Anne & Neil Hornish agreed to $2 million settlement for family of pit bull victim, but insurers contend they were not covered to keep pit bulls
SUFFIELD, Connecticut––Anne and Neil J. Hornish, whose pit bull Dexter killed Janet D’Aleo, 95, in their home on November 6, 2019, have reportedly not paid Dexter’s boarding fees since the beginning of 2022 while continuing to pursue appeals of a November 22, 2019 order by Suffield animal control officer Ryan Selig that Dexter be euthanized as incorrigibly dangerous.
Anne Hornish, a lawyer and former one-term member of the Connecticut state legislature, has been Connecticut state representative for Humane Society of the U.S. since 2011.
Her husband, Neil J. Hornish, also a lawyer, has been listed on accountability documents since 2016 as, variously, director, chair, and treasurer of the Maine-based Institute for Humane Education.
The euthanasia order has already been upheld by both the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, after a multi-day hearing in June 2020, and by the Suffield County Court.
Town picks up tab––will now own Dexter?
Suffield town attorney Derek Donnelly told Matthew P. Knox of the Manchester Journal-Inquirer that the town board of selectmen recently approved “a payment of about $3,900 to River Valley Animal Center,” a local veterinary hospital, to cover the cost of holding Dexter for January and February 2022.
“Dexter has been held at River Valley,” Knox explained, “because the town has a contract with the veterinary practice to hold impounded dogs.
“The terms of the contract require the owners of impounded animals to pay any costs for their pets’ care, Donnelly said.
“Until January the Hornishes were paying for Dexter’s care at the cost of $68 per day, but they now refuse to do so,” Donnelly told Knox.
“Judge had reservations”
Donnelly added, Knox wrote, that “the town is exploring ways to recover the payment, and to have its impounded animals held elsewhere,” probably at the Windsor Locks Police Department kennels.
“This month,” Knox wrote, “the Windsor Locks Police Commission voted unanimously to allow Suffield to use its animal control building temporarily.”
Recalled Knox, “In December 2021 a Superior Court judge denied a request by the Hornishes to bring Dexter home, or restart regular visits with him as their appeal proceeds through the court process.
“The judge said he had reservations about the Hornishes’ ability to care for Dexter and protect any person or animal that he came in contact with.”
Appeals have already cost Suffield $52,507
The tab to the town of Suffield for keeping Dexter safely in custody comes on top of extensive legal costs to the community run up in responding to the Hornishes’ repeated appeals on behalf of Dexter, none of which so far have been upheld at any level.
According to the Suffield response to a public information request submitted by local resident Kristin Charpentier-Allard, posted to social media by Charpentier-Allard on March 22, 2022, “Town records indicate that the total amount expended by the Town for legal fees related to the impounded dog [Dexter] is $52,507.50 since the matter began in November 2019.
“That amount encompasses work on three matters,” the town response continued, specifically “the appeal of the disposal order to the Department of Agriculture (2019-2020), an appeal of the Department of Agriculture’s decision affirming the disposal order to the Superior Court (2021 to present) and a separate injunction matter brought by the owners to have the dog returned to them during the pendency of the appeal (2020-2021).
“The Town does not have records which separate the work between the three matters,” the town told Charpentier-Allard. “However, the appeal of the Department of Agriculture’s decision affirming the disposal order to the Superior Court is tracked separately.
“Of the $52,507.50, $15,405 is related just to that second appeal.”
How Janet D’Aleo died
Hornish on November 6, 2019 returned home to discover Janet D’Aleo, 95, dying in her front hallway from what WFSB Eyewitness News in Hartford, Connecticut described as “massive injuries including flesh, muscle and tendon loss to the lower extremities.”
D’Aleo, who used a walker, had come to visit Hornish’s mother, Agnes Wosko, 93. A home health care aide who was present to attend Wosko tried unsuccessfully to fend Dexter off with a metal stool.
“According to police,” summarized Knox of the Manchester Journal-Inquirer after the June 2020 Department of Agriculture hearing on the matter, “D’Aleo’s health care aide reported that after walking D’Aleo into the Hornishes home, she briefly left the house to move the car. Upon returning to the front door, she saw the dog charging at her and slammed the door shut.
“The aide said she saw through the window in the door that the dog then turned around and charged at D’Aleo, who was standing in the hallway. The dog grabbed D’Aleo’s left leg, pulled her to the ground, and ‘mauled’ her, the aide said.”
Hornish alternate scenario of “limited evidentiary value”
Dexter, a three-year-old pit bull apparently acquired from rescuer Jessica Kaczynski, had been in the Hornish home for about four months, after flunking out of several previous homes.
Hornish “testified that she believes Dexter didn’t attack D’Aleo,” Knox continued, “but greeted her in an excited manner and caused her to fall down. Hornish said the aide saw this and likely thought that Dexter was attacking D’Aleo, which led her to enter the home, grab a stool and hit Dexter with it. Being struck with the stool caused Dexter to bite and scratch D’Aleo, and the stool may have caused some injury to D’Aleo as well, Hornish theorized.”
