Prosecuting shelters for withholding bite history might be a start
DAYTON, Ohio; CONWAY, Kentucky; LOS ANGELES, California––The first two U.S. dog attack fatalities to be reported in 2020, both involving pit bulls, upstaged the possibly more indicative resignations of two strong pit bull advocates from senior positions with Los Angeles Animal Services and Orange County Animal Services.
The resignations coincided with a new California state law coming into effect which requires animal shelters to disclose the bite history of dogs offered for adoption.
The very first U.S. dog attack fatality of 2020, the January 8, 2020 death of Taos Pueblo Head Start teacher Kay Torres, 52, in a pack attack by in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, was not disclosed to media until eight days later. The dogs who killed Torres have not yet been officially identified.
Meanwhile, four-month-old McKenzie Terwell, daughter of Parker Terwell, 21, and Mary Shoup, 23, of Dayton, Ohio, was fatally mauled late on January 9, 2020, by one of several pit bulls reportedly kept at the family home. Two “Beware of Dog” signs were posted on the property, said WTDN News.
Prescription meds & a bong
Dayton Violent Crime Bureau commander Jason Hall told media that, as WTDN News summarized, “According to a 911 call, a parent [Terwell] had returned home [from work] to find the baby on the floor and not breathing. The parent also told the dispatcher a family member [Shoup] was supposed to be watching the girl.”
Dayton Daily News reporter Parker Perry reported on January 15, 2020 that Shoup “was sleeping on a couch, possibly after taking prescription medication.”
A police search warrant affidavit, Perry said, identified the prescriptions as Alprazolam, Bupropion and Sertalian, with known side effects including drowsiness, cognitive dysfunction and insomnia.
“Also,” Perry wrote, “the affidavit says officers were told by Parker Terwell that he had thrown a marijuana bong in the kitchen trashcan before police arrived.”
Sixth Dayton-area fatal dog attack since 2012
McKenzie Terwell was the sixth dog attack fatality since 2012 within the territory served by the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center. The first five occurred during the tenure of former Animal Resource Center director Mark Kumpf, who had two more dog attack fatalities on his watch than any other animal control director in U.S. history.
Three of the five dog attack fatalities involved pit bull-type dogs who had been subject of previous complaints to the Animal Resource Center. All five came after Kumpf, working closely with the pro-pit bull Animal Farm Foundation and Best Friends Animal Society, used his influence as a longtime board member with both the National Animal Control Association and the Ohio Dog Wardens Association to help win the May 2012 repeal of an Ohio state law recognizing “any breed commonly known as a pit bull dog” as inherently vicious.
Fired in Dayton, hired by Detroit
The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners fired Kumpf on December 14, 2018, two weeks after the Montgomery County Animal Resource center flunked an extensive procedural review done from November 26, through November 30, 2018 by the shelter consulting firm Team Shelter USA.
Though still facing a lawsuit brought by survivors of one of the Dayton victims, Klonda Richey, Kumpf was on September 23, 2019 named animal control director for the city of Detroit.
Charged with killing fiancé
Melissa D. Wolke, 38, of Mount Vernon, Kentucky, was on January 10, 2020 charged with murder for the death of her fiancé, Donald Wayne Abner, 55, of Richmond, Kentucky. Wolke was also charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest.
Held in jail in lieu of posting bond of $200,000, Wolke pleaded innocent through a public defender on January 13, 2020.
Kentucky State Police spokespersons told media that they responded to a reported domestic disturbance in the back yard of a home on Pug Lane in the Conway community of Rockcastle County, arriving to find Wolke on top of Abner, punching him and ordering her pit bull to attack him. Abner had already suffered bites to his neck and face.
Kentucky State Police said “Wolke had to be tazed to get her off the victim and that she refused to call off her dog. As a result, the dog had to be shot and killed,” reported WTVQ.
Melissa D. Wolke, apparently also known as Melissa Sue Wolke, Melissa Daniel, and Melissa Diment, had at least eight prior arrests since 2014 for alleged drug-and-alcohol-related offenses, and had served prison time.
Her alleged murder victim, Abner, a former auto body repairman whose chief interest appeared to be music, might have kept and occasionally bred pit bulls as far back as 1989, a Facebook photo of an adult pit bull and puppies hinted.
Met checking in & out of jail?
Wolke and Abner may have met in July 2015, when according to the Berea Citizen they served time at the Madison County Detention Center a week apart, beginning on July 9 and July 16, respectively, Wolke for public intoxication and Abner for nonpayment of fines.
Wolke, however, appears to have been married to a Jerry William Wolke until November 2018. Abner appears to have made no mention of her on social media until April 8, 2019.
