Death demonstrates that responsible dog-keeping begins with what dogs are kept
ARJAY, Kentucky––Johnny Dale Lankford, 42, already jailed on other charges when his two pit bulls killed Lorraine Brock Saylor, 66, on Christmas Eve, was sentenced to serve a year in jail on January 3, 2018 after pleading guilty to a single charge of harboring a vicious animal, WATE/WNCN television news reported.
Feeding cats on her front porch on Christmas Eve, in a quiet unincorporated southeastern Kentucky coal-mining hamlet, Lorraine Saylor, may have tried to befriend the two free-roaming pit bulls who instead made her the then-record seventh person killed by a dog in the single month of December 2017, and the sixth killed by a pit bull. At least one more fatality involving a pit bull occurred before the end of the month.
Lorraine Saylor “was out taking care of animals, and a very unfortunate set of circumstances happened and she lost her life,” Bell County coroner Jay Steele told WYMT television news.
“She worried more about neighbors and friends than she did herself, and [her husband] Johnny,” mauled in the same incident, “is the same way,” Steele added, as a personal friend of the victims. “They’re just a very giving couple,” Steele finished.
Victims from age 8 to 76
Two more people were killed in the U.S. by dogs––and more by pit bulls––in the single month of December 2017 than were killed between Lorraine Saylor’s birth in 1951 and when she started the first grade in 1957.
Among the other December 2017 victims were:
Korbin Michael Williams, 8, of Gaffney, South Carolina, killed on December 2 by two pit bulls and a German shepherd;
Emily Mae Colvin, 24, of Section, Alabama killed on December 7 by a neighbor’s five pit bulls;
Bill Deneke, 70, of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who died on December 8 of head injuries suffered when a pit bull knocked him down;
Dorothy Ford, 76, of Alsip, Illinois, killed on December 11 by her own pit bull;
Bethany Lynn Stephens, 22, killed on December 14 by her own two pit bulls in Goochland, Virginia; and
Carol Harris, 69, of Phoenix, Arizona, killed on December 20, 2017 by an Akita.
Deborah Onsurez, 56, of Modesto, California, killed on December 28, 2017 by a mixed pack including dogs of Doberman, pit bull, German shepherd, Labrador retriever, and Queensland heeler dominant characteristics.
(See Akita rescuer Carol Harris is record 5th fatality of 2017 by shelter dogs, Virginia pit bull fancier, 22, sets new record for pit bull deaths in one year, Emily Mae Colvin, 24, is record 35th U.S. pit bull fatality of 2017 and Mixed pack including pit bull, Doberman, GSD killed Deborah Onsurez)
2017 toll is still running
Lorraine Brock Saylor on Christmas Eve 2017 became also the then-record 37th person killed by a pit bull in the U.S. in one year, the then-record 38th person killed by a pit bull in one year in the U.S. and Canada combined, and the also then record 56th dog attack fatality, all breeds combined, in a single year.
The December 2017 dog attack and pit bull attack toll may still be running, as the lives of several other victims remain in danger.
For example, the life of a two-year-old who was mauled by a pit bull on December 23, 2017 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was apparently still at risk 10 days after a LifeFlight to the Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.
“The child is undergoing additional surgeries,” WKZO radio reported, “after the toddler was stabilized at Bronson Methodist Hospital. The child had been dropped off to be watched by a friend of the family and only left alone momentarily with the dog, when it attacked.”
What is responsible dog-keeping?
The underlying issue in both Arjay, Kentucky, and Kalamazoo, and in at least 678 other fatal and/or disfiguring dog attacks occurring in the U.S. and Canada in 2017, 589 of them (87%) by pit bulls, might be said to be “responsible dog ownership,” but not just taking responsibility for keeping dogs safely at home, feeding them properly, getting them sterilized and vaccinated, and not leaving them alone with small children.
Though these are all important considerations in keeping a dog, “responsible dog ownership” begins with choosing a dog in the first place who will not jeopardize the face, limbs, and life of other people, or pets, if something goes wrong––if, for example, the dog does escape to roam the neighborhood, or is left alone with a small child or another animal.
Johnny Dale Lankford
As coroner Steele mentioned, Lorraine and Johnny Saylor were well-known to their community for being responsible, caring citizens.
Johnny Dale Lankford, whose dogs killed Lorraine Saylor, was equally well-known to the Bell County Sheriff’s Department and other local law enforcement agencies, if not necessarily to the whole community, as a chronic offender.
If dog laws were rational, Johnny Dale Lankford should no more have been allowed to keep a dog––any dog, let alone two pit bulls––than he was allowed to keep firearms, as a felon convicted of multiple offenses on multiple occasions, some of them involving firearms.
Did sheriff know the pit bulls were at large?
“Authorities said Lankford was already behind bars at the Bell County Detention Center for a different incident that saw him charged with second degree assault, domestic violence and unlawful imprisonment on a $25,000 bond,” reported Madison Wade of WBIR TV News.
“Lankford now also faces charges of harboring a vicious animal.”
A spokesperson for the Bell County Sheriff’s Department told ANIMALS 24-7 on December 26, 2017 that “Both animals were secured during the arrest [of Lankford] and there were two other individuals present at the home,” who should have kept the pit bulls contained but evidently did not.
