Pit bull, only the third rehomed by the Aurora Animal Shelter, passed the ASPCA “SAFER” test
AURORA, Colorado––Just 21 days after an Aurora city council ordinance undoing the longstanding community pit bull ban took effect, five-year-old Leonardo Duran is facing possible lifelong disfigurement from only the third pit bull rehomed by the Aurora Animal Shelter.
Testified Leonardo Duran in a GoFundMe appeal posted by Karen Duran, believed to be his mother, “I was playing video games when a pit bull attacked me. I thought he would be my best friend, but he turned on me. I have about seven deep cuts around my face. My face is stitched up and I keep asking my mommy if I will always remain like this. She says I just need time.”
Bite spanning width of face
Reported Kieran Nicholson for the Denver Post on March 10, three days after Duran was attacked, “The child victim suffered a bite mark spanning the entire width of his face. A follow-up examination has been scheduled with a physician for a right eye exam.”
The injuries amounted to a Level 5 attack on the Ian Dunbar scale for evaluating bite severity. A Level 6 attack is fatal.
The attack came to light, Nicholson explained, when “On Sunday, an Aurora police officer was flagged by the driver of a pickup truck, Austin Chavez, 24, who asked for an escort to the Medical Center of Aurora, according to a police report. The injured child was in the truck. Chavez had adopted the dog, known as Malone,” at the Aurora Animal Shelter on February 27.
The two-year-old pit bull was renamed Cotto by the adoptive family.
The name may have been in honor of Miguel Cotto, the first Puerto Rican boxer to win world titles in four weight classes, who fought professionally from 2001 to 2017.
“A good dog around children”
Elaborated Darren Whitehead for 9News in Denver, “Once at the hospital, Chavez told police that he, a 25-year-old woman [believed to be Karen Duran], the five-year-old child,” Leonardo Duran, “and a one-and-a-half-year-old child were in their living room. The five-year-old was on one couch with the dog,” Cotto, while the others were on another couch. The woman moved to the floor to take care of the younger child. Then the older child got up and moved toward the woman, the police report says.
“The dog then jumped off the couch and bit the five-year-old directly in the face, according to the police report. Chavez said Cotto wasn’t letting go, so he grabbed the dog’s upper and lower jaws and pried them open to free the child, the report states. Chavez picked up Cotto and put him in the bathroom, the report says.
“Chavez told the officer he adopted Cotto from the Aurora Animal Shelter a week earlier,” Whitehead continued. “Chavez said staff at the shelter told him that Cotto was a good dog around children.
Cotto had near-perfect SAFER score
“The officer’s report states that it was hard to get pictures of the child’s injuries due to the child’s head being wrapped in gauze,” Whitehead added. “The officer said he could see the child had deep gashes on the right-side of his nose, along the right eyebrow and in the upper nose area.”
“Chavez provided the officer adoption paperwork that showed that Cotto was brought to the [Aurora Animal Shelter] as a stray in early February,” Whitehead summarized. “On the intake papers, it stated that Cotto weighed 58 pounds and had marks that showed he had been attacked by another dog.”
Said Aurora city deputy director of communications Ryan Luby, “The Aurora Animal Shelter uses the nationally recognized SAFER evaluation to assess dogs’ suitability for adoption, gauging an animal’s reaction to various encounters and stimuli such as food, toys and interactions. While this behavioral assessment is an effective tool, no assessment can be a predictor of animal behavior in all situations and circumstances.”
Explained Whitehead, “SAFER grades dogs on a 1-5 scale,” in which a one means “the dog less likely to bite in certain situations. According to Cotto’s evaluation, the dog scored ones on all of his evaluations except for one category, in which he was graded a 2. The evaluation said Cotto was very affectionate and people-oriented.”
SAFER clears more pit bulls for adoption
Animal behaviorist Emily Weiss developed and introduced the SAFER test in 1999-2000, amid complaints by pit bull advocates that too many pit bulls were failing the older behavioral screening tests developed by Sue Sternberg of Rondout Kennels and others.
The American SPCA hired Weiss as senior director of shelter behavior programs in 2005, and on May 5, 2007 made promoting the SAFER test an ASPCA program.
