Why were the victims & the killer dogs in the same homes?
LAS VEGAS, Nevada; CLEARWATER, Florida––Pit bull mixes were on October 5, 2018 disclosed to have killed 58-year-old Susan Sweeney of Las Vegas four days earlier, and seven-month-old foster child Khloe Williams that afternoon in Clearwater, Florida, under circumstances in each case suggesting significant dereliction of duty on the part of the agencies supposed to have kept the victims safe.
Public contracts pay nonprofits big $$
Both the Animal Foundation of Nevada, which rehomed the killer dog in Las Vegas, and Eckerd Connects, which oversees child fostering in Pinellas County, Florida, are nonprofit organizations performing public safety functions under contract to local government.
The Animal Foundation of Nevada, with 2016 income of just over $12 million, paid executive director Christine Robinson $194,000, according to the most recent available Animal Foundation filing of IRS Form 990.
Eckerd Connects, with 2016 income of $216 million, paid executive director David Dennis total compensation of $704,042, according to IRS Form 990.
“Deepest soul mate”
“Love your family as hard and as long as you can ever imagine,” advised Las Vegas Hilton room chef Patrick Sweeney on October 5, 2018, posting to Facebook for the first time in a week.
“I am so sad and broken inside over the loss of my sweet gorgeous wife of 26 years,” Sweeney continued. “Susie is truly my deepest soul mate yet so much more than words can say. A lifetime of love, happiness and joy we shared together with the most grateful gift of two amazing boys Brandon and Dylan.”
Sweeney posted his message two hours before Las Vegas electronic media belatedly broke the news that on October 1, 2018, as Fox 5 television reporter Jennifer Hurtado phrased it, “Officers were dispatched after a man found the body of his wife in the home, police said. He told police he believed the dog may have killed her.”
“Anyone out there know anything about them?”
On September 27, 2018, Sweeney in his most recent previous Facebook message posted two shelter photos of the dog involved, writing “I’m getting this beautiful three-year-old mastiff/brindle mix at 83 pounds tomorrow morning from the shelter.
“Question is, never had this breed before so anyone out there know anything about them? Please share. He is so nice and bonded with him when I saw him. Hoping he is great for indoors and not tearing everything up. Going to take him for walks in the mountains, parks, the lake and around the neighborhood. He will get his exercise lol. If anyone knows their ins and outs, please share, so I know how to train.”
Elaborated Katherine Jarvis of KNTV, “City of Las Vegas Animal Control confirms the dog involved was a mastiff/Presa Canario mix breed that was adopted from the Animal Foundation. The dog has since been euthanized at the Animal Foundation at the request of the woman’s husband.
“Behavior was assessed”
“According to Animal Control,” Jarvis said, “the dog’s behavior was assessed before it was adopted.”
Why the Animal Foundation of Nevada rehomed a Presa Canario, or any pit bull or mastiff variant, to an individual who had no experience with the breed(s) is a question which the organization may well have to answer in court.
A Presa Canario is a variable mix of pit bull and mastiff which for all practical purposes is the same dog as a bull mastiff, though fanciers of either Presa Canarios or bull mastiffs insist that there is a distinction.
The brindle coloration suggests that the dog in the Las Vegas fatality may have been more pit bull than mastiff, but the size of the dog indicates substantial mastiff heritage.
Echoes of murder-by-dog case
Susan Sweeney was the 20th American to be killed by a Presa Canario or bull mastiff in the U.S. since 1982. The best-known victim was San Francisco coach and athlete Diane Whipple, killed at her apartment door in January 2001 by two Presa Canarios belonging to lawyers Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel.
Knoller was convicted by jury of second degree murder. The California First District Court of Appeal in August 2010 and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2016 both upheld her sentence of 15-years-to-life. Her husband and law partner Robert Noel was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, served four years in prison, and was released. Knoller at last report remains incarcerated.
23rd U.S. shelter/rescue to rehome a killer dog since 2010
Sweeney’s death made the Animal Foundation of Nevada at least the 23rd U.S. animal shelter or rescue organization since 2010 to rehome a dog who went on to kill someone, after only five shelters had claimed that dubious distinction from 1858 through 2009.
Several shelters and rescues have rehomed multiple dogs to “forever homes” with the people they killed, including New York City Animal Care & Control, which has rehomed three dogs who were subsequently involved in human fatalities, but relayed two of the three dogs back to the public through partner nonprofit rescues.
Altogether, 45 dogs rehomed by U.S. shelters and rescues have participated in killing people since 2010, including an Akita, a husky, three Rottweilers, seven bull mastiffs or Presa Canarios, and 33 pit bulls.
