Moses Lake rescinded restrictions on possession of pit bulls under advocacy pressure in 2011
MOSES LAKE, Washington–– Zachary S. Willis, 27, a self-proclaimed pit bull rescuer with little verifiable record of actual involvement with pit bulls, was on October 9, 2020 identified to media by Grant County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Kyle Foreman as the victim of a fatal pit bull attack in Moses Lake, Washington, a day earlier.
The female pit bull owner, not yet named, also suffered “serious but non-life-threatening injuries consistent with a dog attack,” Foreman said.
Willis died at the scene, the first known pit bull fatality in Washington state since legislation undoing community bans on possession of pit bulls took effect on January 1, 2020.
Moses Lake had an ordinance restricting pit bulls in effect for 27 months in 2009-2011 before it was undone by a coalition of local and national pit bull advocates, presaging the multi-year drive that finally passed the state ban on pit bull bans.
Pit bull lived in home with victims
Grant County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Foreman told media that the pit bull who killed Willis lived in the same home as the victims, a trailer at the Harvest Manor Mobile Home Park in central Moses Lake; that the pit bull was injured during the fatal altercation; and that the pit bull is receiving local veterinary care.
Foreman did not, however, identify the relationship of the human victims.
KOMO News, in Seattle, reported on October 9, 2020 that Willis’ “wife survived but remains hospitalized.”
But ANIMALS 24-7 found no indication in either accessible public records or in reviewing more than five years’ worth of Willis’ frequent Facebook postings that he had ever been married or even had a significant “other.”
Circumstantial indications are that the woman may have been a 45-year-old co-worker with Willis at the Walmart Supercenter in Moses Lake, with whom Willis merely shared a residence. This information will be updated as further details become available.
Dubious alternate theory
Willis appeared to be an introverted loner, devoted to his two cats––a Siamese and a tabby––who battled chronic depression, smoked marijuana, and was an online gamer.
Mourning Willis as her best friend of many years, María Laurencia Gonzalez of Quincy, 37 miles from Moses Lake by car, started a Facebook discussion that produced a shaky alternate theory of how he died, posted by Ana Tamayo Ramos of Quincy.
“The dog did not just randomly attack his owner,” Ramos alleged. “That man was being stabbed by his girlfriend and the dog simply tried protecting his owner by attacking the woman. Neighbors said that there was always domestic violence in that home. Neighbors heard him yelling “get off of me” to her and her saying no.”
Again, however, Willis had posted nothing in at least five years to indicate that he was in any sort of live-in relationship with anyone, abusive or otherwise, and both “get off of me” and “no” might well have been directed toward the attacking pit bull.
“More than just a dog attack”
“I’m really hoping the full story comes out and my family can get the answers they deserve,” posted Willis’ stepsister Ashley Close to Facebook. “This is more than just a ‘dog attack.’”
While María Laurencia Gonzalez had posted photos of her pit bull, neither pit bulls in specific nor dogs in general appear to have had a big place in the lives and concerns of either Willis or his immediate associates.
The only recent online hint of a dog in Willis’ home was a photo he posted of a possibly dog-chewed e-cigarette, with a complaint about a person or persons he did not name having refused to take responsibility for damage to that and several previous e-cigarettes.
2015 pit bull rescue
But Willis on July 26, 2015 was “Trying to find the home of this beautiful dog,” he posted to Facebook beneath a photo of a fawn-colored pit bull with a white chest.
“He has scars,” Willis added, “and that is how I will release him to his rightful owner,” apparently meaning that Willis intended to match the scars to photos and/or descriptions of a missing pit bull.
Responded someone calling herself Kate Marie, “Uh I’m his new owner.”
Replied Willis, “I have him now, but he’s killed 12-15 chickens this morning and I saved him from a shotgun death.
Answered Kate Marie, “What? Poor baby,” meaning the pit bull, not the 12-15 chickens who were dismembered alive.
“They trained him to kill,” Kate Marie claimed.
“I saved one. I’ll save many more.”
“Now he [the pit bull] is going to a United Kennel Club breeder to be retrained and taught,” Willis added. “Yes, I saved one. I’ll save many more.”
In the same thread, Willis mentioned that the pit bull “was loving my kitten and wanted to destroy my older cat. He didn’t even have a problem with my dog, was just a little curious,” Willis allowed.
The dog Willis had at the time, named Pogo, died apparently from conditions of age not long afterward.
