Under fire for having killed the pit bull who bit her
CHICAGO, Illinois––Chicago Animal Control director Susan Russell, among the most prominent pit bull advocates in the animal care and control field, was herself “rushed to a hospital over the Christmas holidays after a pit bull she was walking took a chunk out of her arm and leg,” Chicago News reporter Fran Spielman disclosed on the evening of January 2, 2018.
Within hours the pit bull attack on Russell had already drawn more media notice than did the most recent Chicago-area pit bull fatality, the December 12, 2017 mauling of Dorothy Ford, 76, by her own six-year-old pit. Ford’s pit bull, who had lived with her since puppyhood, was shot by responding police.
Attack revealed by Freedom of Info request
Spielman said she learned of the multiple bites on Russell through a Freedom of Information request filed by Jennifer Jurcak, whom Spielman described as “a longtime volunteer at the city pound.”
Jurcak and other Chicago pit bull advocates were immediately critical of Russell for ordering that the pit bull who attacked her be euthanized.
Recounted Spielman, “The biting incident that injured Russell,” which “could have been a whole lot worse, occurred at about 7:30 a.m. on December 22, 2017. Russell was in the unloading area taking some of the dogs in portable kennels out for walks, as she claims to do on most other early mornings.”
According to Russell’s incident report, obtained by Jurcak and forwarded to Spielman, Russell “had taken the dog involved in the incident a couple of times previously without incident. He had signs of prior abuse,” including “a healed neck where there appeared to be an embedded collar. Although timid, he had not shown any signs of aggression,” Russell said. “After I walked him, I tied him to one of the pen doors so I could straighten up his kennel. He began barking at the dog in the portable [kennel] beside his portable. I went to untie him and move him from his post. When I did this, he re-directed onto my right hand, causing a bite injury, and then onto my left leg, causing a bite injury. I was able to move away from the dog.”
A kennel supervisor then managed to “safely contain the dog on a bite pole,” while an assistant was able to “assist in moving the dog,” according to Russell’s report.
Calls pit bulls “Chicago dogs”
Updated Steve Miller of WBBM Newsradio later on January 2, 2018, “Russell says it was a mixed-breed dog that bit her almost two weeks ago.”
But that claim requires qualification. Explained Laura Drucker in an October/November 2017 article for Tails Magazine titled “Love Knows No Breed: Reversing Pit Bull Stereotypes,” “Russell doesn’t believe in labeling dogs by their breed. Instead, she calls all the canines in CACC’s care ‘Chicago dogs,’” even though by Russell’s own estimate, cited in the Drucker article, “about 70% of the dogs that enter Chicago Animal Care & Control—either as strays, surrenders, or those who are confiscated due to abuse or neglect—have the pit bull label.”
Says no such dog as the one who bit her
Conflating the difference between breed category, such as “hunting dog,” “herding dog,” and “lap dog,” with show dog breed standards, Russell insisted “There is no breed called a pit bull. Rather, there are multiple breeds with these physical characteristics, including, but certainly not limited to, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, American Bull Dogs, and English Bull Dogs, to name but a few.”
While denying that pit bulls such as the one who sent her to the hospital exist as a category sharing common physical and behavioral traits, Russell boasted to Drucker that, as Drucker paraphrased, “Fewer pit bull-type dogs were euthanized last year at the city’s shelter than any other year prior.”
This appears to be chiefly because dog impounds have dropped 18% during Russell’s tenure as Chicago animal control director, even as “dangerous dog” incidents soar, and some incidents involving alleged failure to impound pit bulls have made headlines.
Went to hospital in ambulance, but is “absolutely fine”
“I’m fine. I did get a bite to the hand and a bite to the leg, but I’m absolutely fine,” Russell insisted to Miller of WBBM.
Narrated Miller, “Russell had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance, but she says that is standard policy.
“That’s pretty much standard fare,” Russell said to Miller. “You will do that when you have a bite. You’ll go get it checked out. That’s important.”
Jurcak “accused Russell of applying a double standard to biting incidents,” wrote Spielman.
Said Jurcak, “If you like the dog and it bites somebody, that dog could stay there. But since this dog bit you and you’re not happy with it, that dog immediately gets euthanized. She was dead that day. What’s fair for one should be fair for all,” Jurcak said.
Agreed Chicago alderman Ray Lopez, a vehement “no kill” sheltering advocate who has been intensely critical of Russell ever since her April 2016 appointment by Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, “Generally speaking, dogs are not immediately euthanized when they bite someone. They have to be deemed a dangerous animal. There are protocols that have to be followed. This may have been an overreach — especially if the animal was just reacting to the stresses at the shelter.”
“When a dog bites it’s not often that we’ll keep the dog alive”
Responded Russell, to Miller of WBBM, “Well, you know something? When a dog bites a human being, and we do know the circumstances, it’s not often that we’re going to keep the dog alive, anyway.”
Earlier on January 2, 2017, wrote Chicago News reporter Spielman, “Russell said she did not ‘particularly wish to discuss’ the December 22 incident that required a co-worker to summon an ambulance to transport her to the hospital. Nor would she explain why she ordered the pit bull that bit her euthanized immediately, in apparent violation of city protocols for dog-biting incidents,” which are normally followed by a 10-day rabies quarantine.
“The dog had been picked up as a stray just eight days before the incident,” Spielman noted. “Jenny Schlueter, an assistant to the director, said the dog who attacked Russell was euthanized ‘to protect public safety.’”
