Who named the pit bull Faust, and why?
ST. LOUIS, Missouri––Faust in German legend was an alchemist, sorcerer, and perhaps even a necromancer, meaning one who consorts with the dead, who sold his soul to the devil for the secret of transforming “base” metals into gold.
The much more complex Faust of many literary renditions––who even appears in Grimm’s Fairy Tales––may more closely parallel the actual life and character of Dr. Johann Georg Faust, 1480-1540, who reputedly sought a libertarian mix of unlimited knowledge with worldly pleasure.
But the best-known Faust today in the German-settled city of St. Louis, Missouri, is Faust the six-year-old female pit bull.
From golden goose to albatross
Who named Faust the pit bull, when and why, is unclear, but she may have been named after Faust Park, west of St. Louis in St. Louis County.
For a weekend, anyhow, Faust showed promise of becoming a “golden goose” for Stray Rescue of St. Louis.
Since then, Faust may have become more of an albatross around the necks of practically everyone who had anything to do with her.
Faust was briefly the celebrity suffering dog of the post-winter holidays fundraising slow season, her story amplified on social media worldwide.
Some Stray Rescue of St. Louis volunteers have indicated in social media postings that Faust was rehomed several years ago to a negligent owner, but what agency rehomed her, and why she was not reclaimed, when she was apparently abandoned to roam the streets is also unclear.
“Pick up your dog!”
Video has surfaced purportedly showing Faust in late January or early February 2019, wandering in an alley, wobbly in the hindquarters and displaying other neurological symptoms, nibbling tossed bits of kibble.
Faust at that time was said to have been fed by Stray Rescue of St. Louis volunteers. Yet, though Faust was apparently known to have been abandoned, the volunteers did not take her into the Stray Rescue of St. Louis shelter and fostering program.
Stray Rescue of St. Louis volunteer Scott Bouchard later claimed to have found Faust at large and to have returned her to an unidentified owner circa February 1, 2019.
About a week later, on February 8, 2019, Faust was found frozen in a gutter by a mail carrier, reportedly with a body temperature initially too low to measure.
Picked up then by Stray Rescue of St. Louis personnel and transported to Veterinary Specialty Services of St. Louis for treatment, Faust is said to have shown some signs of possibly recovering from her ordeal.
Faust bit a vet tech
On February 11, 2019, however, Faust bit a female veterinary technician, inflicting a bleeding wound.
The bite was reported, as required by Missouri state law, to St. Louis County Animal Care & Control.
St. Louis County Animal Care & Control, also as required by law, immediately impounded Faust for observation.
“She was euthanized within six hours after being picked up by county animal control,” summarized Andy Banker of Fox 2 News. “Faust couldn’t lift herself up, she was unable to walk, she swayed back and forth, and she had inappropriate neurological responses to stimuli, all signs she may have had rabies.”
Rabies is for all practical purposes 100% fatal, continuing to kill several thousand people per year worldwide, including some in the U.S., even though rabies is also 100% preventable with pre-exposure vaccination and boosters at appropriate intervals.
The few known human survivors of rabies were all in their early teens, and were all treated using the “Wisconsin protocol,” meaning that they spent a prolonged time in an artificially induced coma while their rabid symptoms were treated. The “Wisconsin protocol” has not saved older and younger victims.
Rabies infections in humans who have been bitten by rabid animals can usually be prevented with very prompt administration of post-exposure treatment. In the U.S. this consists of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of a post-exposure rabies vaccine, given over a 14-day interval.
The window of opportunity for beginning post-exposure treatment, however, is a matter of only hours to days, depending mostly on what part of the victim’s body was bitten by an infected animal and how soon the infection reaches the victim’s brain.
Rabies from a facial bite will reach the brain quickly. Someone bitten on the foot will have longer to seek and obtain treatment. Someone bitten on the right hand will have a little more time than someone bitten on the left hand, but no one bitten anywhere can safely take more time than is necessary.
The vet tech whom Faust bit received immediate post-rabies exposure treatment, but that alone was not enough to ensure the safety of everyone else who might have had dealings with Faust.
Further, if Faust was rabid, she would have sooner or later experienced an extremely painful death, resembling going into rigor mortis while still alive. Administering humane euthanasia then would have been extremely difficult and dangerous.
“Veterinarians at St. Louis County Animal Care & Control then consulted with Missouri state public health veterinarian Howard L. Pue,” a vet of 40 years’ experience, “who agreed with their assessment. According to state protocol, Faust was euthanized.”
