Neither Rotts nor pits should ever be considered “safe”
FRESNO, California––The March 22, 2019 fatal mauling of a one-year-old boy in his grandparents’ front yard in one important respect much resembled three of the six previous dog attack fatalities in Fresno and Fresno County since 2005.
As in three of the six previous fatalities, neighbors told media that they had repeatedly reported the killer dogs to police and animal control for running at large and other dangerous behavior, even as the authorities insisted they had no previous record of complaints.
“Animal control has been called––I’ve called them”
Theresa Davis, a neighbor of the dogs who killed the one-year-old, emphasized to Jason Oliveira and Christina Fan of KFSN television news that over eight or nine years she had tried everything she could think of to prevent such an incident, as the dogs repeatedly dug out of their owners’ property
“We have a kennel. We put the dogs in the kennel with a padlock––and animal control has been called. I’ve called them,” Davis said.
In another respect, the fatal attack on the one-year-old differed from all six of the previous Fresno dog attack fatalities since 2005. All six of those attacks were by pit bulls, but the two marauding dogs who killed the one-year-old––who slipped outside only momentarily before both grandparents responded––were Rottweilers.
The one-year-old’s grandmother was also injured in her efforts to fend off the Rottweilers, who were later euthanized.
No isolated incident
While Rottweilers kill and disfigure far fewer victims than pit bulls, chiefly because there are far fewer Rottweilers, the Fresno death was scarcely an isolated incident.
Rottweilers likewise ambushed two children, ages 7 and 9, after their school bus dropped them off near their home outside of Marietta, Georgia on December 10, 2018. The children’s grandmother, Esta Currier, 73, was killed while trying to protect them. Both children were also injured. Police shot all four Rottweilers at the scene, killing three outright while the fourth was euthanized when caught.
A Rottweiler killed 3-month-old Gaia Nova on May 5, 2018 in Sherman Oaks, California, while her grandmother stepped out of the room momentarily to fetch the baby’s bottle. Two other dogs in the home were apparently not directly involved.
Never left unguarded
One-year-old M.J. Raya, of Phoenix, Arizona, was never left unguarded for even one second on June 9, 2017, while his grandmother baby-sat for him and did laundry. But she put M.J. down momentarily to open a door.
That was just long enough for the family Rottweiler to burst in, grab M.J., drag him outside, and kill him. The dog was still mauling the body when killed by police gunfire.
Children, grandmothers––and Rottweilers
The Fresno 1-year-old, Gaia Nova, Esta Currier, and M.J. Raya all died in what would have been fairly typical pit bull attacks on children, except that all four attacks involved children in care of a grandmother, the dog in each case was not a pit bull but a Rottweiler, and the attack was even more typical of Rottweiler-inflicted deaths.
The Fresno one-year-old was the 113th fatality inflicted by a Rottweiler in the U.S. and Canada in just under 40 years.
Of the 113 people killed by Rottweilers since 1978, 85 were children of 11 years or younger; 80 were children of eight years or younger; 72 were children younger than age six.
Medically induced coma
Several other typical Rottweiler attacks were in the news at the same time as the M.J. Raya fatality.
Kaden Mitchell, age seven, of Niagara Falls, New York, was put into a medically induced coma and suffered a stroke after two Rottweilers mauled him on June 7, 2017. Mitchell as of June 20, 2017 was out of the coma, with two surgically re-attached ears, and beginning to learn to walk again.
In Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, passer-by Yun Qi suffered severe injuries to both arms in fighting off a neutered Rottweiler to rescue a four-year-old girl. Yun Qi’s elderly father came to his son’s rescue, using a bicycle to block the Rottweiler’s further attacks.
But a slightly less typical Rottweiler attack was also in the news. Jenna Allen, 31, of Plainfield, Connecticut, was on June 6, 2017 found guilty of reckless endangerment, possession of a nuisance dog and failure to comply with dog licensing requirements for the December 3, 2014 mauling of home health aide Lynne Denning. Denning had been left with her elderly patient, five Rottweilers, and a golden retriever.
