Killed in kennel by dog of unknown history during socialization session
PHOENIX, Arizona––Carol Harris, 69, a 12-year volunteer for Akita Advocates Relocation Team Arizona, shared two Akitas with her husband Kenneth.
The Harrises fostered four other Akitas.
Carol Harris “adored the breed and worked hard to find them loving homes,” having helped to rehome more than 500 Akitas altogether, Kenneth Harris told Phoenix 3-TV/CBC-5 reporter Maria Hechanova.
“They’re not aggressive. Just like pit bulls…”
Expecting to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on January 2, 2018, Carol and Kenneth Harris were instead parted on December 20, 2017 when an Akita of as yet undisclosed history mauled her during a socialization session at the Canine Country Club & Feline Inn, where Akita Advocates rented kennel space.
Insisted Kenneth Harris to Hechanova, “They’re not aggressive. Just like pit bulls, people think that they’re all aggressive. They’re not.”
But if a woman who had handled more than 500 Akitas over 12 years could not recognize the risk presented by the Akita who killed her, what chance would anyone else have?
Akitas 10th among breeds in causing human fatalities
Akitas have killed fewer people (9) in the U.S. and Canada since 1982 than pit bulls and pit mixes (408), Rottweilers (107), German shepherds and huskies (30 each), bull mastiffs (21), wolf hybrids (19), boxers (13), and chows and chow mixes (12), and have killed the same number as Dobermans. But this makes up 92% of the total dog attack fatalities over the past 35 years, inflicted by 20% of the dog population.
“The dog involved in the attack is now dead. It was euthanized Thursday and was taken to the state lab for rabies testing,” Hechanova finished.
Rabies testing remains a sensible precaution when a dog attacks someone for no apparent reason. Of note, however, is that no one has died from a rabid dog attack in either the U.S. or Canada in more than 25 years.
Year of record mayhem by shelter & rescue dogs
With 10 days left in 2017, dogs from animal shelters and rescues have inflicted a record 39 known disfigurements of humans, including 30 by pit bulls, and only one by a dog not among the ten breed types who have inflicted the most fatalities.
Dogs from animal shelters and rescues have also killed at least five people, one more than in any previous year, and three more than in the 19th and 20th centuries combined.
The other dead include Louise Hermida, 75, killed by a bull mastiff she had adopted from New York City Animal Care & Control in 2011, and reportedly intended to return to the NY/CACC due to increasingly dangerous behavior; Lisa Green, 32, killed by a pit bull she had adopted in 2014 from the Peaceable Kingdom shelter in Allentown, Pennsylvania; Margaret Colvin, 90, killed by a pit bull her daughter had just adopted from the Forever Home Rescue & Rehabilitation Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Sandra Kaiser, 71, killed by a “rescue dog” of undisclosed breed and origin in Redding, Connecticut.
(See also Three dead, two critically injured, in hotbeds of pit bull advocacy and How multi-state effort to save the pit bull Blue led to Code Blue for Margaret Colvin.)
Lawsuits bring information forward
Whatever the known totals of deaths and disfigurements by shelter and rescue dogs are at year’s end, they are likely to rise during the next several years as more information about attacks comes to light as result of lawsuits filed by victims and next-of-kin.
Usually the source of a dog who mauls someone is not disclosed in immediate reports about the incident. An exception was the December 17, 2017 mauling of Luca Romero, age 2, by a pit/Lab mix at an adoption event held by Dallas Pets Alive at Klyde Warren Park.
“Cho said she was told the dogs were friendly and that they were welcome to pet them,” wrote Dallas Morning News reporter Claire Ballor. “She said her son, who loves dogs and is used to playing with their German shepherd, petted several dogs, including the one who later attacked him,” biting his right arm and chest.
“Four to five large men had to come in and literally pry the dog off of him,” Cho said.
Dogs are screened
Dallas Pets Alive executive director Leslie Sans “said the volunteer-based organization screens all of its animals before bringing them to adoption events and before they are adopted out,” Ballor wrote.