Added Knox, “The hearing officer allowed Hornish to testify about her theory, but warned her that its value as evidence was limited because she wasn’t present during the attack.”
The Hornishes in January 2021 settled a lawsuit brought against them by the D’Aleo family for $2 million, Knox reported.
“The Hornishes confirmed that the settlement was reached, and said it was negotiated, and will be paid by their insurance company,” Knox wrote then, “even as the company is suing the couple to avoid covering their expenses.”
The Hornishes’ “homeowner’s insurance company and the company that provides their umbrella policy both are asking a judge to absolve them of their duty to defend the Hornishes and cover their expenses,” Knox summarized, “accusing the Hornishes of lying on their insurance application about owning a pit bull or pit bull mix.”
According to the insurance companies’ lawsuit, Knox explained, “when the Hornishes applied for insurance,” they denied having a pit bull, even though the Hornishes “already had one dog who was a pit bull, named Tofu.”
Denied keeping pit bulls
“According to the lawsuit,” Knox said, “the Hornishes failed to correct their answer in the following years when the insurance policy was renewed, and didn’t update the information following their adoption in June 2019 of Dexter.”
The insurance companies contend they would not have insured the Hornish home and other property, had they known the Hornishes kept pit bulls.
The Hornishes, in response to the insurance companies’ lawsuit “denied that either of their dogs was a pit bull, and denied lying on their application,” Knox wrote. “They also made a counterclaim against their homeowners insurance company, accusing it of engaging in ‘a pattern of conduct to avoid its obligations,’ including making false accusations.”
Not insured by State Farm
Ironically, the Hornishes appear not to be insured by State Farm.
In July 2015, pushing a bill to prohibit insurance companies from taking dog breeds into account in writing policies, Annie Hornish testified that State Farm “doesn’t even ask for breed information and explicitly states that insuring all dogs, regardless of breed, is not a real risk for them.”
Annie Hornish failed to mention, however, that State Farm, which has about 10% of the U.S. homeowners insurance market, often pays out close to 20% of the total paid out by all U.S. insurers combined for dog attack claims.
Everyone who insures with State Farm thereby pays higher premiums.
Not a pointer
The Hornishes have contended that Dexter is a pointer. However, Dexter has the head and body type of a pit bull, with only some black-and-white coloration, common to both pit bulls and pointers, to suggest any pointer ancestry.
Further, ANIMALS 24-7 has found no mention of possible pointer ancestry in social media postings about Dexter prior to the fatal attack on D’Aleo.
Dexter, if in any part pointer, would be the first pointer or pointer mix on record as having been implicated in a fatal dog attack in either the U.S. or Canada in the 40 years that ANIMALS 24-7 has logged fatal and disfiguring attacks.
Pit bulls, over the same time, have killed 565 people.
Two lawyers contend they did not have a lawyer
The Hornishes’ current appeal holds, according to Knox, that the Connecticut Department of Agriculture treated them unfairly at the June 2020 hearing “as plaintiffs without a lawyer,” even though both of them are lawyers.
“Another part of the appeal argues that the state statute regarding the euthanizing of dogs is unconstitutional and violates the couple’s 4th and 14th amendment rights,” Knox reported.
Rival in insensitivity
Rivaling the Hornishes over the past year in both aggressive response to a euthanasia order and insensitivity toward pit bull victims and families have been North Carolina residents Joseph and Amanda White.
The Whites’ pit bulls Athena, 3, and Blitzen, 8 on April 27, 2021 fatally mauled seven-year-old Jayden Henderson and injured her mother, WRAL television master controller Heather Travaskis, 39, at the Whites’ then-home in Garner, North Carolina.
“The mother and daughter were visiting the dogs while Joseph and Amanda White were on vacation in California,” summarized WRAL reporter Amanda Lamb on September 10, 2021.
Athena and Blitzer were finally euthanized, Lamb updated three days later, but only after “Joseph White argued in a 53-minute YouTube video, and his attorneys argued, that the town no longer had jurisdiction over the dogs – the Whites moved from Garner after the attack – and that town leaders did not follow their own dangerous dog ordinance in keeping the dogs in quarantine.”
Joseph White in the video blamed Henderson and Trevaskis for the fatal mauling, and contended that Athena and Blitzen were “service animals.”
Mentioned Lamb, “Not included in Joseph White’s video is a text exchange between Trevaskis and White’s wife, Amanda,” in which “Trevaskis shared a photo of Jayden with the dogs a few days before the attack. White replied and thanked her for her help.”
The Whites subsequently replaced the pit bulls Athena and Blitzer with another pit bull named Harley and entered Harley in an online competition for “America’s favorite pet.”
The Whites promoting Harley’s candidacy with a meme showing Joseph White with Harley, beneath a banner reading “Quick call WRAL news. A pit bull mauled my face.”