Involved in humane work for nearly 70 years
Patt Nordyke, 90, founder of the Texas Federation of Animal Care Societies and a leader in Texas animal advocacy long before that, died on February 6, 2017, seven weeks after breaking her femur at the hip in an early morning fall on December 18, 2016. She had been under medical and nursing care ever since.
“She was a great lady,” commented Warren Cox, who worked with Patt Nordyke on humane legislation during a 14-year tenure as executive director of the SPCA of Texas in Dallas, 1989-2003.
Lost father in 1929
Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on April 15, 1926, the daughter of Leroy Anson and Margaret Hogan, Patt Nordyke nearly lost her father to a hunting accident in November 1927, and then did lose him to a heart attack on September 30, 1929, a month before the stock market crash of October 24, 1929 plunged the U.S. into the Great Depression.
Though Patt Nordyke seldom mentioned her father, she was a longtime outspoken opponent of sport hunting, in the state with the most hunters of any state in the nation.
“Have you ever looked into the eyes of an animal who is about to be shot?” she would ask. “That’s not entertainment.”
Her father’s hunting accident left him with a shattered hand. Patt Nordyke suffered a shattered hand in 2015.
Moved to Texas
Spending “much of her childhood in the company of her aunts and uncles,” Patt Nordyke recalled late in life, she moved to Texas in her early twenties, where she married Doyle Nordyke, a local high school football star and Army Air Force veteran of World War II, “and raised her two children, Debbie and Rolfe,” she remembered, teaching them “to love animals, often making their house as much zoo as home.”
Both Doyle and Patt Nordyke were involved in founding the Austin-Travis County Humane Society in 1949, and in opening the organization’s first shelter in 1953, but while the humane society endured to this day, the marriage did not.
Divorced in the mid-1950s, Patt Nordyke joined Braniff, an international airline that operated from Love Field in Dallas from 1948 to 1982, and was succeeded by two separately incorporated airlines that continued to use the Braniff name until 1992.
Traveling extensively with her children during her Braniff years, Patt Nordyke turned afterward to the taxi business, growing her one-car City Taxi of San Marcos service into a four-car fleet, before selling it, she said, “to focus on animal welfare full time.”
Doyle and Patt Nordyke came into political conflict toward the end of Doyle Nordyke’s 36-year tenure as a board member and executive director of the Austin-Travis County Humane Society.
While Patt Nordyke had become a vocal opponent of the use of decompression and gas chambers to kill unadoptable dogs and cats, Doyle Nordyke was the last humane society director in the U.S. to use decompression.
Retiring in 1985, coincidental with the passage of an Austin city ordinance prohibiting decompression, Doyle Nordyke died at age 82 on February 11, 2010, after 52 years of marriage to his second wife, Ruby Nell Nordyke, who died in 2012.
The Texas Federation
Long active with a variety of Texas animal rescue and lobbying organizations, Patt Nordyke enjoyed most of her political successes after forming the Texas Federation of Animal Care Societies, which informally existed for several years before receiving nonprofit status in 2008.
During the 2007 Texas legislative session Nordyke was credited by Waco Tribune-Herald staff writer David Doerr with winning passage of state laws making it a Class C misdemeanor to leave a dog tethered within 500 feet of a school or in extreme weather, such as freezing temperatures or during a heat advisory; increasing the penalty for dogfighting from a Class A misdemeanor to a state jail felony; increasing the penalty for attending a dogfight from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor; and introducing criminal penalties for owners of dogs known to be dangerous, if the dogs kill someone.
Explained Doerr, “A dog owner who knows his or her dog is dangerous can be charged with a second-degree felony in a mauling death of a person.
“Although some criticized the law for being overly harsh on a first-time incident,” Doerr wrote, Nordyke fired back that ‘You are just as dead the first time those animals attack as you would be the second time.’”