The ASPCA and Best Friends Animal Society were at the time scrambling to save 66 pit bulls impounded ten days earlier from football player and now convicted dogfighter Michael Vick, after the Humane Society of the U.S. had recommended them for euthanasia as too risky to rehome.
While about a third of the Vick dogs were eventually rehomed after extensive remedial training, most were not.
(See Pit bull wisdom & dog pound foolishness, by Liz Marsden.)
SAFER introduction coincides with exponential increase in shelter dog attacks
When the SAFER test debuted, only two U.S. shelter dogs––wolf hybrids rehomed in 1988 and 1989––had ever killed anyone. Since 2007, however, 61 dogs rehomed from U.S. animal shelters, 44 of them pit bulls, are known to have participated in killing at least 44 people.
More than 300 pit bulls rehomed by U.S. animal shelters have disfigured people.
The American SPCA, meanwhile appeared to back away from the potential liability associated with the SAFER test after a pit bull who had passed the SAFER test killed Joshua Phillip Strother, age 6, on July 7, 2015, only days after the pit bull was rehomed by the Asheville Humane Society, of Asheville, North Carolina.
Several other serious attacks during the next six months also involved pit bulls who had recently passed the SAFER test.
“Effective immediately, the ASPCA will be discontinuing the certification process for SAFER (Safety Assessment to Evaluate Re-homing),” the American SPCA announced on December 2, 2015 via the ASPCApro blog distributed to shelter workers.
(See Did ASPCA discover certifying SAFER dog screening might be dangerous?)
“When a horrible accident happens, just remember”
The questionable use of the SAFER test appears to have eluded Denver-area media reporting about the injuries to five-year-old Leonardo Duran and the role of the Aurora Animal Shelter in rehoming the pit bull who mauled him.
The politics of the matter, however, have been spotlighted.
Protected the community since October 2005, the Aurora pit bull ban was in November 2014 endorsed by 64% of the city electorate as recently as 2014.
The ban fell when four of the seven members of the Aurora, Colorado city council on January 11, 2021 voted for repeal.
Dissenting council members Françoise Bergan, Dave Gruber, and Marsha Berzins, along with mayor Mike Coffman, who votes only when council members are deadlocked, argued unsuccessfully that the repeal should be submitted to the Aurora voters in November 2021.
Said dissenting Aurora city council member Marsha Berzins to the four council members who repealed the ban, “When a horrible accident happens, just remember that you voted to have them back in the city.”
Denver Dumb Friends League
The Aurora pit bull ban was repealed three months after 64% of the voters in neighboring Denver, swayed by a well-funded pro-pit bull campaign with no organized opposition, in November 2020 repealed a pit bull ban adopted in 1989.
The Denver pit bull ban took effect three years after a neighbor’s pit bull killed 3-year-old Fernando Salazar in southwest Denver in October 1986.
Denver remains the only U.S. city big enough to have major league sports teams which has not had a pit bull attack fatality since 1989.
Denver Dumb Friends League president Apryl Steele, DVM, after helping to lead the campaign to repeal the Denver pit bull ban, apparently persuaded the Aurora city council majority with a statement including the claim that “Allowing your citizens to adopt a pit bull from an organization that has several full-time behavior experts evaluating the animal prior to making it available is imperative.”
(See Aurora repeals pit bull ban; pit bull advocates in trouble in three states.)
Ironically, owner Austin Chavez, after Leonardo Chavez was disfigured, surrendered Cotto to the Denver Dumb Friends League for euthanasia.
The euthanasia was duly performed, according to the statement issued by Aurora city deputy director of communications Ryan Luby.
Harold Brown says
I’m curious, are you folks in favor of breed specific bans?
