordshire label the least predominant breed by placing it second,” and minutes later, allegedly engaged in “100% denial of any pit bull heritage,” Lynn charged, “to hide the truth after a neutered family pit bull killed a newborn baby.
“DeSousa successfully derailed, at least initially, what this should have been about: basic safety with a newborn,” said Lynn, “and the impact of thousands of photographs posted on social media with pit bulls sleeping next to a baby. Basic safety practices with a newborn were never mentioned once by DeSousa or anyone at Animal Services. Not once.”
DeSousa engaged in similar obfuscation after housecleaner Remedios Romero-Solares, 30, of Fallbrook, was killed by pit bulls at the home of a dog breeder and marijuana grower on December 7, 2012.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Homicide Unit found eight “large dogs” running loose in the yard where Romero-Solares’ remains were found.
The San Diego County Department of Animal Services identified the dogs as “Olde English Bulldogges.”
“Olde English Bulldogges”
Asked ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton of DeSousa’s supervisor, San Diego County Department of Animal Services director Dawn D. Danielson, “Who is DeSousa and/or your department trying to fool? Not only are “Olde English Bulldogges” a pit bull variant, but some pit bull enthusiasts insist that they are the original, older, & ‘purer’ pit bull line than the common American variants.”
Responded Danielson, “The dogs responsible for this fatality do not resemble the American Pit Bull Terrier, English Staffordshire or American Staffordshire Terrier. We wanted to accurately describe the subject dogs and not add to prejudicial hysteria. These dogs are not what the general public recognizes as ‘pit bulls.’ We are not ‘trying to fool’ anyone,” Danielson insisted, “only to relay the most accurate information we can without fanning the flames for pit prejudice.”
Bred for baiting
But on the web site of the breeder on whose property the Romero-Solares fatality occurred was acknowledgement of the dogs’ fighting ancestry and the incorporation into their pedigrees of at least two recognized pit bull lines and two lines ancestral to modern pit bulls.
“The Olde English Bulldogge…were the early ancestors to many of the bull breeds that exist today,” the web site explained. “They were bred to participate in blood sports like bull baiting.
“The modern Olde English Bulldogge is a reconstruction of the original Olde Bulldogge of the 17th and 18th century,” the site continued. “The foundation of most of today’s Olde English Bulldogges can be traced to English bulldog, American bulldog, American pit bull terrier, and mastiff.”
Despite the renamings of pit bulls, pit bull intake acknowledged by San Diego County Department of Animal Services has increased from 17% of all dogs received in 2008 to 37% in 2015.