French fatality, still under investigation, echoes & contrasts with U.S. cases
BEAUVAIS, OISE, France; CLEARCREEK TOWNSHIP, Ohio; PORTSMOUTH, Virginia; ASHEVILLE, North Carolina––Curtis, the pit bull suspected of killing Elisa Pilarski in the Retz Forest near Soissons, France, on November 16, 2019, also injured her fiancé Christopher Ellul at the police station on the evening of the fatal attack, the Parisien newspaper revealed on January 25, 2020.
Curtis was then impounded by judicial order at the Clara Foundation in Beauvais, Oise, a nine-year-old animal shelter located sixty miles west of the scene of the fatality.
Four days later, the Parisienne added, Curtis mauled a female volunteer who was escorting him to visit the Clara Foundation veterinarian.
Leg & chest injuries
“He jumped on my chest,” the victim told the Parisienne. “I pushed him away and that’s when he attacked my leg and would not let go. I don’t know how long it was. The only thing I remember is howling and telling myself he was going to kill me.
“It was extremely violent,” the victim continued. “Because at no time did the dog show any sign that he was going to attack.”
Several other people, including the veterinarian, intervened to force Curtis to let go.
“And very quickly, it became again as if nothing had happened,” a witness told the Parisien.
The victim received 12 stitches for her wounds and a course of antibiotic treatment.
“If he killed his own mistress, he could have killed me”
“We have to say that if Curtis killed his own mistress, he could have done the same to me,” the victim said.
Pilarski, 29, six months pregnant, was walking Curtis in the Retz Forest at the time of her death. Forensic evidence indicates she was killed about half an hour before the official start of a pack hunt in the forest by the Paris-based Le Rallye de la Passion hunting club.
Club members released 62 Poitvin hounds. Ellul, 45, encountered the hounds and several hunt club riders shortly before discovering Pilarski’s badly mauled remains, but did not mention that he was looking for Pilarski and Curtis.
DNA results due by end of February
Police investigators took DNA samples from Curtis, all 62 hounds, and four other dogs found at Ellul’s home. Pilarski had come from the Pyrenees region to live with Ellul, bringing her own pit bull to join his pack, just nine days before her death.
DNA results establishing which dog or dogs killed Pilarski are due by the end of February.
The French police may be taking exceptional care with the Pilarski investigation because Aisne regional police commander Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Charles Metras was a Le Rallye de la Passion mounted hunt participant.
Bloody mess in Clearcreek Township
In any event, the thoroughness of the French investigation stands in distinct contrast to the slipshod police work following the November 1, 2019 mauling death of Mary Matthews, 49, at her home in Clearcreek Township in Warren County, Ohio.
The Warren County Coroner’s Office concluded that Matthews was killed by her own two Great Danes. Matthews’ daughter, Brooke Francis, and son, Brandon Evans, do not dispute that Matthews was killed by one or more dogs, but have pointed out to coroner’s office chief investigator Doyle Burke, Clearcreek Township police chief John D. Terrill, WOHIO-TV reporter Karin Johnson, and Lawrence Budd of the Dayton Daily News, among others, considerable reason to question whether the Great Danes were the only dogs present and potentially culpable.
No sign of overdose
Matthews’ body was discovered by her estranged husband, Dale Mark Matthews, who had just been released after serving a short jail sentence, and his son Luke Matthews, who drove him to the scene.
In their initial call to police Dale Mark and Luke Matthews planted the suggestion that Mary Matthews might have died of an overdose, despite more than 200 bite marks being reportedly evident on her mostly unclad remains, and the extensive presence of blood on floors, walls, and furniture.
Neither first responding Clearcreek Township police officer Wendi Blaha nor anyone else appears to have questioned either Dale Mark or Luke Matthews as to why they mentioned an overdose to the police dispatcher, but not the dog bites and blood. A toxicology report released in January 2020 found no alcohol and only the prescribed amounts of prescription medication in Mary Matthews’ body.
Instead of separating the witnesses, Blaha allowed them to prepare brief written statements together. Dale Mark Matthews and his parents were later allowed to clean up the bloodstains in the house and dispose of other potential evidence, according to Francis.
Both Great Danes were killed and their bodies cremated without DNA evidence and dental casts being taken to establish that no other dogs were involved.
Neither has anyone explained, to the awareness of ANIMALS 24-7, why a third dirty dog bowl was lined up with two others in the kitchen when Mary Matthews had only the two Great Danes.
Of note, coroner Burke, police chief Terrill, and officer Blaha appear to have had no previous experience investigating a dog attack fatality, since no others have occurred within their jurisdiction.
French cuffs, pearls, & the Portsmouth Humane Society
The latest revelations in the Pilarski case, specifically the attack on the Clara Foundation volunteer, coincide with the January 25, 2020 disclosure by Virginian-Pilot reporter Scott Daugherty that Marie A. Franco-Wisnewski, 55, of Portsmouth, Virginia, has sued the Portsmouth Humane Society, seeking $240,000 in damages for injuries suffered to her right index finger when she visited the shelter on October 14, 2018, seeking to adopt a dog.
“According to the suit,” wrote Daugherty, “Franco-Wisnewski went to the facility with her brother after church. She was apparently wearing her Sunday best, including a blouse with French cuffs and a pearl bracelet that hung down several inches past her hands as she walked.
“After arriving at the shelter, Franco-Wisnewski was ‘invited to look around the shelter unaccompanied by any employees,’ according to the suit. But as she walked past a kennel, a large pit bull named King snatched the fabric of one of her sleeves and pulled her hand inside. The suit said the dog then bit down on her finger, causing profuse bleeding.”
Pit bull’s presence “open & obvious”?
