Once again I'm a bit behind and am going to group a couple of attacks together. Actually, it makes sense in this case because the circumstances surrounding these attacks are strikingly similar.
Before getting into the individual cases, I again note that fatal incidents are extremely rare given the 75 million+ owned dogs in the United States. And while the circumstances behind the attacks are very consistent, the type of dog involved is not. This is why all analysis of such attacks should involve looking at all the human-created circumstances leading up to the attack -- this is how such incidents will be eliminated in the future.
Two weeks ago, 63 year old Pamela Devitt was out jogging as she ususally did near her home in Littlerock, CA. During the walk, Devitt was attacked by a pack of dogs. A woman in her car tried to stop the attack, and called police. An officer arrived at the scene and shot at one of the dogs, and it reportedly ran off into the dessert.
The victim died in route to the hospital.
Hours later, the sheriff and animal control officers served a warrant on the home near the site of the attack. The home was owned by 29 year old Alex Jackson. When police served the warrant, they found 8 dogs (not four as reportedly attacked the woman), all contained in the house. The dogs were described as 6 'pit bulls' and 2 mixed breed dogs, including a Lab mix and an Australian Shepherd mix. Also in Jackson's home was a marijuana growing operation.
Police were investigating the dogs to see if the DNA from the dogs matched DNA found on the victim's body. And while dozens of media outlets reported that the 'pit bulls' confiscated from Jackson's home were responsible, spokespeople from the police department have noted that the dogs responsible MAY VERY WELL HAVE BEEN STRAY DOGs -- an that residents of the area note that stray dogs constantly roam the area and have attacked people before -- including a woman riding a horse just two weeks prior to this. At this point, even two weeks later, police have not confirmed the involvement of Jackson's dogs so the type of dogs involved in the attack is completely unknown.
Littlerock is a community of about 1400 people of which more than 20% live below the poverty line -- well above the national average without taking into account the higher cost of living in California. Media reports and others familiar with the area note that packs of stray dogs roaming at large are often a problem and are not addressed. While one legislator has used this attack to grandstand against the state's prohibition against breed bans, it should be noted and well documented that the dogs were roaming at large, likely strays or even ferals, and should have been captured by animal control long before an attack occurred.
It's a tragic story, and my heart goes out to the victim's family. But all of the discussion about "breeds' in this case are completely misguided, in part because the dogs involved are unknown at this point, but mostly because the dogs were roaming at large, and could have been seized with a well-enforced leash law (which is something it sounds like the area needs).
In Harleyville, SC, 80 year old Carlton Freeman was attacked by four dogs roaming at large. Freeman, who had preveiously had both legs amputated at the knees and was paralyzed, was riding his scooter down the road as he regularly did.
However, on this day, four dogs ran out and attacked him and pulled him from his scooter. He later died from injuries sustained in the attack. Neighbors reported that the dogs had been roaming the neighborhood for months prior to the incident.
While there have been a handful of "citizen journalism" sites that have reported the dogs to be 'pit bulls', there has never been any type of official word from a legitimate news sources or from a local official. In fact, it turns out that local officials, who originally seized 3 dogs they believed to be involved in the attack, are now saying the dogs were feral dogs that were without an owner.
So, in both of these cases, you have rural, impoverished areas which have had known groups of feral dogs roaming that then attacked an elderly person as a pack. In none of the cases are the types of dogs known, but it is clear what where the problems lie and how to easily solve the problem (by solving the problem of stray, feral dogs).
As always, I'll update these cases if any additional information becomes available.
Like many of you, I have watched a lot of footage of the disasterous tornado that struck Moore, OK yesterday. It's tragic, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the many who lost their homes, their lives and their loved ones during the storm.
Yesterday, CBS News was interviewing an elderly woman about the tornado that destroyed her home while she was in it. The interview itself is interesting, how she notes she was just sitting their with her dog and then, next thing she knew, she was laying among the rubble of her home. She specifically notes that she lost sight of her dog and hadn't seen him.
During the interview, the reporter actually notices the dog climbing out of the rubble of the woman's home. The footage is raw. It's emotional. And it just shows how important pets can be to our lives -- maybe especially during a time of major loss. This woman has lost her home...but she has her own life and her dog -- and said that both her prayers were answered.
So today, throughout the country (check local listings), a little dog that came into our shelter at the KC Pet Project is getting national attention.