How the attack occurred
Meanwhile, explained Madison Wade, Johnny Saylor awakened on the morning of Christmas Eve morning, and went “looking for his wife who he said normally woke up before him. When he went out on his porch, he was suddenly attacked by the two pit bulls. The dogs grabbed him, trying to pull him to the ground by his arm,” inflicting more than 20 bites, causing multiple injuries, including a head injury, for which he later received hospital treatment.
“When Saylor’s brother,” who lived next door, “heard the commotion, he ran outside yelling at the dogs. The dogs let Johnny go, who ran into his house to grab a pistol. When he came outside, he shot one of the dogs in the chest as it lunged at him. The injured dog ran away. Johnny then went looking for his wife, finding her unresponsive on the ground. As he checked on her, the second pit bull stood a short distance away from him. Authorities said Johnny feared for his life, shooting and killing the dog.”
Lorraine Saylor was pronounced dead at the scene.
The pit bull who ran away returned to the scene on Christmas afternoon and “was put down by the Bell County Sheriff’s Department and Bell County Animal Shelter,” sheriff Mitch Williams announced via Facebook.
Lankford’s rap sheet
Among Johnny Dale Lankford’s priors, the Middlesboro Daily News on June 8, 2005 reported that he had been “charged with felony possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, first-degree possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) and use or possession of drug paraphernalia.”
On August 14, 2010 the Middlesboro Daily News mentioned that Lankford had been arrested again, “for assault, 4th degree (domestic violence) minor injury.”
On September 22, 2014 the Middlesboro Daily News noted that Lankford had been “indicted on second-degree trafficking of a controlled substance,” as one of eight suspects arrested in June 2014.
In December 2014 Lankford was arrested––for at least the second time––for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
In April 2016 Lankford was arrested on a warrant for violation of parole.
In June 2016 Lankford was arrested for “narcotics equipment possession and/or use, criminal mischief in the first degree, and alcohol intoxication in a public place (1st and 2nd offense.”
In October 2017 Lankford was arrested and released on posting bond of $500 cash on a charge of illegal possession of methamphetamine.
Posted pix of pits & a gamecock
Meanwhile, Lankford had posted multiple photos of his pit bulls to Facebook, along with an unexplained photo of a gamecock.
Possession of dogfighting and/or cockfighting paraphernalia can be federal offenses if the possessor is federally charged in connection with animal fighting. But Lankford was not. Absent a charge of animal fighting, possession of either pit bulls or gamecocks is not criminal offense.
Yet criminal charges should not be necessary to dissuade people of even an ordinary sense of social responsibility from keeping animals who might harm others, or others’ pets and livestock, or wildlife.
“Why pit bulls will break your heart”
While ANIMALS 24-7 was investigating Lorraine Saylor’s death, our social media editor, photographer, and collage artist Beth Clifton received a message from a reader in response to her article “Why pit bulls will break your heart,” originally posted in September 2014 and still the eighth most-read article among the 1,200 archived at our web site.
“Why pit bulls will break your heart” describes how Beth, then a veterinary technician and pit bull rescuer, who had been a police officer, animal control officer, and school teacher, came to reluctantly euthanize her three-legged pit bull Trooper, whom she had raised from puppyhood, when she realized that he would sooner or later kill another animal or a person, if ever allowed the chance.
(See Why pit bulls will break your heart, by Beth Clifton.)
Killed a small poodle
Explained the reader, “My pit bull just attacked and killed a small poodle, unprovoked. She was staying with my dad and he let her out, the leash snapped or broke, and she just went over to the dog and picked her up and shook her. I am completely devastated and heartbroken for the other dog’s family. Now I feel like I have a choice. Do I keep a dog who needs so much rehabilitation and care (we’ve had her for four years and she has always been dog reactive), or is keeping her irresponsible? I feel like I can’t keep her, but I can’t put her down. I don’t know what to do, and I am hoping to talk with someone who has been through this.”
Responded Beth, “As you read about Trooper, I hope that you could hear in my words and tone how much I loved and cared about him. But I firmly believed that he was not only capable of killing another animal, but would do it if he had the chance. I can tell you that euthanizing Trooper was a very difficult decision. Even just thinking about it was tough. Having a veterinarian come to my home to do the euthanasia was even tougher.
“Do the difficult & responsible thing”
“I don’t feel that you have any choice at this point, but to do the difficult and responsible thing and euthanize your dog. If you pass her off to someone else, you will likely be setting her up to end up at an animal control agency or secluded in a bedroom.
“I felt completely responsible for any and all things that could happen to Trooper, or someone else, if I passed off my responsibility. Your dog has already killed another dog. My feeling would be to protect her and all other animals from aggression that is based in genetics. Neither you nor your dog can change this behavior.
“I felt what I did was the responsible and compassionate thing, an act of love!
“I still cry”
“There are some,” Beth acknowledged, “who have found fault with my decision about Trooper, as well as many who understand and respect that decision.
“Remember that Trooper had never killed anything, but had participated in two accidental dog fights among other family pit bulls. I had seen his capabilities, even with three legs.
