“Hot-dogging” headlines amplify claims of pit bull advocates
ARDMORE, Oklahoma––Killed by a pit bull and a pack of pit mixes on the evening of May 10, 2018, Tracy Janine Garcia, 52, had by May 16, 2018 passed into legend via “hot-dogging” and flagrantly inaccurate tabloid headlines as the purported victim of an attack by dachshunds.
Though the circumstances of the fatal attack near Ardmore, in rural Carter County, Oklahoma, are still unclear, Garcia was mauled outside her home by seven allegedly neglected and mostly pit dogs belonging to an unidentified neighbor, with little trace of any dachshund ancestry evident among them.
The very short legs of some of the dogs, shown in photos of their remains, in combination with their erect, pointed ears and long, sloped muzzles, are characteristic of bull terriers, the smallest common pit bull body type.
The dogs’ reported weights, said to be all under 40 pounds––though the pit appeared to be bigger––were within the normal range for fighting bull terriers, but up to twice the size of most dachshunds.
Nonetheless, bannered The Sun, of London, England, “Sausage dogs maul mum-of-two to death at Oklahoma home.”
Elaborated the Daily Mail, also of London, “Oklahoma woman dies after being mauled by flea-infested dachshunds.”
Not to be topped, The Mirror of London screamed “Mum-of-two mauled to death by pack of vicious DACHSHUNDS that had legs shorter than an adult human’s hand.”
Said the New York Post, “Pack of wiener dogs mauls woman to death.”
Upstaged Gulfport pit bull fatality
The tabloid claims upstaged coverage of the May 16, 2018 death of Georgia Ruth Morgan, 76, killed by two pit bulls in Gulfport, Mississippi while collecting cans and bottles to raise funds for her church. Morgan was the ninth person to be killed by a pit bull in the U.S. this year.
Emily Craft, 32, whose pit bulls killed Morgan, was arrested “on an outstanding warrant on charges of having a dog at large and having a vicious animal after an incident last summer where her dogs got into a neighbor’s yard,” reported Wesley Muller, John Fitzhugh, and Anita Lee of the Biloxi Sun-Herald.
“Fake news” or just sloppy reporting?
How the pit bull and pit mixes who killed Tracy Garcia meanwhile metamorphized over less than a week’s time into “sausage dogs,” “dachshunds,” or “wiener dogs” might represent a study in the manufacture of “fake news”––or just a series of reporting errors breathlessly amplified by social media and picked up by the tabloids with insufficient attention to accurately identifying sources with possible conflicts of interest and verifying claims.
Reporting errors began with the earliest published account reaching ANIMALS 24-7, by Andrew Freeman of KXII television in Texoma, Oklahoma.
Broadcast Freeman, at 10:04 a.m. on May 11, 2018, “The shelter that later received the dogs identified one as a collie mix, the other dachshund mixes, none weighing more than forty pounds.”
What was missed
What Freeman did not mention, and apparently did not realize, is that the Ardmore Animal Shelter did not receive the dogs alive, did not euthanize them, and––most important––did not perform the veterinary identification, which had already been done before the remains were transported to the Ardmore Animal Shelter as evidence and for eventual disposal.
Clarified Ari James of The Ardmorite at 11:31 a.m., also on May 11, 2018, “All seven of the dogs involved were rounded up by Ardmore police department’s animal control officers. According to Ardmore Police Department records, the animals were taken to Westwood Veterinary Hospital, then were delivered deceased later to the Ardmore Animal Shelter.”
DVM: pit bull & four pit-mix pups
Stated Westwood Veterinary Hospital senior veterinarian C. Douglas Aldridge, DVM, via Facebook on May 15, 2018, after controversy over the dogs’ identities arose, “The dogs appeared to me to be a pit bull and four pit bull mix puppies. Who knows what the female was?” Aldridge said of the one dog whose ancestry appeared to be uncertain. “She looked to me like an Australian shepherd mixed with something with short legs.”
Aldridge, a 1987 graduate of Oklahoma State University, “has practiced at Westwood Veterinary Hospital since graduating,” according to the animal hospital web site, “is actively involved in the Oklahoma State Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association,” and has “also served on the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission.”
But as of mid-morning on May 11, “The veterinarian was not available yet for comment,” James wrote.
Quotes from pit bull advocate
In absence of input from Aldridge, Ardmore Animal Shelter co-director Tena Layton––herself owner of multiple pit bulls, according to Facebook postings––suggested that “All of the animals appeared to be a mix of dachshund and some sort of terrier. The oldest of the dogs was reportedly slightly larger,” James reported, “and could have been mixed with border collie or similar.
“None of the dogs had legs longer than an adult’s hand per photos retained by the shelter,” James continued. “All seven animals were heavily infested with fleas and ticks, Layton said. It is unclear at this time whether the animals suffered any other illnesses. The animals are currently being held at the shelter pending release for cremation.”