Assistant State’s Attorney Bonnie Bentley told the court that “some of Allen’s dogs had previously killed two cats and a pair of puppies and injured two people, including a home health aide who worked in Allen’s home before Denning,” reported John Penney of the Norwich Bulletin.
Allen was on August 4, 2017 sentenced to serve 60 days in jail, but appealed and was released on bond.
“Service” Rott contributed to death of epileptic
Also in the first week of June 2017, ANIMALS 24-7 received information confirming the involvement of a Rottweiler “service dog” in the May 24, 2015 death of Anthony G. Wind, 26, an epileptic, in Rochester, New York. The “service” Rottweiler was adopted by Wind’s girlfriend, a shelter worker, after having been found dangerous by a Georgia court, only to be exported to New York.
Before Wind died, ANIMALS 24-7 learned, he had been attacked four times previously during epileptic seizures, losing part of an ear on one occasion.
These attacks too resembled pit bull behavior. But often as Rottweilers kill and maim people, their attack patterns against human victims are significantly different.
The pit bull attack profile
Altogether, since the ANIMALS 24-7 log of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks was begun in 1982, 6,456 pit bulls have participated in attacks on 2,431 children and 2,883 adults that resulted in 454 deaths (8.5% of the victims) and 4,409 disfigurements. Another 451 victims of the same incidents (also 8.5% of the victims) suffered less serious injuries.
Among 144 dog breeds and identified mixes involved in at least one fatal or disfiguring attack, only boxers, bull mastiffs, and Cane Corsos share with pit bulls the tendency to kill or disfigure adults more often than children.
This shared lack of inhibition about attacking victims bigger than themselves reflects these dogs’ history of having been bred and used for centuries chiefly for use in fighting and baiting, mostly against bulls, bears, and other dogs as large as themselves, or larger.
Not surprisingly, pit bulls also account for about 92% of the fatal attacks on other dogs, hoofed animals, poultry, and wildlife, and 88% of the fatal attacks on cats.
How the Rottweiler attack profile differs
The Rottweiler attack pattern is contrastingly normal except in the frequency with which victims are killed. Since 1982, 714 Rottweilers have participated in fatal or disfiguring attacks on 365 children and 210 adults, killing 113 people (16% of their victims) and disfiguring 413. Among the 575 total victims, 49 (8.5%) escaped more serious injury.
Both pit bulls and Rottweilers are about 10 times more likely to kill or disfigure someone than the average dog. Pit bulls, currently about 5.6% of the U.S. and Canadian dog population, account for 58% of all dog attack deaths. Rottweilers, 1.7% of the dog population, account for 15% of all dog attack deaths.
Between them, pit bulls and Rottweilers, just 7.3% of the dog population combined, account for 73% of all human fatalities from dog attack.
Rottweilers also kill other animals much more often than the average dog, but not appreciably more often than other non-pit bulls of dangerous reputation, including huskies, Akitas, and chows.
Where did Rottweilers come from?
Rottweiler attack history further differs from pit bull attack history in that Rottweilers, until surprisingly recently, were rarely even mentioned as a dangerous breed.
Pit bulls, because of their use in fighting and baiting, have been recognized as dangerous at least since the 18th century. Historical research has established that pit bulls have accounted for half or more of all dog attack fatalities in the U.S. in every 10-year time frame since 1834, and probably did before that, too, but pushing the data log back further is inhibited by lack of published records.
No accessible record of Rottweilers before 1882
Rottweilers by contrast were rarely––if ever––even identified by name until a dog called a Rottweiler, today remembered by the official American Kennel Club breed history as a “very poor representative of the breed,” was exhibited at an 1882 show in Heilbronn, Germany.
Neither NewspaperArchive.com, offering microfilm of newspapers going back to 1607, nor the Culturomics Ngram Viewer, offering word indexes of books published since 1800, shows any prior mention of a Rottweiler dog.
The next record of Rottweilers appears to be their use as foundation stock by German tax collector Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann, who circa 1890 combined Rottweilers with hounds to produce the dog breed now known as the Doberman.
