Seven of 12 children under age 10 killed by dogs thus far in 2023 were with grandparents
LAS CRUCES, New Mexico––New Mexico third judicial court judge Douglas Driggers on December 6, 2023 acquitted Leslie Owens, 65, of all charges pertaining to the November 23, 2021 pit bull mauling death of her six-year-old grandson Avery Jackson Dunphy outside the Owens family home in rural Dona Ana County.
Still facing grand jury-issued charges of reckless abuse of a child that resulted in death, scheduled for jury trials on March 11, 2024 and April 15, 2024, respectively, are the victim’s mother, Danika Jackson, 35, and grandfather Kevin Owens, 63.
Fostered dogs for animal shelter
Kevin Owens is additionally charged with possession of dangerous dogs and causing the death of a person.
Kevin Owens signed a fostering contract with the Animal Services Center of Mesilla Valley to obtain possession of six pit bulls altogether, three of whom were reportedly involved in killing Avery Jackson Dunphy when he somehow got into the outdoor pen holding the pit bulls.
“The court is satisfied that a reasonable jury would not find this defendant guilty,” pronounced Driggers in concluding Leslie Owens’ trial. “Therefore this court directs the party to acquittal as to the sole count of the grand jury indictment,” Driggers said.
“State doesn’t know which dogs did it”
“This comes after the defense motioned for a directed verdict following the prosecution’s case,” explained Ariana Parra for KFOX 14 television news.
“The state has never identified which dog they believe is the dangerous dog that’s charged in the indictment,” defense attorney Jeff Lahann said.
Responded prosecutor Salvador Guardiola, “We successfully identified two at a fundamental level.”
Dunphy family statement
Said the Dunphy family in a prepared statement:
“No justice was served today. The prosecution successfully presented all the necessary elements for the jury to deliberate, as intended by the justice system. However, the judge, as is his frequent practice, took the decision out of the jury’s hands without providing legitimate legal reasons. Judge Driggers is known for issuing more directed verdicts than any other judge in New Mexico.
“It is important to clarify that a directed verdict does not equate to a ‘not guilty’ verdict,” the Dunphy family statement continued. “Only a jury can render that decision. In this case, the defendant, who had admitted guilt on video tape on the day our precious 6-year-old child, Avery Jackson Dunphy, was killed, was well aware of her culpability. It is a fundamental principle that no child is responsible for their own safety.”
Little Red Riding Hood syndrome
Visiting grandmother’s house has been associated with elevated risk of a fatal attack by canines since the Little Red Riding Hood fable originated circa 500 years ago, and perhaps earlier, since elements of the Little Red Riding Hood story have been traced back to ancient Greece, Rome, Norseland, and Taiwan, where the canine role was taken by a tiger.
Readers have pointed out to ANIMALS 24-7 that seven of the 12 children under 10 years of age who have been killed by dogs thus far in 2023 were killed while at a grandparent’s home or while in custody of a grandparent.
Two-year-old Blake Bettis, for instance, son of Kandi Bettis of Fauquier County, Virginia, nicknamed “Monkey” by his family for his active nature, on April 4, 2023 joined relatives at a birthday party for his grandmother, Kim Russell, at her home in Brunswick, Maryland.
Blake Bettis had played with Russell’s 145-pound pit bull/mastiff mix, named Cash, all afternoon, Brunswick police chief Kevin Grunwell told WTOP reporter Kyle Cooper, “but as he and his family were leaving, the dog attacked him.”
Fifteen days later, on April 19, 2023, one-year-old Riley Aiden Miller was killed by his grandparents’ pit bull in Hazlehurst, Georgia.
Jeff Davis County sheriff Preston Bohannon told media that Miller was mauled in a playground area set up in the grandparents’ yard for their grandchildren to play in. Miller’s grandmother shot and wounded the pit bull in an unsuccessful attempt to save Miller.
The pit bull later charged sheriff’s deputies and other people present, and was shot dead by a deputy.
Three more “grandparent” cases
Nine-month-old Navy Smith was killed by a pit bull at his grandmother Susan Smith’s home on May 4, 2023 in Waterloo, Iowa.
Susan Smith, also seriously injured in the attack, was stabilized locally and then flown to the University of Iowa in Iowa City for further care, police said.
An eleven-month-old girl was killed by her grandmother’s “pit bull/husky mix” on June 19, 2023 in Madison County, Michigan, according to the Lenawee County Sheriff’s Office. The victim’s name was not released.
