Toledo Blade publisher John Robinson Block pushed to delist pit bulls as “inherently vicious”
TOLEDO, Ohio––Toledo Blade reporters Alexandra Mester and John Besche on July 22, 2021 published a detailed report on the pit bull attack death of Toledo resident Emily Kahl, 31, four days earlier.
Mester and Besche mentioned every significant detail about Kahl’s death brought to light to date, except one:
Kahl likely would not have died if the Toledo Blade had not waged an unrelenting multi-year campaign, 2008-2012, to rescind a phrase in the Ohio state dangerous dog law that recognized pit bulls as inherently “vicious” and therefore subject to extended safety requirements for those who chose to keep them; to repeal the Toledo and Lucas County bylaws that for 25 years prohibited keeping pit bulls; and to fire 22-year Lucas County dog warden Tom Skeldon for conscientiously enforcing the laws as written.
“Bite trauma to the neck”
Deputy Lucas County coroner Cynthia Beisser diagnosed the cause of the unwitnessed Emily Kahl death as “bite trauma to the neck.”
Lucas County Canine Care & Control “seized the dog [responsible], a pit bull named Romeo,” Mester and Besche wrote, “from a relative who had been caring for him and Kahl’s dog,” a retriever named Nash, “after the incident. Romeo’s owner, Thomas Holloway, who lives at the same Hamilton Street residence [the home where Kahl died], visited the shelter to surrender him. The dog was euthanized.”
The identification of Romeo as a pit bull, though put in quotes by the Blade, was unusual for media owned by John Robinson Block, 65, also owner of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, among a variety of other print and broadcast holdings.
Block, shortly after acquiring a pit bull himself, forbade mentioning pit bulls in connection with dog attacks, two former Blade reporters told ANIMALS 24-7 at the time, except when unavoidable and then only in quotes.
Reporters hired to advocate for pit bulls
After at least three Blade reporters balked at attacking Tom Skeldon in specific, ANIMALS 24-7 was told, two new reporters were hired, first JC Reindl and later Tanya Irwin, and assigned to hound Lucas County Animal Control.
Neither is still employed by the Blade, Reindl departing in 2011, Irwin circa 2014.
“Irwin believes,” the Columbia Journalism Review mentioned in January 2014, that “The Blade’s advocacy helped change the public’s perception of pit bulls,” leading to the changes in the Ohio state dog law.
The amendments, pushed through by the pit bull advocacy organization Animal Farm Foundation, the Best Friends Animal Society, and then-Montgomery County Animal Resource Center director Mark Kumpf, took effect on May 23, 2012.
Fired in early 2019, Kumpf took with him to his present position as Detroit animal control director a record including five human dog attack fatalities on his watch, two more than any other animal control director in U.S. history.
All five Montgomery County dog attack victims were killed after the Ohio dog law was weakened; four of the five were killed by dogs whose possession formerly would have been prohibited or restricted.
Emily Kahl, the most recent of the 21 victims of fatal dog attacks in Ohio since the dog law amendments, was the fourteenth killed by pit bulls. Two others were killed by Cane Corsos, possession of which also would have been prohibited or restricted.
Six of those sixteen dog attack victims were under one year of age. Four were over age 60; two others were 57 and 59, respectively.
“Not coming back”
Emily Kahl was also the second pit bull fatality in Toledo since Tom Skeldon was ousted. The first, Shirley Wright, age 89, was attacked by a pit bull from a neighboring household on May 6, 2017, and died from complications of her injuries on June 8, 2017.
Kahl, like Wright, was attacked by a pit bull she did not own, though she shared the household with Thomas Holloway, who described himself as a manager of rental properties.
Holloway in October 2018 sought via social media to find a home for a dog he described as an “American Staffordshire pit,” who “was left in a one-bedroom apartment in a cage with no food and water.”
The female who left that pit bull, Holloway said, “is not coming back for him.”
Pit bulls escaped
What became of that pit bull is unclear, but Holloway later posted to Facebook a photo showing the male pit bull, Romeo, with a pregnant female pit bull named Angel.
“In April 2019, while Angel was pregnant,” Dogsbite.org reported, “both dogs scaled Holloway’s 7-foot fence and escaped the property. Romeo turned up the next day, according to a public Facebook post. It’s unknown what became of pregnant Angel.”
Wrote Mester and Besche, “Records from the county shelter show Romeo had been taken to the shelter in October 2019 as a stray, then reclaimed by Holloway. There are no other reports with the agency regarding the canine” before he killed Kahl.
Blood on walls, floor, & TV
Kahl, according to her Blade obituary, was a former Sunrise Recovery Center administrative counselor who had earned a certification as an insurance and coding specialist in West Palm Beach, Florida, before relocating to Toledo.
Following Kahl’s death, Holloway alleged without offering supporting evidence that she might have suffered a seizure, and/or that Romeo the pit bull might have been “protecting” her from someone.
