No more “Don’t ask, don’t tell” for pit bulls
RICHMOND, Virginia––The era of shelters and rescues concealing dog attack history from prospective adopters is over, says the Virginia state legislature, effective July 1, 2018.
But the widespread practice of hiding dogs’ violent histories cost Virginia Beach resident Margaret M. Colvin her life on June 1, 2017. Many other Virginians have suffered severe injuries or have lost pets to rehomed dogs, mostly pit bulls, whose bite histories were not disclosed.
Virginia SB 571, passed on March 30 2018, adds to the existing state animal care and control statutes a requirement that the bite histories of impounded or owner-surrendered dogs must be investigated, and must be disclosed to prospective adopters.
Specifically, SB 571 states, “Any custodian of a releasing agency, animal control officer, law enforcement officer, or humane investigator, upon taking custody of any dog or cat in the course of his official duties, shall ask and document whether, if known, the dog or cat has bitten a person or other animal and the circumstances and date of such bite.”
First U.S. state to require rehomers to tell the truth
While this would appear to be a routine and “common sense” procedure, Virginia appears to be the first U.S. state to require it.
Continues SB 571, “ Any custodian of a releasing agency, animal control officer, law enforcement officer, or humane investigator, upon release of a dog or cat for adoption, return to a rightful owner, or transfer to another agency, shall disclose, if known, that the dog or cat has bitten a person or other animal and the circumstances and date of such bite.”
SB 571 concludes by stipulating that “Violation of this section is a Class 3 misdemeanor.”
This makes Virginia the first state to both require animal adoption agencies to disclose bite history to prospective adopters, and criminalize withholding bite history.
New law responds to Margaret Colvin death
SB 571 responds specifically to the fatal mauling of Margaret M. Colvin by a pit bull named Blue, just six hours after Forever Home Rescue & Rehabilitation delivered him to her daughter Linda Colvin Patterson.
Surrendered to the New York City Animal Care Centers’ Manhattan shelter in December 2016 after biting a child, Blue was in custody of at least five other rescue organizations before Forever Home Rescue & Rehabilitation rehomed him on April 22, 2017 to Tia Walke of Virginia Beach.
Walke returned Blue to Forever Home Rescue & Rehabilitation due to aggressive behavior just two days later, she told Aliah Hordges of WTKR News 3.
None of this was disclosed to the Colvin family, Linda Colvin Patterson contends in a lawsuit filed against Forever Home Rescue & Rehabilitation, seeking $5 million in damages.
The death of Margaret Colvin was hardly an isolated incident.
$3.5 million lawsuit vs. Fairfax County
Fairfax County, Virginia resident Barry McCabe on May 15, 2018 sued the Fairfax County Animal Shelter for compensatory damages of “not less than $2.5 million,” plus punitive damages of “not less than $1 million” for a pit bull attack that on June 30, 2016 killed McCabe’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel Kaiser, and left McCabe himself with “lacerations, bite wounds, and injuries to his hands, arms, shoulder, back, and spinal region.”
According to the lawsuit, “McCabe’s recovery includes shoulder reconstruction surgery and rehabilitation, more than 200 chiropractic visits, and seven epidurals for his spinal injuries.”
The pit bull who killed Kaiser and injured McCabe, McCabe alleges, “was transferred to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter from another Virginia public animal shelter, Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center, located in Augusta County, Virginia.”
Rehomed pit bull killed cat
This was after the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center “adopted Odin to his first known owner. Odin attacked and killed a family cat” within hours, and was returned to the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center the next day.
The Fairfax County Animal Shelter “was aware of Odin’s violent history and still accepted Odin into their custody,” the McCabe lawsuit says.
The Fairfax County Animal Shelter rehomed Odin to persons who returned him because “the pit bull constantly escaped his chain tethering, jumped over their property’ s six-foot fence, and was returned home by local police,” recounts the lawsuit.
“The next owner to adopt Odin returned the pit bull to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter because she feared for her life,” charges the McCabe lawsuit.
Shelter allegedly “destroyed paperwork”
This person demanded “owner requested euthanasia” service, the lawsuit states, which according to Fairfax County Animal Shelter policy was to be provided if an animal’s “temperament, behavior in the shelter or behavior history, or medical condition makes [the animal] unable to be placed for adoption or sent to rescue.”
The Fairfax County Animal Shelter “intentionally disregarded Owner #3’s demand and destroyed paperwork completed by Owner #3 to prevent Odin’s euthanasia,” the McCabe lawsuit alleges, adding that “Odin also attacked another dog while in custody” of the county shelter.
During two behavioral evaluations, the lawsuit states, Fairfax County Animal shelter staff “explicitly noted Odin’s tendency to attack smaller animals and Odin’s aggressiveness”; “deliberately withheld information related to Odin’s aggression and biting from the public and from those who sought to adopt [him]; and changed the information, including breed, name, and historical information, of Odin to disconnect Odin,” eventually also known as Maple and Tank, “from his past behavior and to encourage his adoption.”
Eventually, the McCabe lawsuit alleges, the Fairfax County Animal Shelter rehomed Odin yet again to the person who had him when he killed Kaiser and injured McCabe.
Shelter director favored withholding info
Then-Fairfax County Animal Shelter director Kristen Auerbach had on February 18, 2016 published an article on the web site of the pro-pit bull Animal Farm Foundation arguing that animal shelters should withhold information about potentially dangerous dogs from prospective adopters until after they become seriously interested in a dog.
Boasting on her resumé of having “helped overturn pit bull adoption restrictions,” Auerbach went on to become deputy chief animal services officer at the Austin Animal Center, in Austin, Texas, where her “playgroups” led to repeated maulings of other dogs by impounded pit bulls, and a 35% rise in dog attacks in the community since 2011 appeared to accelerate.
Auerbach in September 2017 moved on to become adoption coordinator at the Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson, where identifying dogs by breed was stopped just before her arrival.