Failure to promptly pick up free-roaming pit bull leads to disabling injury
AUSTIN, Texas––Alexis Montgomery, 70, of Travis County, Texas, hospitalized with a softball-sized bite taken out of her leg by a free-roaming pit bull, left most of the talking on September 21, 2021 to her husband, retired Texas personal injury lawyer Boyce Reid Brown Jr., 78.
“Animal Control seems unable to get their priorities straight,” understated Brown to Fox 7 reporter Shannon Ryan.
“Frankly, the way they operated, I thought, was a bit on the far side of the stupid line,” Brown said. “It was no action until my wife lost part of her leg and there was still no action. So, yeah, it could have been prevented.”
Known for two things, going for three
Austin, the Texas state capital and a city of more than a million residents, is known for two things in the animal care and control world:
• The city animal control agency, Austin Animal Services, which covers Travis County, has claimed to represent “America’s largest no-kill community” since 2011, based on maintaining a 90% “live release rate” for impounded animals despite a 35%-plus increase in dog attacks over the same time;
• Austin is home of the fatal dog attack monitoring web site Dogsbite.org.
Austin has had no recent dog attack fatalities, but that appears to be just a matter of luck, since Austin is also rapidly becoming notorious as a city whose animal control policies appear to be deliberately designed to not protect the public from dangerous dogs.
Pit bull victim Montgomery and her neighbor Nova Walsh told Ryan of Fox 7 that they both reported the stray pit bull to Austin Animal Services a day before Montgomery was attacked.
The pit bull “barked and barked and barked for two days and we were all kind of concerned because we’ve never seen this dog before and it looked kind of sick,” said Walsh.
Home security video confirmed that the pit bull paced, night and day, in the driveway in front of Montgomery’s garage.
But Austin Animal Services advised them, Ryan reported, that the pit bull might not be picked up for as long as 72 hours.
Austin Animal Services public information officer Jennifer Olohan told Ryan that the agency put out a “general broadcast over our in-truck radio system” after receiving the first call about the pit bull, but an animal control officer did not actually arrive to set up a trap to try to catch the pit bull until approximately 21 hours after Montgomery was injured.
Very difficult to report a stray dog––or a mauling
Finished Ryan, “One neighbor says the dog tried to attack her while she was walking with her three-year-old son in a stroller. Thankfully a passing motorist was able to intervene. She says she did not report the incident until she found out the dog attacked Montgomery, something she says she regrets.”
In fairness to the neighbor, though, it is not easy to report a stray dog, or even a mauling, to Austin Animal Services.
As of September 22, 2021, ANIMALS 24-7 found no link and no telephone number designated to make such a report on either the Austin Animal Services web site or the Austin Animal Services page on Facebook.
Further, even if Montgomery, Brown, Walsh, or another neighbor had risked capturing the run-amok pit bull himself or herself, in absence of any effective Austin Animal Services response, the agency prominently posts that “No walk up intakes will be accepted.”
Dogs not accepted on weekends
Instead, the Austin Animal Services web site advises, “To schedule an appointment to bring in a found pet, please fill out an appointment request form. Found pet appointments may only be scheduled Monday through Friday. Intake of animals without an appointment will not be accepted, unless the animal is sick or injured,” never mind how many people or other animals the found dog may have menaced, bitten, or even killed, dismembered, and/or dragged down the street in pieces.
“If you are unable to wait for an appointment,” the Austin Animal Services web site continues, “please call 311 and ask to speak with an animal protection officer.”
Which is exactly what Montgomery and Walsh did, getting no protection for themselves and the neighborhood whatever.
Note, incidentally, the Austin Animal Services terminology: not “animal control officer,” nor “animal law enforcement officer,” as the job formerly known as dogcatcher is most often currently designated, but rather “animal protection officer,” as if taxpayers fund the agency solely to protect the dangerous animals from whom the public imagines they––and their pets––are being protected.
But pit bulls are rehomed seven days a week
By contrast, the Austin Animal Center, operated by Austin Animal Services, “is open for walk-ins Monday – Sunday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.,” and allows prospective adopters to pick animals online, too.
The selection of dogs available to choose from is, however, severely limited. Among 96 dogs whom ANIMALS 24-7 was able to view online, 84 (87.5%) were either pit bulls or pit mixes, albeit not so designated on the web site.
Lest there be any doubt that Austin Animal Services is all about pit bulls, a web page of history about the Austin/Travis County no-kill plan opens with a photo of a pit bull wearing a blood-red bandana.
The “Surrendering Your Pet” page links directly to the pit bull advocacy organization Love-A-Bull.
“Austinites encouraged to leave animals on the street”
The pit bull attack on Alexis Montgomery was scarcely the first time the failure of Austin Animal Services policy to protect the public drew media attention.
