“Sometimes things are just too broken to fix”
FREDONIA, Arizona––Severely injured by one of her own pit bulls on December 4, 2017, Jacqueline Bedsaul Johnson, 61, lost little time in reasserting her determination to continue militant online pit bull advocacy, even if she cannot use her hands to type.
Explained her daughter Adria in a “GoFundMe” appeal, which raised more than $20,000 for Johnson in just five days, “My mom and dad took in a rescue…They did their best to rehabilitate him, despite his past, and he came a long way, but sometimes things are just too broken to fix. He became agitated with another dog in the home and when my mom went to intervene, he turned on her. Both her arms were broken, [her] wrist [was] shattered and [she] nearly lost a finger,” which was reattached.
Best Friends employee
“She has rods in her arms and is in an excruciating amount of pain,” the appeal added.
Affirmed Johnson herself on Facebook a day later, “I currently do not have use of either hand. However they were able to re-attach the finger on my left hand, which was severed. I will go in a week from today for major surgery on my right arm, as most of the bones are totally shattered.”
An employee of the Parrot Gardens at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, Johnson was subject of two blogs in 2015 by Huffington Post pit bull advocate Arin Greenwood, sister of Best Friends Animal Society attorney and lobbyist Lee Greenwood.
One of the two Greenwood blogs celebrated the life of the then-recently deceased pit bull Ray, who was impounded from football player and convicted dogfighter Michael Vick in April 2007, transferred to Best Friends, and eventually rehomed to Johnson.
What dogs would rather fight than eat?
In the other Greenwood blog, Johnson was critical of “a video of a young child getting ready to feed six hungry pit bulls making the rounds on the Internet. Many people have been sharing it to show how safe pitties actually are,” Johnson told Greenwood. “I have a totally different take on it. Why would anyone allow a child to feed that many dogs in one place?
“Most multiple dog household separate the dogs for feeding” Johnson said, “if only by a few feet. Here at the [Best Friends] sanctuary, dogs in multiple dog runs are always separated for meal time. Why? Because food is a trigger that can quickly cause aggression. All it would take is for one dog to act out for all of the dogs to become agitated and dangerous.”
While what Johnson said is generally true, most dogs respond to the presence of other dogs during feeding by merely racing to finish their own food, not by attacking others. But pit bulls often would rather fight than eat.
Declared dangerous dog
The pit bull who maimed Johnson is believed to have been the subject of Johnson’s own blog “Over-Coming Anxiety for Bosco,” posted on April 4, 2017.
According to Johnson, Bosco “was found running at large in November  and taken to Animal Control,” apparently in Toledo, Ohio.
“Lucas County Pit Crew pulled him,” Johnson continued, “and he went into a foster home. He was adopted days before Christmas,” but “bit his adopter,” and was returned to a foster home after completing quarantine.
“Ohio declared him a dangerous dog because of the bite,” Johnson admitted, “so he was moved to an out of state foster home. He was driven across the country to our home in Arizona.”
But Johnson had difficulty handling Bosco.
“If someone would knock on the door,” Johnson wrote, “he would lose every ounce of self-control, racing back and forth from the door to whoever was in the room with him. He would aggressively herd us away from the door. He wouldn’t allow us to even stand up until he had time to calm back down. One night I had to change our dinner reservations three times, while we gave him the time he needed to calm down after the neighbor rang our doorbell.”
Therefore, Johnson “with the help of our vet, a behaviorist in Florida, and a dog trainer who I trust implicitly (yes I mean you Steffen Baldwin), started Operation Make Bosco Happy, primarily depending on nutraceuticals,” or “nutritional supplements to help him become calmer.”
Weakening Ohio laws
Baldwin and Lucas County Pit Crew, working closely with Best Friends Animal Society representatives, have had leading roles in recent years in weakening Ohio dangerous dog legislation, both at the state and local levels.
Baldwin had also become controversial online over the alleged disappearance of a pit bull named Remi, who may have been euthanized in December 2016 after killing one of Baldwin’s pit bulls named Zack––or maybe not, depending on whose postings one believes.
Best Friends Network death
Johnson, meanwhile, was scarcely the first disciple of Best Friends Animal Society pit bull advocacy to be injured by a “rescued” pit bull.