“A dog is only as his owner raises him,” Willis added, reciting a series of familiar pit bull advocacy tropes. “Treat and raise a good dog [and] he will be a good dog. Teach him different and he becomes a bad dog. This is why so many people misinterpret this breed. I even told my step dad to @#$% off because I know right from wrong and his ass don’t.”
Despite Willis’ stated intent to “save many more” pit bulls, his Facebook page documented involvement with only one more––and that was only sharing a posting from a woman named Bonnie Remington in Huetter, Idaho, who had found a stray pit bull with a Moses Lake microchip.
Desert counties were hubs of BSL battle
Grant County, where Willis was fatally attacked, Yakima County, adjacent to the southwest, and Benton County, directly south, were the hub of a battle over breed-specific legislation in Washington that has now raged for more than 30 years amid a rising human and animal body count.
The city of Yakima banned pit bulls in July 1987 after a pit bull mauled two women, Gloria Echeverria and Joanne Sanchez, but was not impounded by Yakima animal control.
Later in the day, according to Seattle Times coverage, the pit bulls “ran out from an alley, knocked Mark Felker to the ground, chewed off part of his left ear, and bit him on both arms.”
All three victims sued the city of Yakima and are believed to have accepted settlements in the vicinity of $25,000 each.
The American Dog Owners Association and Yakima residents David Carvo and Mark and Bonnie Johnson filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Yakima pit bull ban, but the Washington state supreme court on August 24, 1989 unanimously upheld the ban.
The Yakima city council then reaffirmed the ban four times in the five years before it was overturned by the state legislation now in effect, first introduced in 1991 but not passed until 2019.
Three other Yakima County communities––Selah, Moxee and Wapato––subsequently adopted and repeatedly upheld pit bull bans. A fourth Yakima County community, Prosser, passed a pit bull ban but then repealed it in 2005.
Benton & Grant counties
Pit bull advocates in Richland, the second largest city in Benton County, in December 2006 killed a proposed ordinance which would have defined pit bulls as “potentially dangerous.”
Royal City, however, in Grant County, simultaneously adopted a ban on possession of pit bulls and Rottweilers, even in cars passing through town.
Moses Lake took no action on pit bulls until after a neighbor’s 70-pound pit bull in September 2008 forced open a gate and severely facially mauled six-year-old Alex Medina in his family’s back yard, despite the efforts of at least six adults to protect him.
Taking note that pit bulls made up about a third of local animal shelter dog intake, the Moses Lake City Council on November 28, 2008 declared pit bulls, Rottweilers and Presa Canarios to be hazardous dogs. Any of those breeds already within Moses Lake could remain, but had to be sterilized. The ordinance took effect on April 16, 2009.
Other Grant Lake communities including Soap Lake and Quincy soon passed parallel ordinances.
More Moses Lake incidents
The Moses Lake ordinance, however, was repealed in October 2011, under pressure of a lawsuit brought by pit bull owners and advocates.
Among ensuing pit bull incidents in Moses Lake, a city of barely 20,000 people, a two-year-old girl was attacked by a pit bull in November 2013, suffering approximately 50 puncture wounds from bites, according to medical personnel who reported the attack to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.
Moses Lake police officer Aaron Hintz on September 28, 2015 shot a pit bull, who survived, after pepper spray failed to deter the pit bull from attacking two pedestrians and himself. Found running at large, the pit bull had already been retrieved and returned home by a member of the household, but escaped to charge Hintz again, according to the police report. Moses Lake police captain Dave Sands told media that there had been previous complaints about the pit bull menacing people.
On October 28, 2016, a member of the Moses Lake Tactical Response Team shot a female pit bull while helping the Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team to serve a search warrant. Heroin and drug paraphernalia were reportedly seized from the scene and three people were arrested on outstanding warrants.
The new Washington state law technically allows towns including Soap Lake and Quincy to retain ordinances recognizing pit bulls and various other high-risk breeds as uniquely dangerous, but allows owners to avoid special restrictions if their dogs have passed the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test or “a reasonably equivalent” behavior test.
Since there is no way to tell at a glance if a dog has passed a behavior test, there is no way for law enforcement personnel to quickly identify dogs who may be kept in violation of local ordinances.
Meanwhile at least 75 dogs who had apparently passed behavioral screening have participated in killing 44 people since 2001, including 52 pit bulls, five Presa Canarios or bull mastiffs, four Rottweilers, three “English bull dogs,” two German shepherds, two Great Danes, and one each of Akita, Boerboel, boxer, Doberman, golden retriever, husky, and unidentified breed.