“Ask yourself this: can you guarantee that this won’t happen again, or that it won’t be a child next?
“I still cry,” Beth finished. “I said goodbye to Trooper in January 2014. That will be with me till the day I die, a small price to pay to keep all involved safe.
“Merritt and I wish you and your family peace and comfort and hope that you can find the strength to do the hard, but correct thing.”
We can avoid the pain
As a society we need to do that, too. If we can prevent the births of pit bulls by preventing any and all commerce in them, whether for fighting, guarding drugs, or on any other pretext, such as “rescuing” dogs who have already put others in need of rescue, we can avoid ever having to euthanize any.
We can avoid agonizing over what to do when pit bulls kill other animals, as more than 30,000 pit bulls per year have in recent years, and we can avoid the consequences of having ne’er-do-wells like Johnny Dale Lankford in possession of pit bulls, costing society the lives and contributions of people like Lorraine Brock Saylor.
Bill Brothers says
It’s so agonizing to read of the senseless and preventable death of Lorraine Brock Saylor and all the others who have been attacked, disfigured, or even killed by dogs, most notably pit bulls. I can imagine no worse experience than being torn apart by a vicious dog(s). The statistics make it impossible to justify the misguided defense of a particular breed that shows a tendency – whether by nature or by nurture – to attack,
Annoula Wylderich says
I work with dogs at our local shelter and am still hesitant to walk or socialize the pit bulls. Their sheer strength intimidates me and, I confess, frightens me. I have many friends who own pits and they will defend them to the end. However, I know just as many folks who have shared stories about pit bull attacks including one of those friends whose dog attacked and killed another. To be fair, I realize there are many variables such as ownership, circumstances, etc. However, upon conducting research, it’s impossible to ignore the information and statistics. The genetics, predisposition and history of this breed works against them and encourages dog fighters to choose them over other breeds and also contributes to more pit bulls being euthanized at shelters than any other large breed. For their own sake, as well as public and pet safety, the best solution might be to ban further breeding of these dogs.
Jamaka Petzak says
“…Though these are all important considerations in keeping a dog, “responsible dog ownership” begins with choosing a dog in the first place who will not jeopardize the face, limbs, and life of other people, or pets, if something goes wrong––if, for example, the dog does escape to roam the neighborhood, or is left alone with a small child or another animal.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. We need to END THIS. BSL globally. NOW.
Ann Bray says
The number of deaths in December is dizzying! Not the kind of records we want to break and we still have another week to go. It’s just crazy.
This is in response to the article written about putting your dog down. Beth, you did the most compassionate and right thing for your dog. In my humble opinion a dog that is animal or human aggressive is always just this side of catastrophe.
Can you imagine what it must feel like for a dog to go through it entire life losing its mind when ever it sees another animal or whatever their trigger is?
A responsible owner that is required to be hyper vigilant at all times to make sure the dog is not triggered. What kind of life is that for the dog or his human. Avoiding walks, parks, people, doorbells, divided households, dog rotations within a household, chaining, kenneling, etc…That is not a life. It a slow death for the animal.
You did the right thing. The logical thing. You did not project your human feelings onto your dog and because of the you did the only humane thing you could do.
These rescues that take any dog, no matter the issue and danger and throw them in a kennel for the remainder of their lives is like a jail/prison sentence. It’s canine jail/prison when you think about it.
You have a dog with an aggression problem so you do one of a few things. You try to rehab with a foster. It’s the equivalent of a human being released from jail on probation. The dog does great on probation so he is adopted out. At his new home he does great until he’s out for a walk with his human and sees another dog being walked and loses its mind, breaks away and kills the other dog. Back to the rescue he goes (probation violation).
Only this time he is transferred out of state because the rescue believes a change of scenery is in order. He is now integrated into the system of revolving rescues. He gets paroled, shows aggression and returned. Shuffled time after time. Until he sentenced to life without parole in some obscure place that believes in no kill. His life consists of a kennel. Cement floors. Empty except for water and food. Rec time and back in his cell. That’s no life for a dog. That is cruel. You did your dog a true caring kindness.
I once did something I never thought I would have to do. Fifteen years ago I sat with the decision that I would have to have my healthy Rottweiler Pit bull mix euthanized at four years of age.
The only word I could come up with is Unpredictable. She was sweet, never aggressive with us..but she was just scary with others.. Too scary.
Unlike Beth, I was most comfortable with asking a Vet to come to my house. I had asked for a prescription of Valium..for the dog to calm her down but in reality it was I who needed the Valium. When the time came. I have never felt so much like a murderer in my life…
But….you must do it.
Elizabeth Clifton says
Su I wanted to respond to your comment and let you know that I understand how difficult this was for both you and your very loved dog! In the end and as tough as it was, we acted out of love and compassion for all involved. I believe that I (and you) will always feel sadness about it, but we know we did the right and responsible thing. I actually did have a veterinarian come to my home to euthanize Trooper. And even with that, it was a difficult event to go through. I stood by him, loved him, cared for him until the very end. He was buried in my yard with his littermate Sarah’s ashes.