Response to fatal pit bull attacks in Genoa, Arkansas, and Toledo, Ohio, could scarcely be more different.
GENOA, Arkansas; TOLEDO, Ohio––Fatally mauled by pit bulls in their own yards two days apart, on September 24, 2023 and September 26, 2023, respectively, Brenda Lynn Witt, 60, of Genoa, Arkansas, and Diane Etta Knepper, 70, of Toledo, Ohio, appear to have had little else in common.
Among the starkest differences: Witt’s death in Genoa, an unincorporated hamlet of fewer than a thousand people, clearly shocked and saddened the whole community. Family and friends began posting condolences, memories, and donating to a GoFundMe page set up to raise funds for Witt’s funeral within minutes of hearing what had happened.
Did Knepper even have family & friends?
Knepper’s death in Toledo, a city of 270,000, in which pit bulls have now killed five residents since 2017, drew only brief mentions from two local television stations and the Toledo Blade newspaper. ANIMALS 24-7 found no personal postings about Knepper’s death on social media, and no clear trace of her having any living family or friends.
Voter registration data established that Diane Etta Knepper was a longtime Democrat, unlikely to have been a Diane Knepper found on Facebook whose adult daughter kept pit bulls.
That Diane Knepper posted an endless stream of far right political conspiracy theories both before and after Diane Etta Knepper’s death. Neither mother nor daughter made any reference to the fatal pit bull attack.
“Brenda tried to take refuge in an old car that had no battery”
Among the first accounts of Brenda Witt’s death came from her mother-in-law, Dedra A. Jones.
“Brenda was outside during the daylight hours today,” posted Jones to Facebook in early evening,” when this happened in the yard or general vicinity. She tried to take refuge in an old car that had no battery in it, so she couldn’t honk the horn. She was in serious condition and had no cell phone to call for help with.”
Reported Rachael Thomas and Fred Gamble for KSLA in Shreveport, Louisiana, “Officials say the woman’s daughter went to church, leaving her mother at home, and came back to find her dead inside a car on the property. Multiple dog bites were visible.
Pit bulls had history
“Authorities say all the dogs involved are now at an animal shelter,” specifically the animal control shelter in Texarkana, Arkansas.
Miller County sheriff Wayne Easley confirmed that all five dogs believed to have attacked Brenda Witt were pit bull mixes.
“At least two other people claim to also have been bitten by these same dogs in the past,” Thomas and Gamble mentioned.
Calls for stronger laws
“Brenda’s death brings the lack of appropriate dangerous animal laws in Arkansas to the forefront and cries for new legislation to be enacted,” posted Rebecca Osborn Witt, 56, of Texarkana.
“At present, under Arkansas Code section 5-62-125,” Rebecca Osborn Witt specified, “it is only a misdemeanor for a dog owner to knowingly allow an animal they own to attack or kill a person. A misdemeanor. This law must change to reflect the serious nature of dog attacks on people.
“An owner of a dog with a known propensity for aggression, who allows their dog to roam free and attack or kill a person should face felony charges,” Rebecca Osborn Witt opined.
“Please continue praying”
“The Arkansas Legislature must make this change.
“Additionally,” Rebecca Osborn Witt said, “Arkansas has no legal means by which a dog can be legally designated as ‘dangerous’ and no special requirements for owners of such animals. This too must change.
“Please continue praying for Brenda’s family and friends and please offer your support as we work to get the laws changed,” Rebecca Osborn Witt concluded.
Other Arkansas dog attack fatalities in recent years have included Sharon Lindemann, 75, of Hartman, killed in her driveway by two roaming pit bulls on October 30, 2017; Bill Deneke, 70, of Pine Bluff, who died on December 8, 2017 of head injuries suffered when a pit bull knocked him down; Geraldine Hamlin, 64, of Shreveport, killed on February 27, 2020 by her own two pit bulls; Robbie Taylor, 9, of Mount Vernon, killed on May 28, 2020 by two pit bulls belonging to neighbor Trey Edgar Wyatt, 25, who was convicted of negligent homicide; and apparently Guillermo Guzman, 39, found dead on November 21, 2022 in Little Rock, believed to have been killed earlier by dogs unknown.
Four pit bull-inflicted fatalities in three years
Back in Toledo, Diane Etta Knepper was killed by her own black pit bull just 10 days after her seventieth birthday. Toledo dog warden Kelly Sears claimed the dog was a mix of pit bull with Labrador retriever, but photos showed no unequivocal trace of Lab.
Knepper’s remains were discovered by a landscaping crew.
Her death came seven months after Washington Local Schools bus driver Bonnie Varnes, 58, who prominently advocated for pit bulls on social media, was on February 20, 2023 killed by one of her daughter Amelia Brooke Varnes’s two pit bulls.
Killings by pit bull are old news in Toledo
Diane Knepper was the fourth fatality inflicted by a pit bull in Toledo in less than three years, following the deaths of Emily Kahl, 31, at her home on July 18, 2021, and Javon “Foofur” Stokes, 26, at a friend’s home on August 11, 2021.
A previous Toledo pit bull fatality, Shirley Wright, 89, was attacked by a pit bull from a neighboring household on May 6, 2017. Wright died from complications of her injuries on June 8, 2017.
Toledo Blade won’t stop a pit bull
Diane Knepper was also at least the 20th fatality in Ohio inflicted by a formerly restricted dog breed since the Toledo Blade 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 extensive safety requirements for those who chose to keep them.
The Toledo Blade also campaigned successfully 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.
John Robinson Block
Toledo Blade publisher John Robinson Block, 67, also owns 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, except when unavoidable and then only in quotes, two former Blade reporters told ANIMALS 24-7 at the time,
ANIMALS 24-7 in Emily Kahl: 16th fatality attributable to 2012 gutting of Ohio dog law detailed Block’s efforts to undo public protection from pit bulls, and his bizarre subsequent record.
Staff vote of “no confidence”
Block, for instance, published an editorial widely decried as racist on Martin Luther King Day 2018.
Block on November 18, 2019 received an almost unprecedented vote of “no confidence” from the newsroom staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over a variety of actions including, according to their resolution, having “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.”
Block allegedly prevented African-American reporters from covering protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in June 2020.
Block also tried to delete mention in his newspapers that the rioters who stormed the national capital in Washington D.C. on January 8, 2021 were there in support of defeated former U.S. president Donald Trump.
The Ohio dog law amendments that Block sought, pushed through the state legislature 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.
This was at the time 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.
Two fatal pit bull attacks have occurred Detroit during Kumpf’s tenure.