Abner, listing Melissa Daniel as a Facebook friend, had also started a Facebook page under the name “Donnie Isaacs,” perhaps unwittingly shared with a local country musician a generation younger. On April 8, 2019, Abner announced his engagement to Daniel.
The only other posting from anyone else on the page was by Wolke under the name Melissa Daniel, who wrote “Donnie Isaacs I love you.”
Will California law change the paradigm?
The deaths of McKenzie Terwell and Donnie Abner drew widespread attention, but the possible first visible results of the passage of California state bill AB 588 went barely noticed, except by Voice of Orange County intern Noah Biesiada and Los Angeles Animal Watch blogger Phyllis M. Daugherty.
AB 588, signed into law by California governor Gavin Newsom on October 2, 2019, requires shelters to disclose to prospective adopters of dogs any history they may have of inflicting skin-breaking bites. Each violation can bring a fine of up to $500.
AB 588 responds to at least 17 known disfiguring maulings and two deaths since 2014 inflicted by dogs rehomed or offered for rehoming by California animal shelters. All but one of those incidents allegedly involved a pit bull with undisclosed bite history.
At least five of the known mauling victims were injured by dogs from Los Angeles Animal Services, which since 2017 has no longer identified pit bulls by breed on cage cards and in online adoption advertising.
Did Santa Claus come to Orange County?
Reported Biesiada, mentioning AB 588, “The head of Orange County Care,” Michael Kaviani, “resigned on Christmas Eve and moved to a Colorado-based nonprofit, following controversy over the county shelter allegedly failing to disclose bite histories when adopting out dogs.”
Kaviani, formerly “director of lifesaving services” for Austin Pets Alive, in Austin, Texas, was hired as director of Orange County Animal Care in August 2018.
Kaviani’s Austin tenure coincided with the tenure of former Austin Animal Shelter deputy chief animal services officer Kristen Auerbach.
Previously director of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Virginia, Auerbach 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” in Fairfax County, Auerbach at the Austin Animal Center introduced the “playgroup” approach to dog behavior assessment promoted by Dogs Playing For Life founder Aimee Sadler––whom Kaviani mentioned in a December 2010 Long Island Newsday interview as having influenced his work since 2008.
Sadler, a longtime pit bull advocate frequently featured at Best Friends Animal Society events, was from 2005 to 2015 behavior and training program director for the Longmont Humane Society in Colorado. Attacks by pit bulls rehomed by the Longmont Humane Society during her tenure made headlines in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
In 2013 the Longmont Humane Society became the first humane organization known to have been fined for allowing a dangerous dog to run amok.
Kaviani hired by Dogs Playing For Life
At the Austin Animal Center, the “playgroups” technique led to repeated maulings of other dogs by impounded pit bulls. A 35% rise in dog attacks in the community since 2011 appeared to accelerate.
Auerbach in September 2017 moved on from Austin to become adoption coordinator at the Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson, where identifying dogs by breed was stopped just before her arrival.
Kaviani, Voice of Orange County intern Noah Biesiada reported, moved on from Orange County to become “lead instructor” for Dogs Playing for Life.
Dogs Playing for Life on January 2, 2020 introduced Kaviani as chief program officer.
Allegedly withheld bite history
Summarized Biesiada, “A November 2019 report by CBS Los Angeles reporter David Goldstein found Orange County Animal Care withheld dogs’ bite histories from people looking to adopt them, leading to cases of pets attacking their new owners.”
Recounted Goldstein, “CBS2 obtained internal records [from Orange County Animal Care] which showed 32 dogs with bite histories at the shelter. Twenty-three had no warnings or any information about biting previous owners on their kennel cards.
“Kaviani said that leaving information off of the card is not masking the dog’s behavior,” Goldstein continued. “He says it is their policy is to tell people before they adopt.”
Argued Kaviani, “When you’re dating, on the first date do you say all the things that you’re really trying to work on as a human being? No, you’re not airing that on the first date. Are you lying about that? Absolutely not.”
“That information must be told to potential adopters”
Responded SPCA Los Angeles president Madeline Bernstein, a 35-year veteran of humane work, “Whether you bite a shelter personnel member or you bite a volunteer, or the dog has been returned for a bite, that information must be told to potential adopters.”
Added Goldstein, “CBS2 also found the [Orange County Animal Care] shelter drugged dozens of dogs. In internal records CBS2 obtained, some dogs were treated with the anti-depressant Trazodone, which Bernstein said could be used to change a dog’s demeanor.”
Explained Bernstein, “The worst possible scenario is if you had a bite dog who is being sedated to fool a prospective adopter.”