Nineteen-month-old George Henry Smith, son of Dalton Smith and Andrew Moore, was killed by his grandmother’s pit bull on October 24, 2023 in Hahira, Georgia.
Leo Caddel & Loyalty Charles Scott
The two most recent dog attack fatalities in cases involving grandparents were three-month-old Leo Caddel, mauled in his grandparents’ kitchen by their wolf hybrid on November 30, 2023, in Chelsea, Alabama, and six-year-old Loyalty Charles Scott, killed on December 5, 2023, in Portland, Oregon, by two apparent Cane Corsos, after his grandmother Rena Scott dropped him off at the home of her friend Koko Miller, a dog trainer.
Seven out of 12 dog attack fatalities involving children under age 10 at a grandparent’s house or in care or actual legal custody of a grandparent amounts to 58%, and sounds like a lot, but is the 2023 data a fluke resulting from a small sample size?
The numbers over seven years
ANIMALS 24-7 checked the U.S. numbers going back to 2017, the years 2017-2023 having seen the seven highest human death tolls from dog attacks in U.S. history.
Grandparents were involved in only one of the eleven fatal attacks on children under age 10 in 2017, four of thirteen in 2018, none of 12 in 2019, six of 14 in 2020, four of 18 in 2021, and only two of eleven in 2022.
Overall, grandparents have been involved in 24 of the most recent 91 fatal dog attacks on children under age 10 occurring in the U.S., or 26%.
Throwing out the most extreme years, the zero for 2019 and seven in 2023, makes little difference: the 17 fatalities involving grandparents out of 72 amount to 24%.
Splitting the difference suggests that grandparents are involved in roughly a quarter of all fatal dog attacks on children under age 10.
This is, by inference, probably also true of nonfatal disfiguring attacks.
Rand Corporation research
How significant is this finding?
The most detailed relevant sociological research appears to be a Rand Corporation study by Anne R. Pebley and L.L. Rudkin, summarized at a web page entitled Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren: What Do We Know?, accessible at
The Rand Corporation describes itself as “a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous. RAND is nonprofit, nonpartisan, and committed to the public interest.”
Risk elevated by factor of four to five
According to Pebley and Rudkin, while “Many observers perceive grandparent care to be a growing phenomenon,” their survey work indicates that “the proportion of children living with grandparents has remained relatively stable. Approximately 5 to 6 percent of grandchildren and 10 percent of grandparents live in grandparent-grandchild households at any given time.
“Younger children are more likely to live with their grandparents. More than 10 percent of children under the age of two live with their grandparents; 3 percent of children 15 to 17 years old do so.”
What the Pebley and Rudkin findings suggest relative to fatal dog attacks is that children under age 10 are four to five times more likely to be killed by dogs at a grandparent’s home, or in care or legal custody of a grandparent, than would be predicted from the number of children living with grandparents.
A clue as to why
A clue as to why emerges from the Pebley and Rudkin research several paragraphs later:
“Previous analyses find that grandparents are reluctant to provide care, but are likely to do so because of emotional, drug, mental, or alcohol problems by parents, or because the grandparent did not want the grandchild to go to a foster home.”
Not all of these conditions, and often not any, at least to our knowledge, appear to be involved in every fatal dog attack on young children involving grandparents.
But in many cases some, and sometimes all of the conditions that Pebley and Rudkin mention, are elements in the family histories of the child dog attack victims, and often the grandparents share, though usually to lesser degree, some of the same “emotional, drug, mental, or alcohol problems” that cause their adult children to leave young grandchildren in the grandparents’ care.
How do the risk factors stack up?
If such “emotional, drug, mental, or alcohol problems” exist in the homes of 80% of the grandparents whose grandchildren suffer fatal dog attacks, that factor alone could account for all of the difference between the frequency of fatal dog attacks in grandparental care and the expected frequency based on numbers of children in grandparents’ homes.
More than that might be involved. For instance, grandparents, not expecting to become again responsible for raising small children, may feel more at liberty to keep large dogs of high-risk breeds.
Grandparents may also simply be less attentive to the activity of young children than parents, though that tendency might be offset by grandparents having had more life experience to inform themselves about potential hazards to children.
Pebley and Rudkin concluded that more research is needed about all aspects and consequences of grandparents raising grandchildren.
This applies to protecting children from dog attacks too.