Soldiers & civilians protected by U.S. Army, Marine Corps, & Air Force orders now at risk
WASHINGTON, D.C.; FORT POLK, Louisiana––The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate quietly bootlegged language into S.4049, the now Senate-approved National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which would repeal the bans long in effect on keeping pit bulls, Rottweilers, and other dangerous dogs in military housing.
Mauled on May 22, 2016 by a pit bull illegally kept in military housing, nine-year-old Fort Polk resident Wyatt Herrington and family are meanwhile still seeking a semblance of justice and recompense for multiple injuries from pit bull owner Anya Ashley.
Louisiana Western District Court records show that the court on May 27, 2020 dismissed a claim of bankruptcy by Anya and Robert Ashley. The case is presently scheduled for jury trial on March 21, 2021, but a notification sent to the Ashleys most recent known military address was returned on June 2, 2020, marked “Not Deliverable.”
Among the military legislation to be undone by the U.S. Senate version of S.4049 are two sets of orders that should have protected Herrington, had either been enforced: a 2006 ban of pit bulls from base housing specifically at Fort Polk, and the 2009 ban of pit bulls from any U.S. Army housing, anywhere in the world.
Trump administration expected to back repeal
The Senate language, “Section 1050. Department of Defense policy for the regulation of dangerous dogs,” would also repeal the bans on pit bulls, Rottweilers, and other known dangerous breeds now in effect in all other branches of the U.S. armed services.
Now approved by the U.S. Senate, S.4049 must be reconciled with H.R. 6395, the House of Representatives version of National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.
The reconciled version of both bills will then go before both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House for what is usually quick pro forma final approval, and then go to U.S. President Donald Trump for his signature.
Lara Trump, the pit bull advocate daughter-in-law of U.S. President Donald Trump, wife of his second son Eric Trump, can be expected to lobby for Section 1050 to be retained during the reconciliation process.
Medical, surgical, & genetic testimony excluded
Section 1050 requires that “Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense, through the Veterinary Service Activity of the Department of Defense, shall establish a standardized policy applicable across all military communities for the regulation of dangerous dogs that is— (1) breed-neutral; and (2) consistent with advice from professional veterinary and animal behavior experts in regard to effective regulation of dangerous dogs.”
Noteworthy is the total exclusion of advice from medical, surgical, and genetic researchers, whose perspectives in dozens of recent studies have converged around recognition that pit bulls in particular are extraordinarily dangerous because of a combination of inbred physical and behavioral traits.
As trauma surgeons Khurram Khan, Bruce B Horswell, and Damayanti Samanta concluded in their 2019 study Dog-Bite Injuries to the Craniofacial Region: An Epidemiologic and Pattern-of-Injury Review at a Level 1 Trauma Center,
“The data showed that compared with other dog breeds, pit bull terriers inflicted more complex wounds, were often unprovoked, and went off property to attack. Other top-biting breeds resulting in more unprovoked and complex wounds included German shepherds, Rottweilers, and huskies.”
Dog-Bite Injuries to the Craniofacial Region appeared in the peer-reviewed Journal of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.
Preventive principle replaced by “one free bite”––or more
Section 1050 orders that, “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall prescribe regulations implementing the policy established,” to include “Enforcement of comprehensive, non-breed-specific regulations relating to dangerous dogs, with emphasis on identification of dangerous dog behavior and chronically irresponsible owners.”
This would in effect erase the present military emphasis on preventing fatal and disfiguring dog attacks with a “one bite rule,” requiring dogs and dog owners to demonstrate both “dangerous dog behavior” and “chronically irresponsible” ownership, implying multiple incidents, before any dog, no matter how menacing, could be removed from base housing.
Having already stripped the armed services of any authority to enforce meaningful preventive animal control law enforcement, Section 1050 adds pro forma calls for “Enforcement of animal control regulations, such as leash laws and stray animal control policies, promotion and communication of resources for pet spaying and neutering,” and “Investment in community education initiatives, such as teaching criteria for pet selection, pet care best practices, owner responsibilities, and safe and appropriate interaction with dogs.
American Bar Association policy favors lawyers
Section 1050 would extend to “all installations of the Department [of Defense]; and all military housing, including privatized military housing.”
Recalled Hope Hodge Seck for Military.com, among the few media so far to notice Section 1050, “A 2013 Change.org petition from the organization Dogs on Deployment calling for a standardization of dog policies,” a euphemism for undoing the dangerous dog policies, “collected nearly 45,000 signatures, but ultimately did not lead to a major policy change.
“The initiative apparently got new legs, however,” Seck said, “when the president of the American Bar Association, Bob Carlson, wrote to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2019 about the matter.”