Behavioral screening, in the most widely practiced present form, was introduced with the SAFER test developed by Emily Weiss in 1999 and adopted as an official program of the American SPCA in 2007. Coincidentally, 46 of the 49 shelter and rescue dogs known to have killed humans have been rehomed since 2007. The ASPCA quit certifying SAFER testers in December 2015, and transferred Weiss to head an equine welfare program in November 2017.
(See Did ASPCA discover certifying SAFER dog screening might be dangerous? and What pit bull advocates don’t learn from their own maulings.)
Among attacks by shelter and rescue dogs recently becoming known through lawsuits were the November 2015 mauling of a child by a dog of undisclosed breed in Harris County, Texas, and the December 2015 mauling of would-be adopter Michael Casanova by a German shepherd at a kennel in Berlin, Connecticut, which had been contracted to do animal control housing for the city of New Britain.
Defendants in the Harris County case, filed by Margaret Maag, the mother of the victim, include Almost Home Pet Rescue Inc., PetSmart Inc., and pit bull advocate Jennifer Lods.
Defendants in the Connecticut case include the city of New Britain, animal control officer James Russo, and the former owner of the German shepherd.
State pen not secure enough for pit bulls
An incident of undisclosed date at the Albion Correctional Facility in upstate New York recently brought a warning to all concerned from the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association.
“The prison had just initiated a new canine program to help shelter dogs with poor socialization skills,” the union summarized in a media release. “Participating inmates are responsible for helping the animals adjust, so they can be adopted.”
One of the first two dogs in the program was a pit bull, who attacked the other dog, also injuring an inmate who intervened.
“My immediate concern is that this program does not have the necessary resources and training to be effective and safe for our staff and inmates,” New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association western region vice president Joe Miano said. “These are dogs who are unfortunately aggressive and with poor socialization, which makes them very dangerous for inmates and staff who are not trained to handle canines.”
But if a medium security penitentiary does not have the necessary resources and training to keep dogs of suspect behavior adequately contained and confined, what institution does?
Warning from the Catskills
Warning from the lower Catskills of a mindset now prevalent among the board, volunteers, and many of the staff at shelters and rescues throughout the U.S., former Humane Society of Deerpark & Port Jervis director Lee Curtis on December 12, 2017 told News 12 viewers that, as reporter Blaise Gomez summarized, “The board of directors [are] telling staff to turn a blind eye to a dog’s violent history, instead adopting out the animal as if there’s no problem.”
Said Curtis, “I personally know of two dogs in that facility that have bitten people that are still available for adoption.”
Continued Gomez, “She says one of the dogs they adopted out bit a 3-year-old child in the face and caused very severe damage. Curtis says one of the dogs even attacked her in August. She says she was let go two weeks after the incident for insisting that dog and others who were violent be put down.”
Shelter calls complaints “frivolous” and “sad”
Humane Society of Deerpark & Port Jervis office manager Kristin Pietrykowski tearfully stepped forward two days later to verify Curtis’ complaint, putting her job on the line.
In one instance, Gomez narrated, “Pietrykowski says she started to look at files and noticed there were five different complaints about a dog that was up for adoption.”
The complaints were shown on camera.
“In an email,” News 12 anchor Scott McGee added, “a shelter representative called the allegations ‘frivolous’ and ‘sad.’”
Virginia legislator seeks to mandate disclosure of bite history
Fed up with that sort of non-response, Virginia state senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) told Ryan Murphy of the Virginian Pilot that he plans to introduce legislation in January 2018 to “require animal shelters and other agencies to make potential adopters and any other receiving groups aware of the animal’s past biting incidents. Any group that ‘willfully fails’ to provide documentation about bites in an animal’s past would face up to a $1,000 fine, according to a draft of the legislation, which has not yet been officially filed,” Murphy wrote.
DeSteph’s constituency is the community where Margaret Colvin, 90, was killed in May 2017 by a dog with a multi-state history of problematic behavior, who had passed through several rescue organizations before being rehomed by the Forever Home Rescue & Rehabilitation Center.