The dog attack law is called Lillian’s Law, after Lillian Stiles, 76, of Thorndale, Texas, who was fatally mauled in 2005 by six Rottweiler/pit bull mixes who escaped from a neighbor’s yard. A passer-by who tried to help Stiles was also injured.
The Texas law provides sentences of from two to ten years in prison for the keeper of a known dangerous dog who injures a human without provocation, or if the dog is unsecured and attacks someone who is not on the keeper’s property.
Does not prevent first attacks
The weakness of Lillian’s Law is that it applies only if the dog has a history of committing previous unprovoked attacks on humans, or if the keeper has previously been notified by an animal control officer or court notice that the dog is dangerous. Therefore Lillian’s Law does nothing to prevent first attacks by pit bulls, who often display no dangerous behavior before killing or disfiguring a person or another animal.
Jack Wayne Smith and Crystal Michelle Watson, of Young County, in 2008 became the first persons convicted under Lillian’s Law, after their two pit bulls killed seven-year-old Joshua Tanner Monk. Smith and Watson each drew seven years in prison, plus a fine of $5,000.
They appealed. The 11th Texas Court of Appeals in Eastland in January 2011 upheld both the sentences and the constitutionality of Lillian’s Law.
Campaigned to strengthen legislation
Patt Nordyke meanwhile campaigned unsuccessfully to strengthen and expand all of the legislation she won in 2007, to expand access to low-cost spay/neuter services, and to prohibit roadside dog sales.
In particular, Patt Nordyke sought legislation to require that dogs be kept in enclosures when left alone outdoors, not on chains.
“If this would go through as a state law, I would think I just died and went to heaven,” she told Jim Forsyth of San Antonio News Radio WAOI.
Critical of no-kill
In recent years Patt Nordyke became outspokenly critical of the effects of no-kill advocacy on animal care and control and humane work.
“You just can’t keep giving animals away and expect that it is going to solve the problem. It’s never going to solve the problem,” Patt Nordyke told Forsyth.
“No-kill is responsible for putting aggressive dogs out there,” Patt Nordyke elaborated to Brian Collister of KXAN-TV in Austin, “because they are adopting out aggressive animals who have not been properly screened, so that they can keep their 90% ‘save rate.’ This is detrimental to the health and safety of the community as a whole.”
“Very serious problem in Texas”
Added Patt Nordyke to ANIMALS 24-7, “With the “no-kill” program in San Antonio and Austin, and no spay/neuter ordinances, there is a very serious problem in Texas. In addition, state senator Jose Menendez from San Antonio, at the urging of Dan Corbett, a newcomer to animal issues, recently managed to get a bill passed that bans euthanizing animals if there are empty cages or kennels. This does not address the issue of [what to do with] incoming animals.
“In Austin,” Patt Nordyke fumed, “we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. It has cost an additional $1 million a year for four years for us to leave animals on the street because there is ‘no room at the inn,’ and the same thing is happening in San Antonio, where they scraped thirty thousand pounds of of dead animals off the streets two years ago.”
Pets in Protective Orders
But Patt Nordyke was happy with the 2013 passage of a “Pets in Protective Orders” bill.
“It only took us four legislative sessions over eight years and a ton of money,” Patt Nordyke recounted, “but pets of domestic abuse victims are now included in the protective order so they can no longer be used as pawns to keep the human victims in the situation. Now,” she said, “on to creating a database of temporary housing for these animals until their families can get out of the domestic abuse shelters and can take them back and into a loving home.
“This is so important to the children in these situations whose solace comes from holding their pets,” Patt Nordyke continued, recalling her own unstable childhood. “I truly wish someone had a program, like the one that the American Humane Association once had,” in her childhood, “to build housing on domestic abuse shelter properties so that these families could have their pets close, and could tend to them, while they are going through this transition.”
A “Bon Voyage” for Patt is scheduled at the T Bar M, at 2549 State Highway 46 W in New Braunfels, Texas, on Saturday, February 25, 2017, from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m.