Most notoriously, Rebecca Carey, 23, of Decatur, Georgia, a vet tech trainee at the Loving Hands Animal Clinic in Alpharetta and photographer for the Best Friends Network, was in August 2012 found dead at her home from neck and upper torso injuries inflicted by one or more of the five dogs in her care, among them two pit bulls, two Presa Canarios, and a boxer mix.
Carey had in May 2012 helped to repeal a DeKalb County ban on possession of pit bulls.
ANIMALS 24-7 in February 2017 spotlighted the soaring numbers of fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks in Georgia: see Pit bulls kill seven, so Georgia pushes killing coyotes. In May 2017, ANIMALS 24-7 spotlighted the same trends in the city of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio, and in Fresno County, California: see Three dead, two critically injured, in hotbeds of pit bull advocacy.
Fresno shelter attack
The mayhem continued on November 28, 2017, when a shelter worker was mauled by a dog believed to have been a pit bull at the Central California SPCA in Fresno. An unidentified source told Cory James of KFSN TV News that “a portion of the female worker’s face was torn off after the dog bit her inside a kennel.”
Claiming that there were “many inaccuracies” in James’ report, Central California SPCA executive director Linda Van Kirk told ANIMALS 24-7 that, “Our employee was taken to the hospital, treated, and released the same day. She is currently at home, resting comfortably on the road to a speedy recovery. Unfortunately,” Van Kirk said, “we cannot release any additional details of this incident at this time due to the sensitive nature of the situation and confidentially as it deals with an employee.”
Whatever happened, Central California SPCA spokesperson Walter Salvari had specified to James that the injury was the worst suffered by an employee to his knowledge, and distinguished it from being “just scratched or nipped.”
Albuquerque animal control chief resigns
ANIMALS 24-7 has also repeatedly spotlighted attacks by dogs, particularly pit bulls, who have been rehomed in recent years by Albuquerque Animal Services: see L.A. County tightens dog policies; Albuquerque drops the ball, published in April 2017.
Updated Albuquerque Journal investigative reporter Colleen Heild and staff writer Martin Salazar on December 6, 2017, “Paul Caster, who was hired [in November 2015 to head Albuquerque Animal Services] under former mayor Richard Berry, left his $102,643-a-year job after two years,” after Barry left office on November 30, 2017 and following “two internal city inquiries in which he was accused of subverting agency reforms and ignoring policies enacted to protect the public.”
Caster “was also accused of lashing out at agency employees and in recent months fired, disciplined and demoted several top-level staff,” Heild and Salazar wrote. “Two of them filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city on September 27, 2017. One of the two is an animal behaviorist,” Sarah Wharton, “whose predecessor in 2015 helped expose the agency’s potentially dangerous adoption practices.”
Caster “had no prior experience in running a major metropolitan animal welfare agency when he was tapped to head the department,” Heild and Salazar recalled, but he had “been involved in private animal refuge organizations. Last year, Caster helped hire an animal rights colleague from Colorado as associate director of the department,” Heild and Salazar said.
“Deb Brinkley’s position is classified, and she remains on the job,” Heild and Salazar recounted. “Brinkley earlier this year shocked some within the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department when she acknowledged that her Colorado animal sanctuary saved a 120-pound mastiff named Onion who had mauled a 1-year-old Nevada child to death in 2012. City investigators also noted that Brinkley had a ‘frequent habit of blaming victims for dog bites,’” apparently including the one-year-old victim, Jeremiah Eskew-Shahan, who reportedly tripped over Onion while trying to give him a goodnight hug just before Onion crushed his skull with a head bite.
Allegedly made “live exits” priority over public safety
The whistleblower lawsuit, Heild and Salazar summarized, “states the two plaintiffs [had reported to the city administration] reports related to ‘matters of public concern, including the safety of families who adopt dogs and the safety of other dogs and kennel workers.’
“In a startling admission to one city investigator who asked what Caster valued more – live animal exits or public safety – Caster ‘clearly stated that it was live exits,’” Heild and Salazar added.
There are indications that at least some agencies which appear to have emphasized “live exits” over public safety are becoming more cautious.