The Animal Foundation of Nevada has had a problematic history for other reasons. Opening the Lied Animal Shelter in 2001 to accommodate handling the city of Las Vegas animal control contract, the Animal Foundation almost immediately came under intensive criticism for purportedly killing incoming animals too quickly, after an incident in which a child’s dog was euthanized by accident.
The shelter was expanded two years later to also hold animals impounded from Clark County, surrounding Las Vegas, but overcrowding soon become an ongoing issue, as the Animal Foundation sought to go “no kill.”
Worst-ever shelter disease outbreak
The overcrowding in February 2007 brought about the worst shelter disease outbreak on record. By the time outside personnel were brought in to assist in euthanizing more than 1,000 of the 1,800 animals in custody, about 150 of the animals were actively ill.
About 850 animals were believed to have been exposed to highly contagious illnesses. Both parvovirus and distemper afflicted the dogs, while cats were suffering from both panleukopenia and a bacterial infection never previously found in shelters that caused a fatal hemorrhagic pneumonia.
Present Animal Foundation executive director Christine Robinson joined the organization during the 2007 emergency.
Falsehoods claimed to push pit bull adoptions
On Robinson’s watch, the Animal Foundation of Nevada has posted two web pages promoting pit bull adoptions which open with demonstrable fiction.
One page falsely alleges that the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary “took the 22 most traumatized dogs” from the 2007 Michael Vick dogfighting case “and gave them the training, veterinary care, and the in-depth emotional support they needed…to find homes, many in families with children and other dogs.”
Trainer Liz Marsden, who handled the Michael Vick dogs for the impounding agency, the Washington Animal Rescue League, exploded that myth in Pit bull wisdom & dog pound foolishness.
Slave-hunting history misrepresented
The first sentence of the second Animal Foundation of Nevada page promoting pit bulls argues that “Pit bull terriers have been in this country and a popular pet since before the Civil War.”
The historical record demonstrates that far from having been pets, the pit bulls in the U.S. before the Civil War were kept almost entirely for hunting and dismembering runaway slaves and for dogfighting.
Data belies claim
The next sentence of the same Animal Foundation of Nevada pit bull promotion asserts that “pit bull terriers were even more popular in the early 1900s when they were the closest thing the United States had to a national dog.”
In truth, under 1% of the newspaper classified ads offering dogs for sale then, or at any time before 1980, offered pit bulls by all of their common names combined––and those ads that did offer pit bulls, including those of John P. Colby, who named and popularized the Staffordshire line, made much of their fighting records.
Recites Sergeant Stubby myth
Incidentally, the Boston Globe on December 29, 1906 reported that police shot one of Colby’s pit bulls, who mauled a boy while a girl escaped.
On February 2, 1909 the Globe described how one of Colby’s dogs killed Colby’s two-year-old nephew, Bert Colby Leadbetter.
The fourth sentence of the second Animal Foundation of Nevada pit bull promo page alleges that “One of the earliest and most famous pit bull terriers was Sgt. Stubby,” whose taxidermically mounted remains at the Smithsonian Institution confirm him to have been a Boston terrier, and whose actual record of service in World War I the Animal Foundation of Nevada conflates with the record of the entire U.S. 26th Division––a mistake many others have made.
(See Hitler’s pit bull for details.)
Victim’s foster parent was a cop
The Susan Sweeney death had barely reached national news feeds before being pre-empted by the first reports out of Clearwater about the fatal mauling of seven-month-old Khloe Williams by a pit bull mix described in most early mentions as just a “mixed breed dog,” despite photos showing distinctive pit bull traits.
Later coverage clarified that the dog was a pit mix, adopted from Pinellas County Animal Services seven months before. This made Pinellas County Animal Services at least the 24th shelter or rescue to rehome a killer dog since 2010.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the case, revealed Jordan Bowen of FOX 13 News, was that “A Clearwater Police Department detective,” Jonathan Maser, “was the licensed foster parent” for Williams.
Added Bowen, “Eckerd Connects, the agency that oversees the foster system in Pinellas County, said Khloe was placed in the licensed foster home by an organization called A Door of Hope on May 15.”
“Not even big enough to walk or crawl”
Continued Bowen, “The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said investigators from the Child Protection Investigation Division would investigate the incident alongside Clearwater police.”
Yet to be seen is whether the investigation will inquire adequately into the presence of the pit bull, whose existence was unknown to the victim’s biological mother, Shavon Grossman. Grossman told media that she had visited Khloe in the house where she was killed only two hours before the attack, and had looked forward to taking Khloe home on their scheduled reunion date, October 9, 2018.
“She’s not even big enough to walk or crawl or anything, to even be able to mess with a dog. I don’t understand how she was even around a dog that could do this,” Grossman wept.