Very distant descendants of Roman molossers
Rottweiler breed clubs first formed in Germany in 1914––the year in which The New York Times first mentioned Rottweilers––have long advanced a claim that Rotts are descended from the molosser dogs used by the Roman legions to herd the cattle and sheep they kept as their food supply, and to help in attacking barbarian invaders.
Rottweilers are said to have remained in use throughout the Middle Ages as livestock herding and guarding dogs. But more than 1,400 years and perhaps 700 dog generations elapsed between the end of Roman occupation of Germany and the earliest documentation of dogs called Rottweilers. During that time the Roman molossers had ample opportunity to mix and mingle with every other sort of dog in Europe. By 1882 the Roman influence would have been diluted beyond recognition.
The first documentation of Rottweiler-like dogs in a more-or-less unbroken line to the dogs of today indicates that some may have been used much like the ancestors of modern pit bulls, to assist butchers in cornering and holding animals for slaughter.
But Rottweiler history split from pit bull history in that while pit bull ancestors were increasingly used in baiting competitions, presumed Rottweiler ancestors became best known as cart-and-sled-pullers.
Dangerous behavior would have been discouraged in cart-and-sled-pullers, who would have been working in close proximity to many other dogs, humans, horses, and other animals.
This leads to the supposition that the “Rottweilers” said to have existed in Europe before the time of Herr Dobermann were large black-and-tan dogs who physically resembled Rottweilers, more than behavioral ancestors of those who have in recent times become notorious for surly demeanor, even when not actually mauling anyone.
Brought to the U.S. and exhibited as a canine novelty after World War I, said in exhibition publicity to have been used as “police dogs” at a time when there were few actual police dogs, Rottweilers remained rare in both Germany and the U.S. at the outbreak of World War II.
Rottweilers were, nonetheless, the only “bully” breed among the 18 breeds accepted by the U.S. military during World War II for training as war dogs. Yet relatively few dogs of any breed were actually deployed in World War II.
There do not appear to be any Rottweilers among the 157 photos of the dogs who did see military service depicted in Loyal Forces: The American Animals of World War II by Toni M. Kiser & Lindsey F. Barnes (2013).
As recently as 1960, according to American Kennel Club data, there were still fewer than 500 registered Rottweilers in the U.S., with perhaps 100 more in Canada.
First fatality was an infant
Probably because Rottweilers remained few, and were kept almost entirely within the small coterie of Rottweiler fanciers, none are known to have seriously harmed anyone in either the U.S. or Canada until January 24, 1978, when two Rottweilers said to have been kept as “hunting dogs” killed one-year-old Vincent Madrigal in St. Helena, California.
The next known Rottweiler mauling came in April 1982, when two free-roaming Rottweilers belonging to Manfred and Vera Mayerhofer, of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, tore an arm off of eight-year-old Shawn Fraser. Running on, the Rottweilers then mauled Susan Tolnai and her four-year-old son Paul.
The attacks led to the first criminal charges ever brought in Canada as result of dog violence. The Mayerhofers were each fined $2,000 and put on probation for two years, during which time they were prohibited from keeping dogs.
Second fatality was also infant
The first fatal Rottweiler attack in North America came one year later, in 1983, when a Rott belonging to hairdresser and Norwegian immigrant Britt Rognaldsen, 36, pulled her 35-day-old daughter Cara from her crib and killed her.
Rognaldsen was sentenced to a year in jail and fined $2,000 for misdemeanor criminal negligence in 1984, but appealed and was convicted again by jury in 1988. The Dallas Morning News reported then that Rognaldsen was also facing deportation because of convictions for drug possession.
Dogsbite.org lists as the third Rottweiler fatality in North America the Halloween 1985 mauling of Santina Saba, one month old, in Suffolk County, Massachusetts by three Rotts kept by her family. This death does not appear to have received any media coverage.
