Victim survived nuclear bomb tests, but not four Staffordshires and a bull terrier
PAPEETE, Tahiti––Maria Liu Sing ép. Layoussaint, 87, was on May 12, 2020 torn apart by four American Staffordshire pit bulls and a bull terrier pit bull variant.
She had survived World War II, the 1946 annexation of Polynesia by France, and 193 nuclear bomb tests conducted by the French government between 1966 and 1996 on the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa.
The bomb tests repeatedly showered Tahiti with plutonium dust that exposed residents to up to 500 times the maximum “safe” level of radiation, markedly elevating the island cancer rate.
But Maria Liu Sing ép. Layoussaint remained healthy, in part by walking every morning around the sports stadium near her home in Pirae, a suburb of Papeete, home to about 137,000 of the 190,000 residents of Tahiti. She was attacked on the soccer field.
Witness fought the pit bulls with a tennis racket
Ramon Taihotua, playing tennis nearby with a friend, was first to respond.
“She was lying down with lots of dogs around her,” Taihotua told Agence France Presse. “I thought she was feeling unwell, but when I got close,” driving the pit bulls back with his tennis racket, “I saw that the lady was like scalped, and that she was bitten very deeply in both arms, in both legs, in the neck and in the face. It was atrocious. I think she was already deceased.
“The pit bulls came back,” Taihotua continued. “I had to hit them with my racket and my colleague had an iron bar, but they remained aggressive. The four pit bulls and a bull terrier had blood on their snouts. We had trouble approaching her to protect her body. It took the intervention of the municipal police to keep the dogs away. I regret so much that we were unable to intervene in time.”
Two, one with priors, charged with manslaughter
“Two young men, alleged owners of the pit bulls, were indicted for manslaughter and placed in police custody,” Agence France Presse reported. “One of them, in a state of legal recidivism, was placed under judicial supervision. He had already been sentenced in June 2016 for similar acts. Two other persons were placed under the status of assisted witness.”
The suspects could be sentenced to serve five years each in prison, and be fined as much as the equivalent of $81,600 in U.S. funds.
The two pit bulls believed to have led the attack are reportedly likely to be euthanized.
“This tragedy could have been avoided if everyone had respected the regulations,” editorialized FranceTVInfo, the major television station serving Tahiti. “Indeed, the keeping of dangerous dogs has been regulated since 2008.”
Pit bulls & Rottweilers banned since 2008
The acquisition, sale, or import of pit bulls, Rottweilers, and any other dogs resembling them is nominally prohibited. Those who were already in Tahiti legally as of 2008––which would be by now vanishingly few––could be kept, but only if sterilized and licensed.
Keeping other breeds commonly used as “guard or defense dogs,” such as German shepherds and Malinois, is still allowed, but these dogs also must be sterilized, and may not be allowed to roam at large. Owners must be at least 18 years of age, and may not have a criminal record.
Despite the legislation, Tahiti has now had two dog attack fatalities in three years, both by pit bulls, a rate proportionately equivalent to about 1,100 dog attack fatalities per year in the U.S., which has actually had 101 over the same time, 80 by pit bulls.
Infant killed in 2018
The previous Tahiti victim, an eighteen-month-old girl, was fatally mauled outside her home in Raiatea, Tevaitoa municipality, on July 24, 2018.
The two men whose dog killed the girl received 24-month suspended prison sentences and were fined the equivalent of $90,000.
Efforts have been made to reinforce the 2008 Tahiti dog law with local ordinances. Mahina, for instance, site of the University of French Polynesia, on December 1, 2019 required dogs to be confined, contrary to the Polynesia tradition of allowing dogs other than those specifically covered by the 2008 law to roam.
Mahina also adopted an eight-day holding interval for impounded dogs, and was reportedly to build an animal shelter, start a dog fostering program, and introduce a dog sterilization campaign in 2020, though all of this may now be on hold due to disruptions occasioned by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Though Tahiti has had no COVID-19 deaths and has had only 60 reported cases, the outbreak has devastated the island tourism sector, which accounts for about 13% of the gross domestic product.
“Ads for pit bulls & Rottweilers increasing”
Complained the Papeete news portal Tahiti-Infos.com on January 31, 2018, six months before the baby girl was killed, “Advertisements for the sale of pit bulls, Rottweiler crosses or Amstaff [American Staffordshire terrier crosses] are increasing on social networks. Applications to purchase or adopt these kinds of dogs too. There are more and more private groups intended for lovers of molossers in Polynesia.”
There were even earlier warnings that the 2008 law forbidding pit bulls was not being enforced. A photo of a pit bull, for instance, illustrated a November 10, 2016 Tahiti-Infos.com news item mentioning that “Dog thefts are rampant in Tahiti, according to the [humane] association Eimeo Animara. Dogs in particular are stolen to be resold or used for breeding. Not to mention the existence of a black market for dog meat.”
Archaeology appears to have established that dogs arrived in Tahiti with the first Polynesian settlers circa 1,000 CE, but were apparently not eaten until about 300 years later.
