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.
“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.”
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.