Victims are just as dead if not bitten to death
James E. Bennett, 79, of Palm Coast, Florida, died of a heart attack on February 22, 2017, three days after he and his wife Sandra were both hospitalized after unsuccessfully trying to protect Gidget, their seven-year-old Yorkie, from an unprovoked attack by a pit bull who broke his leash to kill the much smaller dog.
A day later, on February 23, 2017, Christian Dallett, 53, of Brooklyn, New York, suffered fatal head injuries when apparently pulled down a flight of stairs while walking a pit bull and a Queensland heeler.
The Bennett and Dallett deaths raised recurring questions about which sorts of death involving dogs as a proximate cause should be regarded as “dog attacks,” and which, if they are “dog attacks,” involve considerations specific to the breed types involved.
The ANIMALS 24-7 policy, from the beginning of our log of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks in 1982, is to log all deaths in which dogs are a proximate cause, with footnotes explaining unusual circumstances, such as deaths by heart attack, head injury, infection, or other accident occurring as result of the victim having been under attack by a dog at the time.
This is because our concern is with all sorts of dog-related mortality. Our log from the beginning was meant to discover relevant data pertaining to disease transmission, especially rabies transmission, as well to track bite-inflicted injuries.
Indeed, as of 1982, deaths from rabies infection following a dog bite were still much more common in the U.S. and Canada than deaths from dog bites themselves. Anecdotally, hunting dogs in the U.S. South and free-roaming huskies who encountered rabid foxes in the Canadian north were said to be the most likely dogs to transmit rabies, but was this really true?
No one seemed to have recent hard data; we meant to fill the gap.
The proportionality of circumstances under which dogs kill people have now dramatically changed. Indigenous canine rabies cases have not occurred within the U.S. and Canada in more than 20 years, while more dog bite fatalities occur now per year––40-plus––than had occurred in the years 1930-1981 combined.
DogsBite.org, on the other hand, has never counted non-bite fatalities because, as the web site title indicates, it is concerned exclusively with biting behavior.
So what is “proximate cause”?
http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/proximate+cause defines “proximate cause” as “An act from which an injury results as a natural, direct, uninterrupted consequence and without which the injury would not have occurred.”
Elaborates the Legal Dictionary, “Proximate cause is the primary cause of an injury. It is not necessarily the closest cause in time or space nor the first event that sets in motion a sequence of events leading to an injury. Proximate cause produces particular, foreseeable consequences without the intervention of any independent or unforeseeable cause. It is also known as legal cause.
“To help determine the proximate cause of an injury in negligence or other tort cases,” the Legal Dictionary explains, “courts have devised the ‘but for’ or ‘sine qua non’ rule, which considers whether the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligent act.”
Why “proximate cause” matters
The stress that James E. Bennett suffered, from severe injuries inflicted by the pit bull who killed his dog Gidget, from helplessly witnessing Gidget’s death, from seeing his wife Sandra collapse, and from his own hospitalization, was almost certainly the proximate cause of his heart attack: it is unlikely to have occurred soon afterward just by random chance.
Being tugged forward by two big leashed dogs who were eager for their walk, perhaps tripping over their leashes, was almost certainly why Christian Dallett fell down the stairs, striking his head.
Is breed type a factor?
Was the fact of pit bull involvement, as opposed to the involvement of just any dog, also an aspect of proximate cause in either Bennett’s death or Dallett’s?
In the Bennett case, unequivocally yes. Pit bulls have uniquely and specifically been bred for centuries to attack other animals (and humans) without hesitation or relent.
(See Record 32,550 pit bulls killed or badly injured other animals in the U.S. in 2016.)
In the Dallett case, while any two big dogs might have pulled a man headfirst down a flight of stairs, especially if he tripped over a leash, normally a man who is twice the combined weight of the dogs he is holding on leashes is able to keep the dogs safely restrained. Dallett appears to have been twice the combined weight of the pit bull and Queensland heeler he was holding––but pit bulls are among the breeds known for exceptional pulling power relative to their own size, for which reason pit bulls are commonly used in weight-pulling competition.
The average dog would not likely have engaged in behavior leading to a death in either the Bennett or the Dallett case.