Layton’s statements appear to have been the über source for the tabloid headlines, but they were not supported by the photos.
Sheriff: “One of the dogs was a pit bull.”
While one image showed that one dog’s foreleg was shorter than a human hand wearing a latex glove, all of the dogs’ legs were longer than the widest “plank” in the imitation “random plank” wall paneling behind them, which would be seven to nine inches wide in a standard nine-groove pattern.
Carter County sheriff Chris Bryant told McKenna Eubank of KTEN News in Texoma that “one of the dogs was a pit bull; the others were medium-sized dogs of other breeds, all with the same owner.”
That account aired at 2:59 p.m. on May 11, 2018.
Confirmed pit, then changed mind?
At 4:51 p.m., also on May 11, Today In Fort Smith reported that “Carter County, Oklahoma Sheriff Chris Bryant has confirmed that one of the dogs involved in the mauling death of an Ardmore-area woman last night was a pit bull.”
Three days later, however, reported Colton Thompson of KTEN News on May 14, 2018, “Sheriff Chris Bryant said all seven dogs involved in the attack were mixed breeds, and all were under 40 pounds. The initial report that a pit bull was among the dogs was inaccurate, he said.”
Pit breeder’s wife says “standard dachshunds”
Crystal Martinez of KXII later on May 14, 2018 extensively quoted a second Ardmore Animal Shelter source arguing that the dogs were not pit bulls or pit mixes: euthanasia technician Amanda Dinwiddie.
Her husband John Dinwiddie advertised nine pit bull puppies for sale via Facebook in April 2014, and in August 2014 showed off a pit bull the Dinwiddies had “rescued.”
Claimed Dinwiddie, “A predominant breed in these dogs is definitely standard dachshund. They have really noticeable characteristics like their knobby legs, knees, very short legged dogs, and their coats.”
But none of the dogs had standard dachshund coloration, muzzles, or ears.
And Westwood Veterinary Hospital vet Aldridge had not changed his mind, as his May 15, 2018 Facebook posting clarified, despite receiving a storm of protest from pit bull advocates about his breed identifications.
Aldridge, however, had little chance of being heard above the growing Facebook frenzy from pit bull advocates about the purported dachshund attack, which supposedly showed that any dog can kill.
Regardless of any subsequent clarifications and corrections that any media may publish, the pit bull mauling death of Tracy Janine Garcia appears likely to be misremembered in urban legend as a dachshund death.
The “Pomeranian” who wasn’t
The misidentification of the dogs in media statements by two Ardmore Animal Shelter employees who are also pit bull enthusiasts, amplified by tabloid media, will echo for years alongside claims about the purported fatal mauling of a six-week-old girl by an alleged “Pomeranian” in Valinda, California on October 8, 2000.
Indeed, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and local media initially misidentified that dog as a Pomeranian, despite an uncle’s statement, reported by both the Los Angeles Daily News and the San Diego Union-Tribune, that he went to get a bottle for the baby, and returned to find the baby’s head in the dog’s mouth. The baby reportedly died from severe head trauma and possibly a broken neck.
A Pomeranian, who stands only seven to eight inches in total height, does not have a mouth big enough to hold a six-week-old baby’s head, or to shake the baby by the head.
Photos later revealed that the dog was substantially larger than a Pomeranian, and resembled a Jackaranian, a cross of Pomeranian with Jack Russell terrier that typically runs more than twice the size of a purebred Pomeranian.
While Jack Russells are also small dogs, they have killed two other infants in the U.S. and one in the United Kingdom since 1982.
Snopes vs. #PitbullDropOff
Misrepresentation of the dogs who killed Tracy Garcia meanwhile vied for social media notice with #PitbullDropOff, an outright hoax alleging that pit bull victim advocates are adopting pit bulls from animal shelters and then surrendering them to shelters in locations with pit bull bans, such as Miami, Denver, and the Canadian province of Ontario, to ensure the pit bulls will be euthanized.
Reported Snopes, a fact-checking web site operating since 1994, which has editorially opposed the Ontario pit bull ban, “The #PitbullDropOff hashtag and related claims of mass dog killing stem from a sophomoric troll attempt with origins in 4chan, an anonymous message board that unites trolls, ‘incels,’ and neo-Nazis together in their shared contempt for human decency.
“Don’t feed the trolls”
“In mid-May 2018,” recounted Snopes, “the hashtag #PitbullDropOff began to gain traction on social media. A typical post involves a picture of cute pit bull terrier-type puppies and a message that the person who took the picture adopted them for the express purpose of euthanizing them to get them off the streets.”
After extensive investigation, concluded Snopes, “We can say with confidence that the current viral #PitbullDropOff trend on social media is a hoax orchestrated by anonymous hoaxsters using unrelated photographs, fake context, and a characteristic reliance on racism and misogyny. Don’t feed the trolls,” Snopes advised, by reacting to the nonsense.