Los Angeles cracks down on a pit bull rescue
Notably, the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission on November 14, 2017 upheld two “dangerous dog” designations by Los Angeles Animal Services general manager Brenda Barnette, a prominent advocate of no-kill animal sheltering and pit bull adoption for more than 25 years.
Barnette in January 2017 was extensively criticized by CityWatch blogger Phyllis M. Daugherty for policies and practices allegedly contributing to the mauling of shelter worker Priscilla Romero.
“According to current shelter records,” Daugherty wrote, “approximately 50 pit bulls who have bitten or injured a human have been removed from quarantine at the shelter and are waiting in the back kennels of L.A. city shelters for dangerous dog hearings or ‘rescue.’”
Ace of Hearts
But Barnette recommended dangerous dog designations for two pit bulls fostered by Ace of Hearts Dog Rescue, Daugherty recounted, after they “attacked innocent victims in separate incidents while in the care of fosters in the city of Los Angeles.”
The dangerous dog designations “mean the dogs must be removed from the city or euthanized,” Daugherty explained, “and that the owner cannot license or keep another dog within the city limits for three years.”
Ace of Hearts founder Kari Whitman, an interior designer and television personality, unsuccessfully appealed the designations.
San Diego connection
One of the pit bulls involved had come from the San Diego Department of Animal Services, which shares a campus with the San Diego Humane Society SPCA.
Both agencies have themselves rehomed pit bulls in recent years who went on to kill or disfigure people. (See How did San Diego shelters respond after a newly rehomed pit bull killed a child?)
Whitman “testified that she had informed the foster the dog was not good with children and had posted that information,” wrote Daugherty.
However, an opposing witness testified that the pit bull in question was said to be “good with children” on the Ace of Hearts web site. The pit bull went on to injure two children in separate incidents on the same day, disfiguring one of them.
ASPCA behaviorist put out to pasture
Four days earlier, at the opposite end of the U.S., the New York City-based American SPCA quietly announced the transfer of longtime vice president for research and development Emily Weiss, Ph.D., to head what it termed a “newly-formed equine welfare department,” though the ASPCA appears to have had personnel focused on equine welfare from inception in 1866.
A brief career summary included in the ASPCA media release made no mention that Weiss introduced the widely used SAFER canine temperament test 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 ASPCA hired Weiss as senior director of shelter behavior programs in 2005, and on May 5, 2007, two weeks after the Vick case broke, made promoting the SAFER test part of the ASPCA program.
After several pit bulls who went on to kill people were found to have passed SAFER tests before rehoming, the ASPCA on December 2, 2015 announced that “Effective immediately, the ASPCA will be discontinuing the certification process for SAFER (Safety Assessment to Evaluate Re-homing),”
Pet Fest attack alienates a family
While the potential legal consequences of rehoming dangerous dogs might make a bigger impression on animal shelter management, New Orleans mother of a pit bull victim Ashley Prater in a November 28, 2017 Facebook posting underscored the effects on public confidence.
“Last Sunday,” Prater wrote, “me, my mom, and my son attended Pet Fest in Lafreniere Park with the intention of adopting a dog for my mom. We finally decided on Caesar, a supposed mastiff mixed breed dog. Caesar was very friendly, and we spent three hours with him before deciding to adopt him. A lady who worked at the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter told her that she had taken Caesar home with her to foster him and he was very sweet.
“Me and my son were sitting on the floor petting him,” Prater continued, when “he viciously attacked my son,” who “did not do anything that I can see to provoke this attack. My son spent a day in the hospital due to Caesar’s attack.
Pit bull, boxer, & German shepherd
“Kenner Animal Control picked the dog up the same day,” Prater recounted, “and told us that Caesar was not a mastiff mix, but in fact a pit bull, boxer, and German shepherd mix.
“I am very disappointed in the East Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter for not disclosing this information,” Prater said. “And now that I have had time to reflect on this traumatic event, a lot of the dogs up for adoption looked like pit bulls, but NONE of their tags said that they were. Unfortunately, now my son is traumatized and does not even want to look at another dog. And quite frankly I don’t blame him.”
The Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter has had other recent issues. Notably, Laquita Goudy, 38, on December 7, 2017 pleaded guilty to stealing more than $97,000 in cash from animal adopters and vaccination clients.
But loss of faith in the safety of rehomed dogs may already be costing the sheltering community many times more.