Family of Hornish pit bull victim offers to settle for $3.5 million; insurer says Hornish isn’t covered
BELLEVILLE, Illinois; SUFFIELD, Connecticut––Moving and storage worker Kelly Knaup, 45, of Belleville, Illinois, and Annie Hornish, 63, Connecticut state representative for the Humane Society of the U.S., have just four things obviously in common.
• Both restructured their lives around two pit bulls each.
• Both frequently posted pit bull advocacy memes to their Facebook pages.
• Both left their pit bulls for a time one afternoon in a home with a severely disabled person and a home health care aide.
• Both returned that day to find that their pit bulls had killed someone.
The victims were respectively the 27th of 33 U.S. and Canadian pit bull attack deaths in 2019, and the 29th U.S. and Canadian pit bull attack death of 2020.
The Hornish case
Hornish on November 6, 2019 returned home to discover Janet D’Aleo, 95, dying in her front hallway from what WFSB Eyewitness News in Hartford, Connecticut described as “massive injuries including flesh, muscle and tendon loss to the lower extremities.”
The fatal wounds were inflicted by Dexter, a three-year-old pit bull apparently acquired from rescuer Jessica Kaczynski. Having already failed in several previous homes, Dexter had been in the Hornish home for about four months.
D’Aleo, who used a walker, had come to visit Hornish’s mother, Agnes Wosko, 93. A home health care aide who was present to attend Wosko tried unsuccessfully to fend Dexter off with a metal stool.
“According to police,” summarized Matthew P. Knox of the Manchester Journal-Inquirer after a June 2020 hearing on the matter, “D’Aleo’s health care aide reported that after walking D’Aleo into the Hornishes home, she briefly left the house to move the car. Upon returning to the front door, she saw the dog charging at her and slammed the door shut.
“The aide said she saw through the window in the door that the dog then turned around and charged at D’Aleo, who was standing in the hallway. The dog grabbed D’Aleo’s left leg, pulled her to the ground, and ‘mauled’ her, the aide said.”
Hornish alternate scenario of “limited evidentiary value”
Hornish, however, “testified that she believes Dexter didn’t attack D’Aleo,” Knox continued, “but greeted her in an excited manner and caused her to fall down. Hornish said the aide saw this and likely thought that Dexter was attacking D’Aleo, which led her to enter the home, grab a stool and hit Dexter with it. Being struck with the stool caused Dexter to bite and scratch D’Aleo, and the stool may have caused some injury to D’Aleo as well, Hornish theorized.”
Added Knox, “The hearing officer allowed Hornish to testify about her theory, but warned her that its value as evidence was limited because she wasn’t present during the attack.”
Stepfather killed in laundry room
Kelly Knaup, summoned by his wife Crystal and a home health care worker there to attend her, on August 26, 2020 returned to the home he and his wife shared with his stepfather, Stephen Frederick Pemberton, 61, to find that their two pit bulls, a male and female, had killed Pemberton in the laundry room.
St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department captain Bruce Fleshren told media that the pit bulls were normally kept in the laundry room whenever Kelly Knaup left the home.
On August 26, 2020, however, either the pit bulls escaped or Stephen Pemberton, a cancer patient, for an unknown reason opened the door.
Crystal Knaup and the home health care worker heard the attack, but were unable to respond.
“Why do we have to lose our dogs?”
Crystal Knaup, 36, was on April 25, 2018 severely injured in a car crash, shortly after the Knaups bred and sold a litter of pit bull puppies. One puppy was returned and appears to have been given away, “free to good home,” in the first days after the accident.
“The doctors had written her off and I was full of despair,” Kelly Knaup posted to Facebook seven months later, but that evening she moved her foot.
Ten weeks later Crystal Knaup was first able to take a few steps, with help, but more than two years of Facebook updates suggest her recovery has been slow and difficult.
“Crystal Knaup didn’t hurt herself. She wasn’t driving. She was doing nothing wrong. So why the hell are we the ones who have to suffer? Why does she have to hurt? Why do we have to find another home? Why do we have to lose our dogs?” Kelly Knaup posted on July 3, 2018.