Four more deaths
The contrastingly high-profile Rognaldsen case was still before the courts when on September 27, 1987 two-year-old Shannon Tucker was killed by both a pit bull and a Rottweiler who escaped from neighbor Kenneth Ferguson’s yard and invaded her play area behind her mother’s condominium in Columbus, Ohio.
Sixteen-month-old Melissa Boyse, of Kent, Washington, was killed by a sudden head bite from her family’s Rottweiler on May 2, 1988. Her father Scott Boyse told media it was a “freak accident.”
Just over two years later, on October 20, 1989, 20-year-old jogger Hoke Lane Prevette became the first adult Rottweiler fatality in North America, killed in Forsyth County, North Carolina, by two Rottweilers belonging to Thomas Ellis Powell.
Almost a year after that, in July 1990, a pit/Rottweiler cross killed five-year-old Jason Lee Wilson outside his South Carolina home. As in all three of the 2018 and 2019 Rottweiler fatalities, the dog was still mauling the body when shot by police.
The seven fatalities, including six in six years, should have warned the public (even if the Saba death went unpublicized) that whatever Rottweilers might have been in the past, they had become deadly dangerous, and for that reason were to be avoided.
Unfortunately, certain segments of the public were––and are––under the illusion that deadly dangerous dogs are good guard dogs, though the guard dogs favored by night watchmen throughout history have been dogs who point and bark, not those who charge and bite strangers with no questions asked.
The illusion further persists that though trespassing is only a misdemeanor carrying a light fine throughout the U.S., live dismemberment by dog is an appropriate penalty if the dog reaches the alleged intruder before police do.
Deaths stoked popularity
American Kennel Club registrations of Rottweilers soared 991% during the 1980s, then rose faster as more attacks drew more publicity.
For a brief time, between 1993 and 1996, Rottweilers killed as many people as pit bulls. Altogether, between 1993 and 2000, Rottweilers killed 31 people, while becoming the dog most often registered by the American Kennel Club.
The pace of fatal and disfiguring Rottweiler attacks has not slowed since then. Pit bull fatalities have again come to far outnumber Rottweiler fatalities only because during the same years that Rottweilers rose from well under 1% of the U.S. dog population to 1.8%, pit bulls rose from under 2% to 5.6%.
Changing humane advice
Rottweiler violence has meanwhile contributed significantly to several evolving changes of public attitude toward dogs.
First, for decades humane educators taught school children that the appropriate response to finding a lost dog was to check the dog for a tag or license; put the dog on a lead; take the dog around the neighborhood to see if anyone’s dog is lost; and then call animal control or the humane society if the dog’s home has not been found.
This advice changed after Jonathan Christopher Williams, 7, of Greenville, North Carolina, followed it in February 1992 and was killed by the Rottweiler he was trying to take home. The Rottweiler belonged to Willie Curry Jr., who a year later was sentenced to time already served plus a fine of $148 for having allowed the Rott to roam.
Buried-wire “invisible” fencing was once considered a safe alternative to putting up high board or wire fences to keep dogs at home. This mostly ended after Joey Jacobs, then age 9, on December 29, 1993 saved two younger friends’ lives, losing both of his own ears, by holding off a Rottweiler belonging to neighbor Ursula Baroni, after the dog charged through a buried-wire to attack them. Buried-wire fences are still sold, but now with extensive warnings that they are not meant to contain dangerous dogs.
Most recently, on November 13, 2015, a Rottweiler adopted only hours before from the Jackson-Madison animal shelter in Tennessee killed Anthony Riggs, 57, who had extensive previous experience with Rottweilers and had firearms nearby, but was apparently disabled by the dog’s attack before he could defend himself.
The attack was among at least 49 fatalities inflicted by dogs from animal shelters since 2007, compared to five in the preceding 20 years and none in the 130 years before that, which have cumulatively eroded the hard-earned reputation of animal shelters as safe places to adopt dogs.
Not surprisingly, shelter adoptions across the U.S. are now averaging about 25% fewer per year than at peak, in the 1985-2010 time frame.
(See also The Rottweilers in my life, by Beth Clifton.)