Merritt Clifton says
Yes, ANIMALS 24-7 favors breed-specific prohibitions on the breeding, sale, adoption, and other transfers of pit bulls, meaning dogs of the dominant pit bull physical traits, inbred for generations for fighting purposes, regardless of show breed conformation niceties, name games such as calling pit bulls “Staffordshires,” American bullies, etc., and DNA findings which chiefly confirm that pit bull breeders have historically crossed pit bulls with mastiffs, German shepherds, et al to try to whet fighting characteristics. People who now have pit bulls would be allowed to keep them for the remainder of those dogs’ lives, if sterilized, vaccinated and securely confined to the owners’ property, but would not be allowed to pass those dogs and their associated risk along to others. There would no longer be an entire multi-million-dollar industry built around perpetuating the existence of dogs produced for the sole purpose of tearing other animals––and humans––apart alive, at the rate of around 10,000 other dogs, more than 3,000 cats, and 11,000 livestock animals per year. The participation of animal advocates in denying, condoning, and even actively promoting this mayhem is a travesty of the very concept of “humane.”
Donna Jensen says
“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” is how I think of most “humane” societies today.
The attack.on this child.was not an accident. The dog probably had been dumped because he was dangerous. That made him a stray. His bite history disappeared.
How could anyone say that scars meant the dog had been attacked by a dog? Maybe this dog started a fight, and his doggy opponent bit him back.
One of the really insane issues here is that I would have protected all of my four legged friends from this monster. If that child had been on my property, he would have also been protected. Why are people taking in extremely dangerous dogs to play with children? Are there no nice dogs left? Are good dogs being spayed/neutered out of existence? I read the other day that 85% of pet dogs in the USA are spayed/neutered. I’ve read it’s closer to 20-25% in pit bulls. So there is becoming a shortage of dogs from safe breeds for pets. If someone wants a puppy today, far more pit bulls will be available than anything else.
I have a ninety pound intact male GSD in my house that shoves down irritating cats and annoying puppies with his front paws. He allows cats to slap him without any retaliation. He was selected, raised, and trained by me.
This situation with pit bulls can only get worse, as nothing is being done about it. Instead of spaying/neutering pit bulls out of existence, we are spaying/neutering other safer breeds out of existence.
Jamaka Petzak says
It’s no surprise to us. Was it to them? Sharing to socials with gratitude.
Linda Tyner says
The pit bull issue is a conundrum. “Bad” dogs are made not bred. Some people shouldn’t own certain breeds (some shouldn’t own any dogs) because of the breed’s potential for harm and a disposition that has been bred into the dog. Yes certain people bred for aggressiveness. I would not own a pit bull, which BTW is not a recognized breed, a GSD, Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, etc., because I wouldn’t know how to properly train a breed like that. Statistics show more people are bit by small dogs, but because of the greater damage done by large dogs these are the events that make the news. Personally I don’t think a child should ever be unsupervised around any dog. This was a tragic incident.
Merritt Clifton says
“Bad,” a moral judgement, and “dangerous,” a behavioral description, are not to be confused. Pit bulls who kill and maim humans and other animals are not “bad” dogs; rather, they are doing exactly what pit bulls have been bred to do for at least 500 years.
Indeed, “pit bull” is a generic description of a combination of physical and instinctive attributes uniquely adapted to produce fighting dogs, not a specific “breed” such as German shepherd, Rottweiler, Doberman, etc., but the distinction is like the distinction between Ford, Dodge, & Toyota pickup trucks: some of the parts and chrome trim may differ, yet they are all pickup trucks, clearly different from vans, sport utility vehicles, and sedans.
Finally, and of great importance to recognize, both of Leonardo Duran’s parents were only a few feet from him when he was attacked, without warning or provocation, by the recently adopted pit bull Cotto. Austin Chavez very likely saved Leonardo’s life by quickly responding when Cotto seized Leonardo by the head. Leonardo, in short, was not at all “unsupervised,” but even the immediate supervision of two adults was not enough to prevent the pit bull from “going pit bull,” doing exactly what pit bulls have been bred to do when they are “good” dogs.
Don’t all dogs pass the SAFER testing? Isn’t the testing supposed to help them find the perfect home for pit bulls? The testing is too subjective. If the dog doesn’t bite the fake arm, how does that mean it won’t bite a real arm. Maybe turn some nasty pit bulls loose with a bunch of real kids. Then you would know which are kid eaters. Obviously one cannot do that, but it would be real.