“Dog was a public safety risk”
Said Schlueter, in an e-mail to Spielman, “When a dog bites a human, CACC must make a decision as to whether an animal is safe to adopt out directly to the public or transfer to a rescue organization. Given the nature of this particular incident, CACC determined that this dog was a public safety risk, and the dog was euthanized.”
Ironically, Russell did not even mention protecting public safety among her “top values” when WLS-TV news anchor Ravi Baichwal on June 16, 2016 asked her point-blank what they are.
Russell instead listed “Respect for life, humane stewardship of animals, good people, and compassion.”
Lawyer posted pro-pit bull memes
Russell brought to her $130,000-a-year post heading Chicago Animal Care & Control no visible history pertaining to protecting public safety, but had a background as “a litigation attorney for a Chicago aviation law firm (Kaplan, Massamillo and Andrews),” recounted Chicago Tribune reporter William Hageman.
Russell also claimed a long history of volunteering for Famous Fido Rescue, and had served on Friends of Chicago Animal Care & Control board of directors.
On multiple occasions prior to her appointment as Chicago Animal Care & Control director Russell––who apparently has only cats as household pets––had promoted pit bull advocacy literature and memes on Facebook. This has continued since her appointment.
How to get “shelter dog kisses”
Two years before becoming Chicago Animal Care & Control director, Russell published a book for children entitled Shelter Dog Kisses: And How You Get Yourself Some!, encouraging children to volunteer in animal shelters, depicting a pit bull on the cover.
Russell also appears to have been a favorite guest of longtime Chicago pit bull advocate Steve Dale, whose “Steve Dale’s Pet World” program has aired since 2005 on WGN radio.
Dale’s web site boasts that he “created the Chicago Task Force on Companion Animals & Public Safety (2000-2010), where three times proposed breed bans were overturned and [which] twice overturned proposed mandated pediatric spay/neuter, as well as proposed pet limit laws.”
Cage death incident
Russell, however, despite her long burnished pit bull advocacy credentials, caught flak in August 2016 from alderman Lopez and other pit bull advocates for what Lopez termed the “unexplained death” of a female pit bull named Devyn. Impounded on July 9, 2016, Devyn was found dead in her cage on August 4.
Responded Russell then, not bothering to deny Devyn’s breed characterization, “Contrary to what has been described as an ‘unexplained death’ of a pit bull named Devyn, Devyn’s death was not a mystery. Devyn had an ear wound when she entered the city shelter as a stray. She became sick with kennel cough on July 12 and began treatment, [but] her health continued to decline.”
Shelter turned away three injured pits
Lopez and fellow pit bull advocates returned to the attack in November 2016, Chicago News reporter Spielman recounted, after “Three injured pit bulls were turned away from Chicago’s chronically troubled Animal Care & Control shelter, in violation of the city’s policy to accept dogs at any hour of the day or night so long as they are accompanied after hours by a uniformed police officer.”
The incident began, Spielman said, at about 1 a.m. on a Monday night when a 911 caller said three pit bulls had been dumped from two cars and were running toward the Dan Ryan Woods in the Chicago greenbelt.
“The dispatcher contacted off-duty Chicago Police officer Barbara Kitzerow, who doubles as an animal rescuer. Kitzerow called Frank Guiliano, another animal rescuer,” Spielman wrote. “Kitzerow and Guiliano arrived on the scene, rounded up the dogs, and took them to the David R. Lee Animal Shelter. They also called the Chicago Police Department’s Ogden District, where the city pound is located, to ask that a uniformed police officer meet them at the pound, as required by the city. But an overnight security guard at the pound refused to accept the dogs,” obliging them to be taken instead to the nonprofit Animal Welfare League shelter in Chicago Ridge.
“We don’t offer 24-hour service to the public”
“These dogs were all cut up. They were injured,” Guiliano told Spielman. “But the guard said, ‘You can’t bring these dogs in here.’”
Russell responded, Spielman added, by pledging “additional training” for the pound security staff, but “made no apologies for the decision to turn away the three injured pit bulls.”
Said Russell, to Spielman, “We don’t offer a 24-hour service to the public. We simply do not have the capacity to provide that kind of care overnight.” she said.
Fumed alderman Lopez, “If Susan Russell had her way, these three pit bulls would have wandered around the Dan Ryan Woods for days. There’s a high probability that, injured and afraid, these dogs could have attacked someone jogging or walking through those woods with their children. It’s outrageous for someone who told the City Council that Chicago has an open shelter that accepts any animals, regardless of condition or age, to be putting up these types of barriers — not only for the average citizen, but for the Chicago Police Department.”
“We have no place to put incoming dogs”
In recent months Russell has complained via Facebook that the Chicago Animal Care & Control shelter “continues to fill, but the dogs are not moving out. We have no place to put incoming dogs and we will need to make some very difficult decisions if things don’t change.”
Even as Lopez and as many as 30 other Chicago alderman push legislation seeking to mandate a 90% “live release rate,” significantly higher than the 76% rate that Chicago Animal Care & Control presently claims, Russell seems to have recognized that accomplishing this while accepting infinite intake of pit bulls is not possible.
Neither Lopez nor Russell appear to have realized, however, that reducing pit bull intake while making public safety a top priority will require enforcing strong breed-specific legislation that takes pit bulls off the streets, takes the money out of speculative backyard pit bull breeding, and takes the money out of pit-pushing disguised as “rescue” too.