“Or, are you a big kid?”
LOS ANGELES––“Tux wants to know if you have a kid he can play with? Or, are you a big kid? Meet him at #AkitaRanch, 28930 Ellis Ave, Romoland, CA,” Passion for Paws Akita Rescue posted to Facebook on May 25, 2019.
Responding to the posting, the most recent of many that have solicited a home for Tux since Valentine’s Day 2019, a seven-year-old girl and her parents visited Tux at the Passion for Paws Akita Ranch at about noon the following day. Their introduction, according to a Riverside County Animal Services media release, was supervised by Akita Ranch staff members.
1,000 sutures––but “The dog is not aggressive”
The two-year-old male Akita “lunged at the girl and bit her on the right side of her face. She suffered puncture wounds and the injuries required three hours of surgery. Doctors used approximately 1,000 sutures in caring for her wounds,” the Riverside County Animal Services media release summarized.
Tux, the release continued, “was from a Los Angeles-area shelter and had been in that shelter for about a month before he was rescued by the Romoland-based group in early February.
“Animal Services Officer Carra Mathewson retrieved the dog for a quarantine period,” the release said. “Officer Mathewson asked [rescue founder and president Cheryl Weatherford] if she would like to surrender the dog for euthanasia. The owner declined and said that the dog is not aggressive, nor had he illustrated any aggressive behavior in the past.
“Due to the severity of the attack,” the Riverside County Animal Services media release explained, “Officer Mathewson and her supervisor, Sergeant Lesley Huennekens, sought a destruction order at a public hearing. The victim’s father provided testimony, via telephone, as did a representative of the rescue organization. That individual did not witness the attack, but she testified that the girl reportedly put her face to the dog’s face and the parents were advised against such actions.”
The Riverside County hearing office, who is “independent of Animal Services,” the release said, is expected to render a verdict on June 3, 2019.
Five priors involving dogs “at or from” the same rescue
Meanwhile, Riverside County Animal Services said, “The investigation includes looking into a handful of other serious bites involving dogs from the kennel,” which is “home base for a rescue organization specializing in saving Akitas from Southern California-based shelters, including Riverside County Animal Services. At least five other serious bites involving dogs at or from this kennel have occurred, dating to 2013 – and two as recently as 2018.”
Specifically, Riverside County Animal Services mentioned, “In November 2017 a man adopted a dog from the rescue but returned the dog after he was attacked and suffered bite wounds to both arms. A similar incident happened in February 2018, when a man adopted a dog, but was bitten on his hands and arms. Both adopters returned the dogs. Animal Services issued dangerous dog restraining orders for both.”
Accepted Akita who had already attacked three children
Passion for Paws Akita Rescue has also accepted Akitas who already had attack history for attempted rehabilitation and rehoming.
Most notoriously, Passion for Paws Akita Rescue in January 2014 took in a 90-pound Akita named Chester, who had attacked children on at least three occasions.
On December 28, 2013, Robert Steven Kahn, then 63, of Murietta, California, took Chester, leashed, into the garden center of the Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Murietta “and allowed a 3-year-old boy to pet Chester, even though the dog had shown aggression toward children twice before,” detailed Sarah Burge of the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
“After the dog bit and seriously injured the boy, Kahn apologized to the child’s father, but hurried out of the store without leaving his name or contact information. The toddler required 50 sutures for injuries to his face and neck. Police tracked down Kahn and arrested him a few days later.
Pleaded guilty to felony negligence
“Prosecutors said the previous incidents of aggression occurred in October and November 2013,” Burge continued. “In the first, Chester was in his front yard when he tried to bite a 5-year-old boy who reached out to pet him, leaving a scrape on the child’s hand. In the second, Kahn was at a Home Depot store with Chester when the dog bit a child on the elbow. The bite didn’t break the skin. Neither incident was reported to authorities.”
Kahn of Murrieta, California, then 63, pleaded guilty to felony negligence at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley, California.
Judge Judith Clark sentenced Kahn to six months’ work release or house arrest, plus three years’ probation, during which time Kahn was not allowed to have a dog.
“We have to take particular care”
“Akitas are a breed that we have to take particular care in placing if they are placeable at all,” Passsion for Paws Akita Rescue founder Cheryl Weatherfold told Riverside Press-Enterprise reporter Aaron Claverie then.
“In my personal opinion,” Weatherford added, “Chester should not be a dog who is allowed out in public and he should not be in any household where there is a chance of any kind of interaction with a child,” she said.
Weatherford has not commented on the attack by Tux.
But Tux was still listed as available for adoption six days after the attack.
“Tux was not a threat when evaluated”
Asked Akita enthusiast Rachel Benson on the Passionate for Paws Akita Rescue page on Facebook, “This dog attacked a child’s face requiring extensive surgery. Why is he on here as suitable for a home with children? Why is he on here at all?”