The pending bill is endorsed in concept by 22-year Virginia Beach SPCA chief executive Sharon Adams, who now chairs the Virginia Alliance for Animal Shelters.
“The Colvin case was an example of the egregious failure, because they knew it wasn’t the first time,” Adams told Murphy. “I don’t think legislation fixes everything, but it seems like we had a failure on the part of releasing agencies to be as responsible about public safety as they should be.”
Editorialized the Virginian Pilot, “Information about an animal’s behavior is an important consideration in the decision to adopt. Families with small children or vulnerable adults, in particular, want to ensure that a dog will be gentle and friendly in their home. Some people might be open to adopting a dog with a history of biting, though many aren’t.
“Even those who are willing to accept a dog that has bitten others need to know about the animal’s prior actions so they can better understand how to respond to it and, if possible, provide training to help change the dog’s behavior.
“A state law shouldn’t be required to make adoption agencies release that information,” the Virginian Pilot finished, “but sometimes laws are a necessary step to prevent abuses that threaten the health and safety of the public.”
ANIMALS 24-7 has editorially favored the same approach, combined with mandatory disclosure of visually recognizable breed identity. (See Ideas for non-BSL that might really stop pit bull attacks.)
Jamaka Petzak says
One of the two dogs I have been made to care for was an Akita. She was silly and goofy.
As for dogs with any history of harming others, they should be put down immediately — no second chances, IMHO. Why wait for a second incident?
The problems outlined here can be somewhat difficult to understand from the general public’s perspective and knowledge. One of the most glaring is the statement “if a woman who rehabilitated 500 akitas over 12 years time can’t evaluate a dog, who can?”. Well, as a professional trainer and behaviorist in practice for 40 years, the answer is A PROFESSIONAL with experience and training, not someone who has simply been lucky enough to not run into a “hard” dog in a given amount of time. Rescues in the US are nothing more than 501c3 financial/legal filings-there is NO quality control, licensing or regulation of operations or education/experience on the part of the people operating them and even less on those “volunteering”. SPCA’s and Humane Societies are entities that thrive on public donations, so they adhere to “warm and fuzzy” training and behavior methods, many of which actually make issues WORSE instead of better and often mask or misinterpret and misunderstand behavior issues, their causes and cues professional eyes don’t.
I have evaluated dogs at the very facility mentioned in the beginning of the article, provided expert witness testimony in bite cases in the Superior Courts in multiple jurisdictions and States and even for the US Military (Navy), for 40+ years and was director of training for the second highest volume American Pit Bull Rescue in the USA for 14 years.
In Arizona there is legislation that states that knowing of aggressive behavior in a canine and passing the animal on leaves liability in place with the person or entity transferring ownership. More is needed and in the works. I’m personally on a task force formed by Senator Kate Brophy-McGee from the 28th Congressional District in Arizona to do just that-as well as set standards and policy for professional status in Training, Boarding and “Rescue” entities within the State. There is also a dedicated division of our Courts being formed to handle animal related cases specifically to address these and many other issues.
The loss of both Mrs. Harris’ life and the suffering of many other innocent and/or well meaning people and animals is at stake in this subject. Hopefully we’ll be successful in sorting it out for all involved.
NoNonsenseK9 Training and Behavior Services
Merritt Clifton says
If any aspect of being around a dog safely “can be somewhat difficult to understand from the general public’s perspective and knowledge,” that dog does not belong around people, with any amount of remedial training from anyone who purports to be an expert.
The assertion that more “professional” training should be the societal response to dangerous dogs is much like asserting that more “professional” training than most drivers already receive can prevent traffic accidents: even if this proposition could be statistically supported, to require an extraordinary degree of expertise of people who are engaged in some of the most ordinary of activities is impracticable and untenable.
Building safer cars and roads, and requiring seat belts, motorcycle helmets, etc. has cut the U.S. vehicular death toll in half, even as road miles traveled have more than quadrupled. Comparably, stopping the breeding and all commerce in pit bulls and other very high-risk breeds, and requiring appropriate safety measures for keeping the rest, is the realistic approach to reducing dog attack deaths and disfigurements.