Attorney David Abel, in a response to the lawsuit, “argued Franco-Wisnewski was herself negligent and that the pit bull’s presence was ‘open and obvious,’ Daugherty summarized.
The Portsmouth Humane Society, founded in 1889, manages animal control impoundments for the city of Portsmouth, handling 740 dogs in 2019.
On July 7, 2017, according to WAVY television reporter Erin Kelly, “The Portsmouth Humane Society announced it will no longer categorize dogs in its shelter by breed, but will refer to all dogs there as ‘American Shelter Dogs.’”
This calls into question just how “open and obvious” the presence of a pit bull might be to someone not already familiar with dogs.
An animal shelter is not a shopping mall
Also in question is why anyone would wear French cuffs and a dangling bracelet into an animal shelter in the first place, and why signage and shelter staff would not immediately clarify that this is not appropriate shelter garb.
Standard shelter practice is that staff, volunteers, and visitors should not wear loose clothing or jewelry, or have loosely flowing hair, should wear footgear that completely covers the foot and has a non-slip tread, and have as little exposed skin as practicable, the same as would be appropriate in an industrial workplace.
An animal shelter is a working environment, where animals’ teeth, claws, and effluent may present sudden hazards, not a shopping mall, no matter how much some shelters try to obscure the difference to put prospective adopters at ease.
Brother Wolf explains importance of safety
Four hundred miles west, in Asheville, North Carolina, Brother Wolf animal shelter executive director Leah Craig Fieser and director of operations Jesse Winters on January 18, 2020 for the second time in 45 days explained to critics the obligation of animal shelters to protect public health and safety as well as animal health and safety.
Fieser, events director at Brother Wolf from 2015 into 2017, succeeded founder Denise Bitz as executive director in January 2019 after having been laid off and working in the interim with Friends of the Western North Carolina Nature Center.
Inheriting an operating deficit of nearly $1 million and a history of staff, volunteers, and adopters having been injured by dangerous dogs, mostly pit bulls, Fieser dismantled the former Brother Wolf no-kill policy about four months into her tenure.
“Sold a false bill of goods by past leadership”
“In our best moments,” wrote Fieser and Winters, “our hearts go out to those who, in a state of anger caused by grief, slander the name of a nonprofit animal rescue that impacts the lives of over 9,000 animals a year.
“They were sold a false bill of goods by past Brother Wolf leadership. These supporters were told that Brother Wolf could act as a behavior rehabilitation center and could fix aggression. They were told that Brother Wolf could take on the hardest animals, change them and find them homes. They were told that a sanctuary would exist for the ones they could not place. None of this proved to be true.
“The previous leadership of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue made the well-intended but misguided decision to adopt aggressive dogs into the community,” Fieser and Winters continued. “Many people and animals now bear the physical and emotional scars of those decisions.”
“We have witnessed first-hand what happens”
Emphasized Fieser and Winters, “Brother Wolf is not going to place animals with a history of aggression into any community. We have witnessed first-hand what happens when animals with a history of aggression are placed into homes. Over just a few months in 2019, we saw the aftermath of a child attacked and bitten multiple times in the face while asleep, a woman receive such deep puncture wounds in her leg that she couldn’t walk, and a neighbor’s dog killed in a dog fight in front of a young girl who loved her dog with all her heart.
“In each of those incidents the dog had a known history of aggression and was still placed into a home in our community.”
Acknowledged Fieser and Winters, “Videos and photographs have been posted showing some of the dogs we recently let go [euthanized] being loving and affectionate. We are grateful these dogs knew a loving, trusting relationship with at least one person. That does not make them safe. These dogs, like any other living being, were not aggressive 100% of the time. However, when they were, it was severe and unprovoked.
“People want friendly, safe dogs”
“Behavioral management ultimately fails,” Fieser and Winters explained, “even with the most experienced and diligent owner. Accidents happen. Doors and windows get left open. Gates get left unlatched.
“People coming in to adopt from Brother Wolf want friendly, safe dogs for their families,” Fieser and Winters recognized. “This is a reasonable expectation. Thousands of friendly, safe dogs are euthanized in shelters throughout North Carolina. We have a duty to save those dogs and place them into loving homes. Every week Brother Wolf now visits at least two nearby county shelters and takes in animals. These shelters are overcrowded and sometimes have to make hard euthanasia decisions for no other reason than space constraints. We can help and so we do. This is the heart of who we are at Brother Wolf.
“In the first 14 days of 2020,” Fieser and Winters said, “Brother Wolf transferred in 84 animals from nearby county shelters and adopted out 73 animals into loving homes.
“Of the nearly 2,000 animals Brother Wolf took in in 2019,” according to Fieser and Winters, “6%,” or about a dozen, “were euthanized due to offensive aggressive behavior.”
Anti-Cruelty Society director speaks from experience
Among those endorsing Fieser and Winters’ position were Asheville Citizen Times columnist John Boyle and Tracey Elliott, now president of the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago, who was executive director of the Asheville Humane Society 2015-2019.
Under Elliott, the Asheville Humane Society in June 2015 rehomed a pit bull who, despite passing the American SPCA-developed SAFER test, on July 7, 2015 killed six-year-old neighbor Joshua Phillip Strother.
“Brother Wolf was in a situation where there were dogs who were living there for years,” Elliott told Boyle. “If they can’t be adopted out, there’s a reason why. It could be five years before they end up hurting a person or another dog, but nevertheless, if you observe that behavior [dogs who show aggression in an unpredictable or unprovoked manner] and knew the dog had that tendency, that’s your responsibility.
“The people who are out there protesting don’t have that responsibility,” Elliott emphasized. “They don’t have that on their conscience if it hurts the child or kills another animal, and we have to think about that. It’s a tough, tough, tough circle to square.”