The Missouri state protocol is precisely as recommended by the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention & Control, published and frequently updated by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, under chapters 5, “Postexposure management,” and 6, “Management of animals that bite humans.”
The bottom line is that if the vaccination status of an animal exhibiting rabid symptoms is unknown, “Any stray or unwanted dog, cat, or ferret that exposes a person may be euthanized immediately, and the head or entire brain (including brainstem) should be submitted for testing.”
Faust tested negative for rabies, but that in no way invalidated the reasons for having euthanized her to do negribody fluoroscopy on her remains.
Dogs are among the five species common to North America, including also bats, foxes, skunks, and raccoons, who may be infected with rabies and may infect others through a bite or any other transmission of saliva, for weeks or in rare cases, even months, before displaying obvious symptoms.
Rabies without evident symptoms is called “dumb rabies,” and is the most common form in dogs. Typically the infected dog will gradually develop weakness in the hindquarters, a wobbly walk, lethargic behavior, fever, and have difficulty swallowing, drooling excessively for several hours before going into the frothing-at-the-mouth “furious” form of rabies that precedes paralysis and death.
But not all rabid dogs develop the whole suite of symptoms in the “dumb rabies” phase.
“Dumb rabies” symptoms can develop in humans and animals suffering from hypothermia, as Stray Rescue of St. Louis founder Randy Grim and other critics of the St. Louis County Animal Care & Control decision to euthanize Faust often mentioned in ensuing days.
“Dumb rabies” & hypothermia
But a dog who is already suffering from “dumb rabies” is also much more likely to become hypothermic. An abnormally lethargic dog, in particular, is less likely to seek shelter from adverse weather, and less likely to just keep moving to stay warm.
Where Faust was found, in a gutter, was not at all a place where healthy, unrestrained dogs would choose to lie on a cold night.
St. Louis temperatures in the week before Faust was found had averaged between 26 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit, according to readings posted by the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport: well below freezing, but above the level (20 degrees and below) at which most healthy dogs may become hypothermic.
Stray Rescue of St. Louis veterinarian Sarah Frei told media that Faust was improving under care at Veterinary Specialty Services, not further deteriorating as an animal with rabies would.
Yet hypothermia, by slowing an animal’s circulation, can temporarily retard the advance of rabies, so that the victim animal may show indications of recovery from hypothermia before unambiguous signs of rabies develop.
Canine rabies reservoirs
Endemic canine rabies was eradicated from the U.S. before 2000, through more than 50 years of intensive effort to make canine vaccination against rabies nearly universal, building on about 150 years of effort, formally beginning circa 1855, to eradicate the free-roaming feral dog populations which had been the U.S. canine rabies reservoir.
But eradicating native reservoirs of canine rabies hardly made the U.S. completely rabies-safe. Despite rabies vaccination certification requirements for imported dogs, several rabid dogs per year still arrive in the U.S. from rabies-endemic foreign nations, either because the vaccinations failed (most often through failure to keep the vaccines cold before administration), the vaccinations were given to the dogs when they were still too young to develop an effective immune response, or the vaccination certificates were forged.
Wildlife & cats
In addition, dogs in the U.S. may still contract rabies through contact with rabid wildlife. In May 2018, for example, the Cleburne Animal Shelter in Cleburne, Texas, received a found litter of five rabid Lab/German shepherd puppies whose exposure was believed to have come through wildlife. Two of the puppies were adopted out and two others sent to rescues for rehoming before their rabid symptoms were recognized.
In May 2016, almost two years to the day before the Texas case, a litter of rabid puppies was discovered near West Plains, Missouri, 205 miles south of St. Louis. Five puppies and three unvaccinated adult dogs were euthanized, while 32 people who had handled the dogs required post-exposure treatment.
Cats can also become infected by wildlife, and/or through failures of vaccination protocol, but cats are not an endemic rabies host, do not tend to have a long “dumb rabies” phase, and usually die soon after becoming infected, rather than passing rabies on to victims who are unaware of their potential exposure.
Front line educators
Animal shelter senior personnel, along with veterinarians and animal control personnel, are usually among the front line public health educators about rabies.
Faust, because of her short-term media celebrity, gave Stray Rescue of St. Louis an excellent opportunity to do appropriate public education, in partnership with Veterinary Specialty Services and St. Louis County Animal Care & Control.
Instead, Stray Rescue of St. Louis founder Randy Grim and a large cadre of volunteers, donors, staff, and sympathizers seized the opportunity to bash Veterinary Specialty Services and St. Louis County Animal Care & Control, and to misinform the public about rabies risk and the appropriate response to potential rabies exposure, taking much the same tone as anti-vaxxers campaigning against vaccination to prevent measles and influenza outbreaks.