Responded Kassandra Peterson, apparently representing Passionate for Paws Akita Rescue, “The dog was not a threat when evaluated,” a comment giving more weight to a pre-attack assessment than to the reality that Tux disfigured a child for life.
“He should not have been left with a strange family unsupervised,” Peterson continued, disregarding the Riverside County Animal Services report that “staff members,” plural, were present.
Tux “also shouldn’t have been wrestled with by the father,” Peterson went on, failing to cite any evidence that any such thing occurred, “and the little girl shouldn’t have been in the dog’s space while he was still learning/meeting strangers.”
Refer back to the Passionate for Paws Akita Rescue promotional posting: “Tux wants to know if you have a kid he can play with?”
“New rules should be put in place,” Peterson finished, “and we will all strive to do better.”
“Dogs who need space are good dogs”––until they aren’t
Passionate for Paws Akita Rescue vice president Lysette Tidwell on May 30, 2019 reposted a May 22, 2019 comment by one Sarah Gagnon, who alleged that “Dogs who wear muzzles are good dogs. Dogs who aren’t dog friendly are good dogs. Dogs who are leash reactive are good dogs. Dogs who need space are good dogs.”
The law in California, a “strict liability” state, does not agree. A dog owner is liable in California for any damage the dog does, meaning that the onus is on dog owners, including rescues, to prevent dangerous situations from occurring.
Cheryl Weatherford founded Passion for Paws Akita Rescue in 2004 in memory of her son Paxton David Weatherford, 1971-2004, “who passed away from a rare form of cancer after only a nine-day battle,” according to the Passion for Paws web site.
Continues the web site, “Paxton loved animals, and brought Cheryl her first Akita, an extra large white male named Zeus,” who was among the 85 survivors of a January 2001 fire that razed the Escondido Humane Society shelter in Kit Carson Park, killing more than 115 animals.
“Since our beginning,” the web site says, “we have saved the lives of over 2,000 Akitas and other large-breed dogs. In 2010 we established the #AkitaRanch facility to provide for the temporary housing and care of dogs in need. We have the capacity for 25 dogs at a time, and when space is unavailable, dogs are placed in foster care. The average stay is 140 days per dog. We do not turn away dogs based on sickness, injury, age, or attitude.”
The web site numbers suggest that Passion for Paws Akita Rescue rehomes an average of 133 dogs per year, who would require 18,620 days of kennel time, or more than twice the actual capacity of the shelter (9,125 kennel days). Presumably fostering accounts for the balance.
Raising an average of just over $100,000 per year through 2015, according to the most recent available Passion for Paws filing of IRS Form 990, Akita Rescue is based in La Jolla, where Weatherford lives, just north of San Diego.
Passion for Paws Akita Rescue is, however, a member of No-Kill Los Angeles, a 140-plus-member coalition formed by the Best Friends Animal Society to try to turn Los Angeles into a no-kill city. The Akita Ranch rescue shelter in Romoland is about 90 minutes by car, in normal traffic, from either La Jolla or Los Angeles.
More Akita mayhem
As well as the Akita-related incidents known to have involved Passion for Paws Akita Rescue in some manner, the Los Angeles/San Diego region has experienced many others.
Among the most serious were three attacks that in March 2015 brought felony charges for “negligence of owner of mischievous animal causing injury” against Cheryl Hargrove Hooks, 56, variously identified as a resident of Los Angeles, North Hollywood, and Studio City.
Hooks pleaded “not guilty” in September 2015, after which the case seems to have disappeared from the public record.
“The felony charges came in the wake of an NBC4 I-Team investigation, which revealed how Hooks’ Akita, named Brody, viciously attacked a woman in April 2013, then mauled a 7-year-old boy the next year, and then ripped off part of a man’s face,” reported NBC4 I-Team members Joel Grover and Matt Schrader.
“After each instance,” Grover and Schrader added, “the I-Team learned that the city of Los Angeles failed to impound the dog.”
Phoenix rescue fatality
The most recent Akita-inflicted fatality, the ninth since ANIMALS 24-7 began logging fatal and disfiguring dog attacks in 1982, was Carol Harris, 69, a 12-year volunteer for Akita Advocates Relocation Team Arizona, killed on December 20, 2017 when an Akita of as yet undisclosed history mauled her during a socialization session at the Canine Country Club & Feline Inn in Phoenix, where Akita Advocates rented kennel space.
Carol Harris had reportedly handled as many as 500 Akitas since becoming involved in rescue.
Insisted Kenneth Harris, her husband of only 12 days short of 50 years, “Akitas are not aggressive. Just like pit bulls, people think that they’re all aggressive. They’re not.”
However, the nine people killed by Akitas in the U.S. and Canada since 1982 are exceeded only by pit bulls and pit mixes (457), Rottweilers (111), German shepherds (36), huskies (30), bull mastiffs (22), wolf hybrids (20), boxers (14), Dobermans (11), and chows and chow mixes (10).
This makes up 92% of the total dog attack fatalities over the past 37 years, inflicted by 20% of the dog population.