Corpus Christi animal control chief Joel Sizemore calls pit bull attacks “extremely rare” over victim’s dead body
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas—Attacked on May 31, 2023 while dog-sitting her adult daughter’s pit bull, Rita Maria Vasquez, 58, of Corpus Christi, Texas, three days later died from her injuries.
Vasquez thus became the 30th U.S. dog attack fatality of 2023, and the 21st person in the U.S. in 2023 to be killed by one or more pit bulls.
The U.S., in just under six months, has had more fatal dog attacks than in any full year before 2012, though the average since then has been 38, and more fatal attacks by pit bulls than in any full year before 2009, with an average since then of 33.
“This has not happened to Corpus Christi”
All of that should be shocking enough, but more shocking still should have been Corpus Christi Animal Care Services program manager Joel Skidmore’s assessment of the case, as reported by Ana Tamez of the Corpus Christi television station KIII.
“Vasquez’s daughter surrendered the dog to Animal Care Services, Skidmore said, and it was euthanized,” Tamez reported.
No surprise there, but Tamez continued, “Skidmore said this type of incident that results in a person’s death is extremely rare in our area.”
“This has not happened to Corpus Christi in my career since I’ve been here with the city,” he said.”
Skidmore, to be fair, has only been at Corpus Christi Animal Care Services since February 2020.
But Corpus Christi, a city of 317,000 in Neuces County, population 442,000, has now had three dog attack fatalities in 10 years, two of them inflicted by pit bulls.
Corpus Christi dog attack death rate is triple the U.S. norm
That projects to a community dog attack death rate of more than five times the current U.S. norm per capita, which itself is now 60 times higher than it was a little more than 60 years ago.
That two thirds of the deaths have been inflicted by pit bulls is consistent with the U.S. national average since 1833, which is as far back as ANIMALS 24-7 has been able to dig up data.
The first of the three Corpus Christi dog attack fatalities occurring in Corpus Christi during the past 10 years could be considered a fluke.
2013 death was a rabies case
Apparently bitten by a rabid stray on the Mexican side of the U.S. border, more than 150 miles from Corpus Christi, Guatemalan national Federico Mendez-Hernandez, 28, somehow crossed into Texas before the U.S. Border Patrol found him wandering, delirious and dehydrated, and impounded him along with other detained illegal immigrants.
More than 700 people, mostly fellow detained illegal immigrants, were given post-exposure treatment after Mendez-Hernandez was belatedly hospitalized and died on June 11, 2013.
Skidmore can be excused for not knowing about the Mendez-Hernandez case, because the dog attack did not occur on his watch, nor even in Nueces County or the state of Texas.
Two near-fatal attacks on Skidmore’s watch
But Skidmore should have remembered that as Sam Huerta of KIII reported on October 8, 2022, “A Corpus Christi woman was viciously attacked by a dog. A couple of good Samaritans found the woman bleeding out and were able to get her immediate medical attention. The woman’s son said his mother almost lost her arm. Fortunately doctors were able to save it.”
Skidmore should also have recalled that, as Bill Churchwell of KIII recounted on July 6, 2021, a pit bull left a six-month-old infant in critical condition with severe head injuries late on the evening of the Fourth of July.
Valentine’s Day massacre
Skidmore should further have been aware that fatal pit bull attacks on other animals, though relatively seldom reported by news media, are not rare at all in Corpus Christi.
Recent attacks that did make news included two roving pit bulls killing a Chihuahua on Christmas Day 2022 and multiple killings and maulings of other dogs and cats by a roaming pair of pit bulls around Valentine’s Day 2023.
Skidmore was still at his previous position in San Antonio, however, when on February 4, 2018, according to KIII, “Two victims, a 58-year-old woman and her 62-year-old husband, were watching a pit bull that belongs to their son. The dog broke both of the woman’s wrists and also broke a wrist of the male, as well as taking a significant bite from the man’s arm.”
That sounds a lot like the fatal attack on Rita Vasquez, except that the 58-year-old woman had her 62-year-old husband present to help fend off the pit bull and call for help.
Rita Woodard, 64, was alone at her Corpus Christi home on December 15, 2014 with 15 dogs, including at least six pit bulls, plus several cats.
The six pit bulls were impounded and five were euthanized after Woodard was found dead in her back yard from what the Nueces County Medical Examiner’s office called “critical coronary artery atherosclerosis following multiple dog bites.”
Woodard since 2010 had “had fostered at least 50 animals for the Corpus Christi organization For the Love of Strays,” organization president Angela Powell told Corpus Christi Caller Times reporter Beatriz Alvarado.
Years of complaints
Skidmore arrived in Corpus Christi after years of complaints about inadequate response by Corpus Christi Animal Care Services to pit bull attacks in particular.
During the 18 months between the Mendez-Hernandez death and Woodard’s death, a nine-year-old on his way home from Kostoryz Elementary was in August 2013 attacked by a pit bull whom a negligent owner allowed to run outside.
In November 2013 a pit bull who was shot while attacking a police officer but was returned to the owner broke through a fence and killed four poodles.
Mentoned KIII, “The owner of the small dogs said she hadn’t heard from police or animal control about getting the pit bull off the streets.”