Reported WTOL television news, “A man named Tom made a 911 call. Officers found Kahl lying face-down in a doorway between a dining room and bedroom. Kahl had blood puddled near her head and the report states there was a cut or gash along the back of her neck. Blood was seen on the walls and floor across the living room, officers said. A silver TV next to Kahl had a broken corner and was ‘covered in blood,’” police said.
Tom Skeldon, who resigned as Lucas County dog warden in November 2009, effective January 31, 2010, refused to adopt out pit bulls, and endorsed stronger breed-specific laws than were already on the books to combat pit bull proliferation.
But the Toledo Blade editorially alleged on October 23, 2009 that the Lucas County animal control record under Skeldon “leads to the reasonable conclusion that the dog warden enjoys killing dogs.”
In truth Skeldon, 61, was the third generation of a family whose lives focused on animal care and public education, beginning with his grandfather, Frank Skeldon, who served as Toledo Zoo director, 1922-1948.
Frank Skeldon died in the same year that Tom Skeldon was born, but Frank’s son Phil Skeldon headed the Toledo Zoo from 1953 to 1980.
Cut shelter dog killing by 77%
Tom Skeldon began volunteering at the zoo at age 8. Before becoming the Lucas County dog warden, Tom Skeldon served as a U.S. Air Force dog trainer in Vietnam, directed a small zoo in Delaware, and after two Peace Corps stints, trained dogs with his two brothers in the Philippines.
As dog warden, Skeldon cut the volume of shelter killing of dogs in Lucas County by 77% a little better than the improvement in the U.S. national rate over the same years.
Critics howled that 54% of the dogs Skeldon killed during his last years in Lucas County were pit bulls. Yet the national figure in 2008 was 58%. Under Skeldon the Lucas County rate of killing pit bulls per 1,000 people was 2.9, compared to 3.2 for the U.S. as a whole.
John Robinson Block
Toledo Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publisher John Robinson Block went on from directing the Blade attacks on Skeldon and the Ohio dog laws to receive a vote of “no confidence” from the newsroom staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on November 18, 2019.
The newsroom staff acted, explained Newspaper Guild chapter president Michael A. Fuoco, a 35-year Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, after Block “Fired or forced out three beloved newsroom managers, with combined service of nearly 100 years to the Post-Gazette, because they stood up to his dictatorial actions. Four other managers have left this year,” Fuoco said, while Block’s “belittling behavior toward individual Guild members has contributed to a desperate exodus of 16 talented journalists over the last six months.”
Fuoco recalled that Post-Gazette editorial director Keith Burris, as editorial director at the Toledo Blade before Block transferred him to the Post-Gazette, “penned the notorious editorial, ‘Reason as Racism,’ that defended [then-U.S. President Donald] Trump’s comments about ‘shithole’ African nations,” published in the Post-Gazette on Martin Luther King Day 2018.
“Block reacted to the national controversy by naming Burris head of both the Post-Gazette and Blade editorial departments,” Fuoco said.
Barred Afro-American reporters from covering George Floyd protests
Updated Kat Tenbarge for The Insider on June 6, 2020, “Chaos has erupted at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after a black journalist was barred from covering the city’s George Floyd protests over a tweet.”
Reporter Alexis Johnson was barred from participating in protest-related coverage after “Johnson tweeted about the trash and debris left behind at a Kenny Chesney concert tailgate [party], sarcastically comparing it to the outrage over looters,” Tenbarge explained.
“Several of Johnson’s peers at the Post-Gazette tweeted in support of her, but two reporters who did so noticed that their own protest coverage disappeared from the publication’s website,” Tenbarge continued, while “Pulitzer Prize-winning Post-Gazette photojournalist Michael Santiago,” who is black, “tweeted that he had also been barred from protest-related coverage.”
“Avoid calling D.C. rioters ‘Trump supporters'”
John Robinson Block was again exposed for interfering with accurate news coverage on January 8, 2021.
Reported Tim Elfrink of the Washington Post, “As Toledo Blade staffers, like journalists everywhere, scrambled to document the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob incited by the president, they say a curious edict came down from management: to avoid calling the rioters ‘Trump supporters’ in Web headlines and to change stories and photo captions to say that others might be involved in the violence.”
Explained Toledo Blade reporter Nolan Rosenkrans, “The goal was simply to cast doubt on what everyone saw live on TV, which was Trump supporters attempting to conduct a coup.”
Ohio human fatalities caused by dogs since 2012
Victims of dogs restricted under the old law (16)
McKenzie Terwell, 4 months, Dayton, OH, 1-9-2020; family pit bull.
Other Ohio dog-inflicted fatalities, 2012-2021 (5)
Sophia Booth, 2 weeks, Cleveland, OH, 11-3-2017. German shepherd.