Summarized the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “‘Faust was treated like her life didn’t matter and they killed her,’ read the introduction to a video that Grim posted on social media. Grim said that his group would no longer be using the [Veterinary Specialty Services] vet offices in Manchester, and that the company would be feeling the impact by losing about $1 million annually.”
Indeed Stray Rescue of St. Louis, handling more than 2,400 dogs and about 240 cats per year according to the Stray Rescue web site, appears to spend a lot of money on veterinary care: $1,032,604 on 436 “life-saving surgeries” in 2017, $544,750 on 2,179 spay/neuter surgeries, and $1,032604 on treating 367 heartworm cases.
Stray Rescue of St. Louis paid an average of $250 per spay/neuter surgery, somewhat more than the current average shelter expenditure for s/n, and paid $3,109 per heartworm case, more than triple the average treatment cost of $400 to $1,000 estimated by the American Animal Hospital Association.
As a no-kill organization more-or-less specializing in pit bulls, however, Stray Rescue of St. Louis may treat many dogs that most shelters would euthanize.
Grim urged followers to complain
“Grim urged followers to complain to the county and vet office,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch continued. “‘It could be your dog next,’ he said in the video. He said he was upset that the county described as an ‘act of mercy’ the decision to euthanize the dog. Grim said it should have been Stray Rescue’s decision to make.”
Missouri state law, however, specifically allocates to St. Louis County Animal Care & Control “upon receipt of an incident report where an animal bites or otherwise possibly transmits rabies or any zoonotic disease,” the decision “to order the animal quarantined, isolated, impounded, tested, immunized or disposed of.”
Alleged Grim, “They had their finger on the trigger the minute Faust was carried in.”
“It breaks our hearts”
Responded Veterinary Specialty Services, also without doing much rabies educating, “It is true that while providing care to a patient who was brought to us by a rescue group, one of our technicians was bitten. Though it breaks our hearts, we are required by Missouri state regulations to file a report of any bite with St. Louis County Health Department. In this case we also immediately notified the rescue group of the situation.
“Following the report, St. Louis County Animal Care & Control took custody of the patient from our clinic. It is our understanding that the St. Louis County Health Department made the difficult decision to euthanize the patient per Missouri law. Everyone is saddened by this outcome.”
Said acting St. Louis County Public Health Department director Spring Schmidt to KTVI television news, only doing a little bit of rabies educating, “It’s not that we don’t understand how heartbreaking this is, because we do. And there are circumstances that could be different if there hadn’t been the bite that broke the skin, if her neurological condition had not been so severe.”
Missouri Veterinary Medical Association
After more than 500 people responded to Grim’s statements on social media, some criticizing his attack on Veterinary Specialty Services, but many of the same people joining Grim in denouncing St. Louis County Animal Care & Control, the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association stepped in.
“The Missouri Veterinary Medical Association has reviewed the facts of the recent events in the St. Louis area involving Veterinary Specialty Services and St. Louis Animal Control,” the MVMA said in a prepared statement, five days after Faust was euthanized.
“We have spoken to the parties involved, and with many of you, our members,” the MVMA statement said. “The laws of the state of Missouri, the county of St. Louis, and the Missouri Veterinary Practice Act were all followed. We stand behind the actions of the veterinarians and veterinary team members involved and will continue to support them.
“We condemn the social media cyberbullying and backlash that has and continues, to take place. MVMA supports our veterinarians and veterinary teams, and their important role. They give their hearts and their expertise in service to the public every day.”
Even vets missed chance to educate
But even the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association missed the chance to accurately inform the public about rabies symptoms, rabies risk, and most of all, the importance of ensuring that all dogs, cats, ferrets, equines, and other outdoor hoofed companion animals are vaccinated against rabies.
Meanwhile, on Valentine’s Day, after the Faust euthanasia had fueled an inferno for four days, Stray Rescue of St. Louis executive director Cassady Caldwell posted to Facebook that “Stray Rescue as an organization would like to apologize and give our total support to the entire veterinary community.
“You are heroes who save lives every single day,” Caldwell said. “We cannot overstate how difficult it is to work in the field of animal care and the impossible decisions that they are forced to make on a daily basis.