“There was a very high price paid to keep these dogs”
On March 25, 2019, on Crystal Knaup’s birthday, further Facebook postings indicate, the Knaups moved from Mascoutah, Illinois, to Belleville, about a dozen miles west, and into Pemberton’s home, across the street from the Southwestern Illinois College campus.
There the Knaups were able to keep their pit bulls, but the home environment appears to have been unstable. On April 21, 2019, Stephen Pemberton posted that he had gotten married, but less than four months later, on August 19, 2019, posted that he had been divorced.
“The investigation is continuing,” captain Fleshren said, “but no one is in custody at this time,” except that the pit bulls were impounded, “and charges are not expected to be filed.”
Concluded Fleshren, “While precautions were taken to keep these dogs away from others in the home, obviously that did not work, and there was very high price paid to keep these dogs,” who were scheduled for euthanasia.
$3.5 million settlement offer
Meanwhile back in Suffield, Connecticut, reported Matthew P. Knox of the Manchester Journal-Inquirer on August 25, 2020, an attorney representing the D’Aleo family “has offered to settle their lawsuit against the dog’s owners,” Annie and Neil Hornish, “for $3.5 million, according to court records.”
The D’Aleo family lawyer, John Houlihan Jr. of Hartford, told Knox that the settlement offer, filed in court on August 5, 2020, “represents what the family thinks is reasonable, and what they believe a jury would likely award in the case,” Knox wrote.
“He said it would be unusual for the Hornishes to accept the initial offer,” Knox added, “and he doesn’t expect they will. However, such an offer normally leads to settlement discussions, Houlihan said.”
Hornishes told insurer they did not have pit bulls
Simultaneously, Knox continued, “the Hornishes are also facing a lawsuit, filed in Hartford Superior Court in June, from their homeowner’s insurance company and the company that provides their umbrella policy, both of which are asking a judge to absolve them of their duty to defend the Hornishes and cover their expenses.
“The companies are accusing the Hornishes,” Knox summarized, “of lying on their insurance application about owning a pit bull or pit bull mix.”
According to the insurance companies’ lawsuit, Knox explained, “when the Hornishes applied for insurance,” they denied having a pit bull, even though the Hornishes “already had one dog who was a pit bull, named Tofu.
“According to the lawsuit,” Knox said, “the Hornishes failed to correct their answer in the following years when the insurance policy was renewed, and didn’t update the information following their adoption in June 2019 of Dexter.”
Hornishes apparently not insured by State Farm
The insurance companies contend they would not have insured the Hornish home and other property, had they known the Hornishes kept pit bulls.
“In a response filed this month,” Knox wrote, “the Hornishes denied that either of their dogs was a pit bull, and denied lying on their application. They have also made a counterclaim against their homeowners insurance company, accusing it of engaging in ‘a pattern of conduct to avoid its obligations,’ including making false accusations.”
Ironically, the Hornishes appear not to be insured by State Farm.
In July 2015, pushing a bill to prohibit insurance companies from taking dog breeds into account in writing policies, Annie Hornish testified that State Farm “doesn’t even ask for breed information and explicitly states that insuring all dogs, regardless of breed, is not a real risk for them.”
Annie Hornish failed to mention that State Farm, which has 10.1% of the homeowners insurance market, often pays out close to 20% of the total paid out by all U.S. insurers combined for dog attack claims. Everyone who insures with State Farm thereby pays higher premiums.
No pointer on record as having killed anyone
Dexter has the head and body type of a pit bull, with only some coloration, common to both pit bulls and pointers, to suggest any pointer ancestry.
Further, ANIMALS 24-7 has found no mention of possible pointer ancestry in social media postings about Dexter prior to the fatal attack on D’Aleo.
Dexter, if in any part pointer, would be the first pointer or pointer mix on record as having been implicated in a fatal dog attack in either the U.S. or Canada in the 38 years that ANIMALS 24-7 has logged fatal and disfiguring attacks. Pit bulls, over the same time, have killed 507 people.
The Hornishes have repeatedly appealed a November 22, 2019 order by Suffield animal control officer Ryan Selig that Dexter be euthanized.
A two-day hearing on the euthanasia order was held before a Connecticut Department of Agriculture panel on June 4-5, 2020, but no final decision has been issued.