The 400,000-member American Bar Association has since August 6, 2012 formally urged the repeal of all breed-specific dog legislation. Worthy of note is in the absence of breed-specific legislation, dog attacks and resultant litigation proliferate, to the particular advantage of the 93,000 U.S. attorneys, not all of them American Bar Association members, who practice personal injury law.
Pit bull who attacked five-year-old “disappeared”
The Fort Polk pit bull attack on Wyatt Herrington, then age 5, came to light through a June 6, 2016 report by Luke Carberry Mogan for Army Times.
Wrote Mogan, “The soldier’s dog who viciously bit a 5-year-old boy at Fort Polk, Louisiana, last month remains at large. Neither the base’s military police nor animal control have been able to find the animal since the May 22, 2016 attack. Fort Polk spokeswoman Kim Reischling confirmed the Army was investigating the incident, and that the dog in question was still missing,” believed to have been transported off base soon after the incident.
“The Army would not name the alleged dog owner,” Mogan said, but the victim’s mother told Mogan that the owner was a female staff sergeant, who grabbed the pit bull and drove away after the boy was injured in an unprovoked attack from behind.
Postings to the Beauregard Daily News Facebook page soon identified the owner as then-recently promoted staff sergeant Anya Brown-Ashley.
Base housing contractor had stronger policy than U.S. Army
Because the rabies vaccination status of the pit bull could not be ascertained, Wyatt Herrington endured post-exposure injections, as well as multiple surgeries to repair damage from the pit bull attack.
“The Herrington family gave up their own dog,” Mogan reported, “after Wyatt Herrington began having nightmares.”
The attack occurred shortly before the victim’s father, infantry staff sergeant James Herrington, was to return home from his sixth deployment to Afghanistan with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
“Corvias Military Living, which manages Fort Polk neighborhood housing, has had a dog policy in effect since March 1, 2009,” Mogan wrote. “It specifies ‘pit bulls, American/Staffordshire bull terriers, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, chows, wolf hybrids, and crosses of these breeds’ are not allowed.”
“Call a dog ‘something––anything––other than the banned breed”
The Corvias Military Living policy echoed and extended the uniform policies already effect in U.S. Army and Marine Corps base housing worldwide, which have not always been effectively enforced against organized resistance.
Military.com spouse and family blogger Amy Bushatz, for instance, on January 30, 2013 posted a blog installment entitled “How to Get Banned Pups on Base (Without Breaking the Rules),” which advised troops and their families to call a dog “something––anything––other than the banned breed,” and to “Ask your vet or shelter to help you out,” because “Vets and clinics want you to adopt the dog, and they want you to keep the dog.”
The U.S. Army in January 2009 became the first branch of the U.S. armed services to adopt breed-specific housing rules throughout its jurisdiction, after at least six dog attack fatalities in five years and one near-fatal mauling either occurred in military housing or involved personnel who lived in military housing.
Why the U.S. Army took the lead
The string of fatalities began in May 2005, when a pit bull whose family acquired him while living in military housing in Texas killed a two-year-old girl in Huntington, West Virginia.
A Rottweiler in February 2006 fatally mauled the four-year-old son of a woman who was stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base, near Ulm, Montana. The victim and his mother were staying with relatives when the attack occurred.
Two pit bulls in May 2007 killed a three-year-old boy in base housing at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia.
A July 2007 fatal attack on an 11-month-old boy by two Siberian huskies in a home near Cookeville, Tennessee, involved two families who met while living in U.S. Marine Corps housing. The father of the victim was a U.S. Marine Corps recruiter, who was still on active duty, but the attack appears to have occurred on private property. Huskies have not been included in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force dog breed bans.
Eleven-year-old Seth Lovett, mauled by a pit bull at Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas, died on November 6, 2007 at the Carl Darnall Army Medical Center.
Finally, in May 2008, a visitor’s pit bull killed a three-year-old boy at Camp Lejeune. The May 2008 Camp Lejeune fatality came as the U.S. Marine Corps faced a $5 million lawsuit over a 2005 attack by a Rottweiler at Camp Lejeune that cost a child an ear.
Marines & Air Force followed
Alarmed at last, the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force high commands all began moving toward adopting unified breed-specific housing rules.
By then many individual bases, Fort Polk among them, had already adopted breed-specific housing rules at instigation of concerned base commanders.
Pit bulls had also been banned from housing at the U.S. Marine Corps bases in Quantico, Virginia, and Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
All 10 bases in the U.S. Air Force Space Command had prohibited pit bulls and Rottweilers from base housing, along with Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, and McGuire Air Force in New Jersey.
The Ellsworth and McGuire orders additionally named Dobermans, while the Kirtland order named wolf hybrids.