“Faust was given amazing care; she miraculously came out of a coma and was only getting stronger,” Caldwell continued. “We are sad and regretful that the conversation shifted to blame and backlash. Social media can be such a powerful tool, for good or for bad. Faust should be a symbol for positive change toward more humane animal care and compassion. She is a reminder to us all that there is still a lot of work to be done and that we all need to come together to make these changes possible.”
What Caldwell did not do, either on behalf of Stray Rescue of St. Louis or as an individual, was apologize specifically to Veterinary Specialty Services and St. Louis County Animal Care & Control. And Randy Grim himself offered no apologies to anyone.
St. Louis County Animal Care & Control, even more than Veterinary Specialty Services, continued to take a verbal beating, including in the long comment string following Caldwell’s apology to “the entire veterinary community.”
Spillover from firing?
Recounted the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Several animal lovers attended the St. Louis County Council meeting on February 12 to express outrage over Faust’s killing.
“Some volunteers at [Stray Rescue of St. Louis] have been highly critical of the [St. Louis County Animal Care & Control] management for much of the past year since County Executive Steve Stenger fired former director Beth Vesco-Mock and replaced her with a staffer from his office.”
Vesco-Mock, a longtime pit bull advocate, albeit critical of shelters and rescues that rehome animals of known dangerous history, had only lasted in the St. Louis County position for seven months, frequently conflicting with staff.
Vesco-Mock had previously been deputy director at Dekalb County Animal Services in Georgia and executive director of the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Summarized the Post-Dispatch, “Vesco-Mock moved to St. Louis after resigning her position in New Mexico, where she was charged in 2015 with three misdemeanor counts connected to the shelter’s handling of two dogs suspected of killing livestock in a case that prosecutors dropped at trial. She sued the sheriff’s office for malicious abuse of process and defamation of character; the case was settled for $90,000.”
Grim and Stray Rescue of St. Louis, meanwhile, have long been controversial in the animal care and control community, and not just for pit bull advocacy and espousing a no-kill philosophy, both of which are embraced by all nine major animal care-and-control agencies and humane societies serving the greater St. Louis area.
Grim has also long contended that the U.S. has a significant feral dog population living in abandoned industrial parks and the low-income residential neighborhoods tending to surround them. St. Louis, San Antonio, and more recently Detroit and Miami-Dade County, Florida, are generally agreed to have feral dogs, many of them pit bull mixes descended from dogs abandoned in recent years, but most U.S. animal control agencies at least claim to pick up loose dogs promptly upon report. Few animal control department chiefs admit to leaving stray dogs on the streets.
Grim catches feral dogs, he told the 2003 Conference on Homeless Animal Management and Policy, by catching the lower-ranking pack members first, finishing with the highest-ranking members. If Grim captures the highest-ranking members first, he told his audience of animal rescuers and animal control personnel, the packs break up, and catching the remaining dogs becomes much more difficult.
The Grim approach is not recommended by any major humane organization, because of the potential risk to the public and to wildlife from free-roaming dog packs, who may become rabies carriers.
Packs killed people on streets
The continued existence of free-roaming dogs in St. Louis became intensely controversial after Rodney McAllister, 10, was fatally mauled by multiple free-roaming pit bulls on March 6, 2001. The attack set off a hue-and-cry around St. Louis seeking the immediate extermination of all loose dogs. The ensuing controversy had much to do with the opposition of many St. Louis officials and the Humane Society of Missouri to a public proposal by Grim that St. Louis should try then to introduce no-kill animal control, a goal later adopted.
Memories of the McAllister case were revived on July 21, 2003 when three free-roaming pit bull terriers severely injured Ealgie Edwards, 55, just six blocks from where McAllister was killed. The unvaccinated pit bulls nominally had a caretaker, who was charged with six related offenses, but he apparently did not want the dogs and became responsible for them when they were left at his home by a relative.
The most recent dog attack fatality in St. Louis County, Adonis Reddick, 45, was killed in May 2016 by his own two pit bulls inside his home.
Stray Rescue of St. Louis dog bit hiker
A dog belonging to Stray Rescue of St. Louis, one of three being walked by a Stray Rescue employee on the Lost Valley Trail in the Weldon Spring Conservation area, in June 2013 bit hiker Chris Mcclaren, Elizabeth Matthews of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Mcclaren said the dog was a pit bull, but Grim told Matthews he was a “shepherd/collie mix” and attributed the bite to a new employee who “didn’t follow our protocols and guidelines.”
Grim since 2017 appears to have been engaged chiefly in managing Randy’s Rescue Ranch, a 20-acre Stray Rescue of St. Louis nonprofit subsidiary that provides longterm care for special needs dogs and equines.