Effect of “proximate cause” on the data
Pit bull advocates often argue that including “proximate cause” cases in the ANIMALS 24-7 log of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks somehow artificially inflates and exaggerates the risk that pit bulls pose to human health and safety.
Dog attack victim advocates often counter, with equal vehemence, that including “proximate cause” cases leads to “safe” dog breeds being labeled occasionally dangerous, simply because some of those dogs at times happen to be involved in freak occurrences, and that counting the freak occurrences artificially diminishes by comparison the uniquely dangerous aspects of pit bull behavior.
But are either pit bulls or non-pit bulls disproportionately involved in any sort of “proximate cause” death cases?
A closer look
This requires a closer look at the 42 “proximate cause” death cases among the 665 dog attack deaths we have recorded in the U.S. and Canada since 1982.
“Proximate cause” deaths are just 6% of the total, yet the sum of 42 such cases is more than twice the sum of all dog attack deaths (18) occurring in the U.S. and Canada from 1982 through 1991, and is about as many as occur each year now.
Overall, pit bulls, who constitute about 5% of the U.S. and Canadian dog population, according to our annual surveys of classified ads offering dogs for sale or adoption, have accounted for 368 dog attack fatalities, or 55%.
(See 2016 survey: List of top 5 U.S. dog breed types ousts pit bulls.)
Among the 42 “proximate cause” cases, pit bulls have accounted for 24 deaths: 57%.
The percentage difference in pit bull involvement in “proximate cause” death cases from the overall rate of pit bull involvement in fatal attacks is statistically insignificant.
But are pit bulls uniquely or disproportionately involved in any particular type of “proximate cause” death?
Precedents for Bennett’s death from a heart attack include 10 previous deaths from heart attack or stroke either while fending off a pit bull attack, soon afterward, or from causes associated with having been attacked, during a long ensuing hospitalization.
Three comparable deaths have involved, respectively, three English bulldogs; a German shepherd mix; and a West Highland terrier who bit an 87-year-old woman as she visited her husband’s grave.
Pit bulls, in short, have been involved in 77% of the deaths from stress-related physical causes after the victims experienced a dog attack.
Precedents for Dallett’s death from a fall include the October 2009 death of Plainfield, Connecticut animal control officer Teresa Foss, 48, who suffered fatal head injuries when a pit bull apparently knocked her down.
In an immediately similar case, mail carrier Hao Yun “Eddie” Lin of Oceanside, California, suffered a fatal head injury in a fall while trying to evade a lunging Rottweiler on May 25, 2010.
Less similar, but of a related nature, was the June 4, 2009 death of a woman in Hayward, California, who was holding a leashed pit bull for the pit bull’s owner. The owner bicycled across a set of railway tracks in front of an oncoming train. Rushing to follow, the pit bull dragged the woman in front of the train. Both the pit bull and the woman were killed.
Also comparable were fall-related fatalities involving an Airedale, a German shepherd, and most famously, King Boots, an eight-year-old award-winning Old English sheep dog kept by Kathryn Schwarb of Birmingham, Michigan.
Gertrude Monroe, 87, mother of Schwarb, on December 19, 1984 tripped over King Boots, was severely bitten, and died soon afterward. The medical examiner ruled that Monroe died from “cranial cerebral trauma.”
Whether the “cranial cerebral trauma” resulted from bite wounds to Monroe’s head and face, from her hard fall, or partially from a heart attack or stroke preceding the fall was disputed in court. King Boots, however, was eventually defanged and castrated, by judicial order, as this was the second biting incident involving him. He died in August 1985.
Altogether, pit bulls have been involved in three of seven fall-related “proximate cause” deaths: 42%.
Exclusive of rabies cases, ANIMALS 24-7 has recorded eight human deaths in the U.S. since 1982 from infections contracted via dog bite. Two of the biting dogs were pit bulls or pit mixes. The others included a coonhound, a pack of four Fila Brasilieros (close relatives of pit bulls), a German shepherd, a Keeshond mix, and a Jack Russell terrier. Except that pit bulls (and Fila Brasilieros) are disproportionately likely to bite people, according to most compilations of bite data, there appears to be no indication that pit bull bites are more likely to result in fatal infections.