Fort Hood had banned only wolf hybrids, coyotes, & jackals
Fort Hood was believed to have had the least restrictive dog policy of any major Army installation, prohibiting possession only of wolf hybrids, coyotes, and jackals before Seth Lovett was killed. Fort Hood banned pit bulls in November 2008, however, ahead of the uniform U.S. Army ban, but allowed pit bulls who were registered at the Fort Hood Veterinary Clinic before July 10, 2008 to remain on base.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lydon, then the Fort Hood provost marshal, told Amanda Kim Stairrett of the Killeen Daily Herald that over the preceding six years, 68% of the dogs who were declared dangerous after biting someone on base had been pit bulls and 8% were Rottweilers.
U.S. Army commanders at more than 40 bases around the world were on January 5, 2009 ordered to implement a new Pet Policy for Privatized Housing.
Details of the U.S. Army order
Issued under the Army’s Residential Communities Initiative Privatization Program, the new pet policy prohibited pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, chows, and wolf hybrids; limited personnel living in base housing to keeping no more than two dogs or cats; forbade keeping exotic pets and farm animals, required all pets to be microchipped for identification, and forbade keeping pets “tied or staked outside the home or any building.”
The order further prohibited keeping “Any other dog who demonstrates a propensity for dominance or aggressive behavior,” indicated by “Unprovoked barking, growling or snarling at people approaching the animal, aggressively running along fence lines when people are present, biting or scratching people, or escaping confinement or restriction to chase people.”
Additional provisions of the U.S. Army order stipulated that “Voice command is not an acceptable means of control,” that “Pets are not allowed in playgrounds or tot lots at any time,” and that pet keepers in military housing must “Maintain appropriate, humane care of pets (e.g. food, water, shelter from extreme weather, etc.)”
Marine Corps order
Residents of U.S. Marine Corps base housing worldwide were on August 11, 2009 prohibited from acquiring pit bulls, Rottweilers, or wolf hybrids. Those who already had dogs of the prohibited breeds were given until October 11, 2011 to meet the requirements for remaining in military housing under a “grandfather clause.”
Prefaced Major General Edward Usher, deputy commandant of installations and logistics worldwide, in signing the Marine Corps order, “Pit bulls, Rottweilers, canid/wolf hybrids, or any canine breed with dominant traits of aggression present an unreasonable risk to the health and safety of personnel in family housing,” Usher assessed. “Consequently, full or mixed breeds of pit bulls, Rottweilers and canid/wolf hybrids are prohibited aboard Marine Corps installations.”
As in U.S. Army base housing, “There is no requirement that dogs or cats be spayed or neutered,” the Marine Corps appended to the ban of pit bulls et al, “but owners are encouraged to pursue this procedure. The choice to spay or neuter a pet is a responsible and prudent measure which ultimately benefits all residents.”
Air Force order followed; Navy did not act
The U.S. Air Force Standardized Pet Policy, substantially identical to those of the Army and Marine Corps, took effect on March 28, 2011.
Many U.S. Navy installations individually exclude dogs including pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and wolf hybrids from base housing, but the Navy still leaves the adoption of exclusion policies up to individual base commanders.
The exclusion of pit bulls, bull terriers, Rottweilers, Dobermans, chows, and wolf hybrids from military housing markedly reduced the numbers of dependents of military personnel who were killed or disfigured by dog attacks.
Few attacks on military bases since breed-specific orders took effect
A Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina was in February 2011 charged with felony child abuse for allegedly leaving his son alone with a pit bull who subsequently mauled the child, but was acquitted after a jury trial a year later. The Marine in that case was not subject to military discipline because he, his family, and the pit bull lived off base.
Two pit bulls who allegedly attacked a man and his golden retriever at Bethel Manor Park on Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia in October 2018 apparently broke into the base housing from a civilian neighborhood.
Two noteworthy dog attacks occurring after the military breed bans were instituted involved German shepherds, who were exempted.
Valerie Grace Carlson, then 30, in September 2011 pleaded guilty to child endangerment, was sentenced to a year in the San Diego County Jail, and was placed on probation for five years, after her German shepherd on July 31, 2010 killed her two-year-old son Aaron, in front of three older children who tried unsuccessfully to save him.
“Another neighbor in the military housing complex told police that Carlson was passed out drunk on the couch downstairs,” reported Dana Littlefield of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The second German shepherd attack occurred on January 30, 2012 at Fort Campbell, a base straddling the Kentucky/Tennessee border near Clarksville, Tennessee. Flown by helicopter to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the six-year-old victim reportedly sustained severe injuries to his face and head.
The German shepherd in question had apparently been given to a Fort Campbell soldier as a “therapy dog” to help him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, Major Dennis Cunningham of the Oak Grove Police Department told Dave Boucher of the Kentucky New Era.