Slow quarantine response
A day later, KIII reported, “An elderly woman said she is glad to be alive after being attacked in the front yard of her own home by a neighbor’s pit bull.”
Two days after Christmas 2013, KIII reported that “The owners of a pit bull who attacked a three-year old boy,” who was walking with his mother, “have 24 hours to turn over their dog to be quarantined before a warrant could be issued for them.”
Why was the pit bull not immediately impounded for rabies quarantine?
Especially since the death of Federico Mendez-Hernandez less than six months earlier should have heightened Corpus Christi Animal Care Services’ awareness that rabies can reach the community from Mexico.
Less than a month before Woodard’s death, the family of a 16-year-old girl who was injured by a “mastiff mix” mentioned to Bart Bedsole of KRIS television that the “mastiff mix” had a history of prior attacks, but had not been impounded, possibly because the prior attacks had not been reported.
In February 2015, however, when a 22-year-old man suffered “numerous dog bites on his arms and legs” from “between three and five dogs,” two of whom “had been seen coming from the same residence,” according to news reports, “Checking revealed that a female pit bull mix who had been one of the attackers had been complained about for aggressive behavior on nine previous occasions.”
Corpus Christi Animal Care Services “said the facts surrounding the incident were complicated by the woman’s initial claims that the dogs had been restrained when the attack happened and that the dogs weren’t hers.”
Multiple attacks in 2018
The two-year string of incidents that brought Skidmore to Corpus Christi from San Antonio began in January 2018 when KRIS reported that three free-roaming dogs, owner unknown, had killed as many as 12 cats.
In February 2018 a police officer shot two pit bulls who broke into a yard to attack a restrained small dog, and a woman was reported to be “recovering from serious injuries after she was attacked by a dog outside of an adult video store.”
In March 2018 Corpus Christi Animal Care Services finally conducted a neighborhood sweep to pick up pit bulls reportedly “walking around in packs, like ten or 12 dogs” on the west side of town.
All appeared to be relatively quiet for about six months, until in August 2018 a pit bull attacked a Corpus Christi police officer.
“Rescue” pit bull injured beach-goer
Another quiet stretch followed, ending in April 2019 when a “rescue” pit bull injured a beach-goer, no small matter in a city where beach tourism is a major contributor to the local economy.
Reported Brenda Matute for KZTV, “Paperwork provided by Corpus Christi Animal Care Services showed that the dog had a history of aggressive behavior, as well as biting. Despite the history of aggression, the dog was adopted out once again.”
That pit bull was finally euthanized.
Matute reported in June 2019 that a police lieutenant cancelled the response to a 911 call from a man who found several pit bulls killing his cat. The call was referred to Corpus Christi Animal Care Services. An animal control officer finally responded three days later.
Skidmore skidded in from San Antonio
Enter Skidmore, whose Corpus Christi tenure began more-or-less with an attack by both a pit bull and a German shepherd that sent a man to the hospital with extensive foot and ankle injuries.
“I started my career in animal welfare with San Antonio Animal Care Services in June 2010,” Skidmore recounts. “I started as an animal care officer.”
Promoted to doing dangerous dog investigations, Skidmore was next promoted to doing animal cruelty investigations, was made field operations supervisor, and eventually “oversaw a 12-week academy, training all newly hired animal care officers.”
That sounds impressive, except that a San Antonio city Audit of Animal Care Services Dispatching & Operations released on March 13, 2015 identified critical deficiencies in animal control officer “compliance with guidelines related to aggressive and dangerous dogs, bites, and permits.”
Led U.S. cities in fatal dog attacks, 2005-2014
San Antonio over the preceding 10 years led all U.S. cities in human fatalities from dog attacks, all of them involving pit bulls; had consistently been among the cities with the most dog attacks on U.S. Postal Service letter carriers over the past five years; and led the U.S. in 2014 in fatal dog attacks on other dogs, according to data tabulated by ANIMALS 24-7.
Impounded pit bulls pushed for police work
This was also the time frame within which San Antonio dog trainer Bradley Lane Croft was funded by the Animal Farm Foundation from 2013 to 2017 to prepare pit bulls taken from animal shelters for police work.
Croft was honored for his work by both the American SPCA and the Humane Society of the U.S., before being convicted in December 2019 of “scheming to defraud the federal government of more than $1.5 million in Veterans Affairs GI Bill benefits to train service canines and their handlers.”
Croft was sentenced in April 2021 to serve two months short of 10 years in prison, pay $1.5 million in restitution and be placed on supervised release for a period of three years after completing his prison term.”
26% of bites but 47% of severe injuries
Joe Conger of Fox 29 in January 2019 obtained data from San Antonio Animal Care Services showing that pit bulls, responsible for 26% of all dog bites reported in 2016-2017, caused 47% of the 120 injuries classified as severe.
That was on Skidmore’s watch. That should have been sufficient to convince him, and anyone of good sense, that disfiguring and deadly pit bull attacks are not “extremely rare,” either in south Texas or anywhere else.
San Antonio, incidentally, had a fatal pit bull attack as recently as February 24, 2023: see Pit bull mauling death of Ramon Najera, 81, shocks San Antonio.