Shannon Ryan of Fox 7 on June 17, 2020 pointed out that under current Austin Animal Center director Don Bland, “Austinites are being encouraged to leave animals on the street in the hope they’ll wander home,” against the advice and experience of veteran shelter volunteers.
Nina Hernandez of Austin Monitor on July 7, 2020 reported about “a video making the rounds on social media” in which a woman who brought a stray dog to the Austin Animal Center is told that “You probably should just let her go where you found her,” because “If it’s relatively safe, then she’s going to go back home.”
What if the dog and/or “where you found her” is not safe?
Bylaw requires dangerous dogs to be offered to other shelters
Pointed out KVUE-TV reporter Paul Livengood on September 28, 2020, “Under current [Austin/Travis County] code, Austin shelters cannot euthanize an animal without first giving two days’ notice to other shelters, previous owners, and surrenderers, so they have the chance to claim the animal instead.
“Proposed code revision would allow for an exception to this ordinance,” Livengood explained. “If passed, the change would allow shelters to euthanize a dog without delay if it met four of the six guidelines on a ‘high-risk assessment’ form.
“Here are the proposed criteria:
- Multiple bites in either a single incident or multiple incidents
- Escalation patterns to bite incidents (minor to moderate or severe, or moderate to severe)
- No obvious warning preceding a bite or bites
- Once the bite occurs, the dog’s behavior appears to return to normal
- When unprovoked (as defined by city code), the dog’s reaction to other animals and all types of people (adult and/or children) appears to be dangerous and threatening
- Shelter staff cannot safely interact with the dog.”
Snowball’s chance to send someone to hell
Austin Animal Advisory Commission member Jo Anne Norton proposed the code revision after an Austin Animal Center employee was severely mauled by a pit bull named Snowball. Olohan acknowledged that Snowball arrived with a history of biting and other dangerous behavior.
“Out of the 18,841 dogs and cats taken into Austin animal shelters in 2019, this proposed code exception would have applied to three dogs,” Norton said, but the amendment was shelved anyhow.
Any one of Norton’s six proposed criteria for euthanizing a dog would have been sufficient for most animal control agencies until 2007, when the Best Friends Animal Society and American SPCA began a national campaign to relax the criteria for defining a dangerous dog. The Humane Society of the U.S. joined the campaign a year later.
Best Friends & ASPCA
Of the 47 Americans killed by dogs rehomed from animal shelters since the first U.S. animal shelter opened in 1858, 42 have been killed since the Best Friends and ASPCA campaigns began.
Those 42 fatal attacks, some by multiple dogs, involved 71 dogs rehomed from animal shelters, of whom 52 (73%) were pit bulls.
The introduction of Austin Animal Services policies that interfere with timely impoundments and owner surrenders of dangerous dogs, along with overt pit bull advocacy, dates mostly to the tenure of former directors Kristin Auerbach and Tawny Hammond, who earlier introduced similar policies at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Virginia.
The Fairfax County Animal Shelter has been involved in litigation ever since over rehoming pit bulls with dangerous history without disclosing that history.
Partially responding to those cases, but mostly to the June 1, 2017 fatal mauling of Virginia Beach resident Margaret M. Colvin, the Virginia state assembly on March 30, 2018 enacted a law requiring that the bite histories of impounded or owner-surrendered dogs must be investigated, and must be disclosed to prospective adopters.
Colvin was killed by a pit bull named Blue, just six hours after Forever Home Rescue & Rehabilitation delivered him to her daughter Linda Colvin Patterson, without disclosing that Blue had attacked a child in December 2016, had been passed along through five other rescue organizations during the next six months, and had been returned to Forever Home Rescue & Rehabilitation after a previous adoption failed due to dangerous behavior.
“Playgroup” behavioral assessment
Auerbach and Hammond replaced traditional behavioral testing at the Austin Animal Shelter with the “playgroup” approach advocated by Dogs Playing for Life founder Aimee Sadler, whose work was sponsored by the pit bull advocacy organization Animal Farm Foundation, specifically to promote adoptions of pit bulls.
Veteran humane volunteer Delwin Goss on September 28, 2015 reported witnessing “playgroup” behavioral assessment at the Austin Animal Center using methods which repeatedly subjected one dog to the threat of attack and sometimes actual attack.
Auerbach––who dismissed Goss’s concern––had on February 18, 2016 published an article on the Animal Farm Foundation web site arguing that animal shelters should withhold information about potentially dangerous dogs from prospective adopters until after they become seriously interested in a dog.
Auerbach now heads the Pima County Animal Care Department in Tucson, Arizona, where she has been named as a defendant in at least one lawsuit involving injuries inflicted on two plaintiffs by a recently rehomed Rottweiler.
Hammond left Austin Animal Services in 2017 to become Midwest regional director for the Best Friends Animal Society.