Spanish brought war dogs
Joseph Banks, the naturalist who accompanied Captain James Cook aboard the Endeavor on his 1769 voyage of discovery, in June 1769 produced the first written account of dog-eating in Tahiti in his journal covering the passage from Vahitahi to Rurutu.
Curiously, this account came 53 years after the French explorer Jacques Lemaire in 1716 reported finding “three Spanish dogs, very lean” on an uninhabited island he named Dog Island, probably descended from dogs left by Spanish explorers who ventured into the region as early as 1521 and 1606.
The dogs taken aboard ship by Spanish explorers of that era tended to be “dogs o’war,” instrumental to the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1519-1521 and of Peru in 1532, ancestral to the so-called “Cuban bloodhound” used by slavers and the Presa Canario, Fila Brasiliero, and Dogo Argentino of today.
Eventually, reported anthropologist George Calderon in 1906, “Dogs of Spanish breed were found scattered all over Polynesia,” perhaps hinting at Spanish trades of war dogs for provisions, or at losses of dogs while trying to take whatever the Spanish explorers wanted or needed.
Dog-eating incensed Brigitte Bardot
Meanwhile, summarized French food sociologist and historian Christophe Serra Mallol in the June 25, 2010 edition of the scholarly journal Anthropozoologica, “The scarcity of land-dwelling animals, the symbolic importance conferred on red meat, and the social stratification marked by numerous food prohibitions, made the dog a choice food in the whole of the pre-European Polynesian area.”
Dog-eating was discouraged in Tahiti by English and French missionaries, especially because it was associated with idolatrous sacrifice. Selling dogs or dog meat for human consumption was banned in 1959.
However, concluded Mallol, dog-eating, while rare, persists in French Polynesia among cultural traditionalists.
Hearing of dog-eating in Tahiti in 1989 incensed actress-turned-activist for animals Brigitte Bardot, who had honeymooned in Tahiti in July 1966 with her third husband, Gunter Sachs. Widely distributed photos of the bikini-wearing Bardot on the beaches of Tahiti helped to establish the popularity of Tahiti as a tourist destination––and gave her denunciation of Tahiti for tolerating dog-eating particular force when amplified by the newspaper Paris Match.
Two men convicted of killing dog to eat
Bardot’s statements were so incendiary, she boasted afterward, that the edition of Paris Match was not distributed in French Polynesia.
Bardot was reignited in September 2017, after two Tahitian men, ages 54 and 26, were arrested for killing a dog with a machete––whether a street dog or a neighbor’s dog was unclear––and then cooking and eating the dog after hiding the remains for three weeks in a freezer.
The men claimed the dog had attacked them.
Prosecuted by the Alliance for the Respect & the Protection of Animals of Polynesia, backed by 5,000 signatures on a petition calling for the conviction of the two men, the perpetrators were convicted on August 29, 2019. They received three-month suspended prison sentences, were placed on two years of supervised probation, were ordered to pay the equivalent of $4,000 in U.S. funds to the Alliance for the Respect & the Protection of Animals of Polynesia, and were each fined the equivalent of $600 in U.S. funds.
“Restore the rule of law!” says Bardot
But, Bardot protested to the High Commissioner of Tahiti in a November 4, 2019 open letter, the September/October 2019 edition of the magazine Tahiti Pacifique “devoted the cover and eight pages with photos to supporting this monstrous and illegal canine meat trade, with consumer testimonials.”
“Today, all sorts of dogs are eaten,” Tahiti Pacifique allegedly complained. “There is no longer any particular typology, which is worrying. Like sea turtle meat,” which is sometimes still eaten even though all species of sea turtle are nominally internationally protected, “dog meat is a special meat consumed by politicians, officials, police and even the gendarmes!”
Responded Bardot, “That a certain part of the population is breaking the laws of the Republic is already worrying, but that these abominable and ancestral traditions are spreading to the upper echelons of society and reaching civil servants is unacceptable! I ask you, Mr. High Commissioner,” Bardot demanded, “to react firmly and to put an end to this scandal by restoring the rule of law over your administration and over the inhabitants of Tahiti.”
But Bardot defends pit bulls who maim & kill
Bardot, who in August 2011 argued that a pit bull should not be euthanized after severely facially disfiguring a a four-year-old girl in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, just two weeks later offered to hire a lawyer to defend Christophe Lucien Joseph Ellul, 45, who on November 16, 2019 found his own pit bull Curtis alongside the badly mauled body of his six-months-pregnant fiancé Elisa Pilarski, 29, in the Retz Forest, an hour north of Paris.
Ellul contends that a pack of Poitvin hunting hounds actually killed Pilarski, though the hunting hounds were apparently not released until half an hour or more after Pilarski died, according to forensic investigation.
DNA test results, expected to establish exactly which dogs inflicted the fatal bites, were initially expected in February 2020, but doing the testing was delayed by the estimated high cost of the work.
Then, after funds were allocated to ensure that the testing was done by June 2020, the work was delayed again by the redirection of laboratory personnel and equipment to responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic, according to the newspaper La Voix du Nord.