Fleeing into traffic
But––within the U.S. and Canada––cases in which humans were killed by cars while trying to evade dog attacks have exclusively involved pit bulls. The three known victims were Miracle Parham, 14, of Henry County, Georgia, killed on October 5, 2010; James Harding, 62, of East Baltimore, Maryland, killed on February 22, 2013 while under attack by two pit bulls; and Davon Jiggetts, 17, of Fulton County, Georgia, killed on April 11, 2014.
ANIMALS 24-7 is aware of one similar death abroad: in Bangalore, India, a 10-year-old girl named Manjamma on July 3, 2011 ran in front of a concrete mixer while trying to escape from a dog identified only as “a stray.”
Local media speculated that Manjamma was afraid of the dog because of lurid coverage of a fatal dog attack on a child the day before. Forensic evidence indicated that the attack the day before apparently involved two pit bulls or mastiffs, who were never apprehended.
Three U.S. “proximate cause” deaths have occurred due to drowning, all in 2016 and all in incidents not known to have been witnessed.
Most recently, Lana Amuny, 58, drowned on October 29, 2016 near Lumberton, Texas, along with a pit bull. Investigators believe Amuny drowned while trying to break up a fight between two pit bulls. Amuny had operated an animal shelter called Puddin’s Place in Lumberton from 2000 to 2009, and after closing the shelter had remained active in dog rescue.
Earlier, on April 14, 2016 and July 7, 2016, respectively, Valente Lopez Aguirre, 59, and Robert Simonian, 74, were found dead from drowning in irrigation canals with extensive dog bites on their bodies in the same part of Fresno, California. Both are believed to have fled into the canals to escape the dogs who were attacking them. While the dogs responsible have not officially been identified, pit bulls or pit mixes are suspected.
ANIMALS 24-7 has logged two deaths in cases in which pit bulls assisted humans in committing murder.
In each case the human assailants may have inflicted the actual fatal injuries, but appear to have been able to do so because their pit bulls had cornered the victims and inflicted preliminary injuries that prevented the victims from either escaping, successfully resisting, or summoning help in time to save themselves.
Strangling & asphyxiation
Three “proximate cause” deaths have involved children who were strangled by dogs who pulled on objects that were wrapped around their necks: a six-year-old girl who was caught by a pit bull’s chain, another six-year-old girl who was strangled by a golden retriever who tugged at her scarf, and yet another six-year-old girl who was strangled in her sleep by a beagle whose leash had become wrapped around her neck.
Two cases in which infants asphyxiated after dogs laid down on top of them have occurred in Ohio, one involving a pit bull and the other a Rottweiler.
Throwing a pan
The most unique of the “proximate cause” deaths among our data was that of Ryan Brown, 15, of Fayette County, Tennessee, who was fatally injured on August 3, 2014 when struck by a pan his twin brother threw to try to break up a fight between two family pit bulls.
In this instance, while the pit bulls were not the actual instruments of the death and were not attacking either Brown or his twin brother, but the death does meet the “but for” or “sine qua non” rule, since if the pit bulls had not been fighting, the twins would not have been trying to stop the fight, and if the dogs had not been pit bulls, the fight likely would not have required intervention to come to a speedy end.
Jamaka Petzak says
Sharing to social media, with hope and gratitude, and sorrow for the senseless and avoidable maimings and deaths.
Take a look at this video and tell me if you think most grown men have the strength to hold back a pit bull. An animal capable of this is not a pet, it is a weapon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arCOVKxGy9E&t=30s
Elizabeth Clifton says
Agreed, but in my experience these owners understand what they have and keep them secured. In weight pull the dogs are using their strength and veracity (gameness) to pull thousands of pounds of cement blocks as a sport competition. It’s a social and ego thing. And they take it seriously. These are not my kind of folks, and also tend to value the dogs’ history, their breeders and the historical dog fighters, training their dogs using the same methods as dog fighters. That being said they stand shoulder to shoulder with the breeders, dog fighters and rescue angels. They don’t want to have their dogs regulated and will be the first to disavow rescue angels, but are disingenuous. HSUS, Best Friends, ASPCA, Maddie’s Fund are doing a great job pushing pit bulls and sucking up money to do it.
Lisa Gaffney says
This is a very important point. People always seem to end up dead around pit bulls even if not mauled to death. I think this is an excellent write-up!