Kaviani countered that Trazadone was only used to treat dogs for anxiety, “providing documentation,” Goldstein said, “that showed only 5 dogs on Trazodone on one day, two on another and none currently,” as of November 18, 2019.
As of January 15, 2020, reported Ben Brazil of the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Animal Care had yet to begin a formal search for a new director.
“General manager of lifesaving” leaves the ship
Meanwhile, Daugherty blogged on January 13, 2020, “Los Angeles Animal Services general manager Brenda Barnette announced last week that MeLissa Webber, the agency’s ‘first assistant general manager of lifesaving,’ will be leaving on January 24, 2020.”
Recounted Daugherty, “Webber was formerly with the Animal Care Centers for New York City. She joined Barnette’s management team on April 16, 2018, at an annual salary of $134,938. Since then she has been in charge of shelter operations and field services.”
Alleged Daugherty, “A recent safety analysis by Los Angeles Animal Services executive management showed a 47% increase in dog attacks/bites in the shelters, according to reliable City of Los Angeles sources.
“Too many dogs being held”
“From discussions of future ‘lifesaving’ plans at [Los Angeles Animal Services] Commission meetings, there was no indication that Webber was planning to leave Los Angeles Animal Services,” Daughetry continued.
“But Barnette appeared noticeably irritated or impatient at the last meeting when a public comment was made about the huge increase in dangerous dogs at the shelters, and she spontaneously responded that she had told Webber that too many dogs were being held.”
Barnette told Daugherty that according to Webber’s resignation letter, she had “accepted a position at Dallas Animal Services.”
Four maulings in 2019 alone
Daugherty, a frequent critic of Barnette, on December 16, 2019 detailed a string of recent attacks by dogs either at Los Angeles Animal Services shelters or soon after Los Angeles Animal Services rehomed the dogs.
Victims included ten-year animal care technician Priscilla Romero, mauled by a pit bull at the Los Angeles Animal Services North Central shelter on January 14, 2017; foster volunteer Tori Jasso, mauled by a pit bull on July 11, 2019; a seven-year-old boy who was mauled by a German shepherd with prior bite history on July 20, 2019; an October 31, 2019 attack on a volunteer at the North Central shelter by a pit bull who was surrendered for aggressive behavior; and December 15, 2019 attack on an employee by a bull terrier at the South Los Angeles shelter that sent the employee to a hospital by ambulance.
Two dog attack manslaughter prosecutions announced on one day
The much greater attention to the Terwell and Abner deaths than to what may be changes of management philosophy within two of the biggest animal sheltering systems in the U.S. may reflect in part the relative rarity of murder-by-dog prosecutions in the U.S.; Wolke has been charged with murder in a case where a pit bull was at least an accessory, while at this writing police had reportedly not ruled out possible charges in connection with the Terwell mauling.
However, two manslaughter prosecutions were quietly initiated against pit bull owners on December 30, 2019.
Gwinnett County, Georgia district attorney Danny Porter told WSB-TV of Atlanta that his office would pursue a grand jury indictment for felony involuntary manslaughter against David and Vickie Clark, of Dacula, Georgia, whose three pit bulls on September 16, 2019 mauled neighbor Lorena Cordova, 47. The Clarks were previously charged with reckless conduct.
Cordova had telephoned daughter Ingrid Alvarado, 23, to say “Those dogs are here again.” Alvarado raced to the scene, found Cordova alive, and drove her to a nearby fire station after calling 911, but Cordova lost consciousness on the way.
Cordova survived two months thereafter in a medically induced coma before dying on November 21, 2019.
In Madera, California, about 25 miles north of Fresno, the Madera County District Attorney’s Office on December 30, 2019 issued warrants for Heather Anglin, 34, and Aaron Daniels, age not stated, charging both with failure to control a dangerous animal and involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of Lasaro Macedo, 38, found dead in the dry Fresno River flood plain on November 11, 2019.
Anglin, Daniels, and Macedo are believed to have all been residents of a large encampment of homeless people living in the flood plain.
“Macedo was found with massive bite wounds to his face, head, neck and arms, and was so badly bitten and torn by the dog that he had to be identified by the few tattoos that remained intact,” wrote Madera Tribune reporter D.J. Becker.
Prior pit bull attack
“A large, loose white male pit bull, with blood still on his muzzle, was shot and killed at the scene after the second time it charged at police officers,” Becker added. “The dog had been neutered, according to records at animal control. Five other smaller pit bulls who were tied nearby were impounded by Madera County animal control, along with a Chihuahua.
“In 2017,” Becker recalled, “another pack of large dogs allegedly kept by Anglin attacked and pulled down a man near the same area. That man sustained major bite wounds to his face, arms and neck, but survived after multiple surgeries.”