If you don't know the story, Kia was found on the dashboard of a car at the Kansas City, MO impound lot. Apparently, the car that she was in had been towed and she was trapped inside. Employees at the tow lot did not notice her inside the vehicle when it came in on April 6.
Then, on May 6, she was found on the dashboard, alive. Skinny & dehydrated, but alive. Fortunately for Kia, her previous owner was a bit of a slob, and there was enough McDonalds leftovers, cigars, and trash in the car to keep her alive for 30 days. Pretty amazing.
The story first came out 10 days ago, and made a lot of news -- getting picked up by news media in virtually every state, and several national media outlets including the Today Show, Fox News and the Huffington Post. Earlier this week, people from the Rachel Ray Show came to the shelter, shot footage at the shelter, and Kia, and one of our staff people, were able to go out and be on the Rachel Ray Show. The show is airing TODAY -- so check local listings (the video of the clip is already online, however an embed option is not available).
Kia's story is amazing, but I think the publicity of the case caught all of us off guard. As an open admission shelter in a large city, we see stories like this very regularly -- whether it's a dog that is found injured in the attic of an abandoned home, with a gunshot wound, or dogs found abandoned on a deck at a home.
Since KC Pet Project took over the operations of the shelter 16 months ago, our staff has been working hard to provide the best possible options for dogs like Kia. Whereas as recently as 4 years ago, only 35% of the animals that came into the shelter were lucky enough to find new homes, over the past 16 months, nearly 90% of them have found new homes (most of the rest would be too sick, injured, or aggressive to be suitable candidates for adoption).
It's been a fun, world-wind tour, and hats off to the great staff at KCPP who is making miracles happen every day. And thanks to Rachael Ray, who is a great advocate for shelter animals, for sharing Kia's story.
As for Kia, she is rehabbing well in her foster home where she'll stay for a few more weeks until she's ready for adoption. She's a pretty neat little girl, who has been through a lot. I'm so glad we were here to help her.
In a new study that was just released, researcher Victoria Voith once again exposes the challenges of identifying dominant breeds of mixed breed dogs, even by "experts" in the field. I think the research is important for a lot of reasons (some different from what others have surmised), and worth reviewing as the world of DNA genetics testing continues to challenge what we think we know about canine genetics, and rapidly adding knowledge to the field.
In the study, more than 900 people who had professions in the field of animal welfare were asked to watch a 1 minute video of 20 dogs that showed the full view of the front and side of the dog, along with the weights, age, and sex of the dogs. All participants noted that they're breed identification was sometimes used for record keeping purposes and were largely made up of kennel staff, Veterinary Assistants, Animal control Field officers, dog trainers, or other animal control or veterinary/behavior triaining staff.
The survey participants then had to answer the following questions:
Do you think the dog is purebred? yes/no
If yes, what breed to you think it is?
If No, what do you think is the most predominant breed?
What do you think is the second most predominant breed? If you are unsure, write "mix".
The answers were then compared to the DNA results for the dogs.
Before I get into the results for this, I want to discuss the dogs used, and DNA as a whole. It's very important to note that at this point no one is saying that DNA tests are 100% reliable. Even the researchers who are creating the tests note this. Currently, the Mars Wisdom Panel test (which was used for this analysis) says it has a 90% accuracy rate across all first generation crosses. As dogs get further removed from pure heritage, the results get less and less accurate.
It's very important to note in this study that only ONE of the 20 dogs used came back with 50% or more of any one breed -- so only ONE fell within the 90% accuracy range. So, essentially,we cannot have a lot of certainly of the actual DNA results of almost any of the dogs in the study. However, with the other 19, we can be 90% certain that the really are very mixed breed dogs and not predominently any one breed. I think this is very important in how the results are analyzed.
While this study is far from conclusive because of the very small sample set of dogs, I do believe the initial results are very interesting.
Based on the study results, for 7 of the 20 dogs, more than 10% of the responents thought that the dog was "probably" a purebred dog. For three of the 20, 19% or more of the respondents thought the dog was probably a purebred dog (one of these three was the only dog in the study with a mix of 50% of any one breed - Miniature Pincher - and the majority of respondents incorrectly ID'd the dog as predominently Carin Terrier).
Also of note, there was agreement among 50% or more of the respondents in the predominent breed in only 7 of the dogs -- and in 3 of them, the visual ID did not match ANY of the DNA identification. In the other 13 dogs (65%) there was no majority guess among the panel.
In 14 of the 20 dogs used, less than half of the guesses included a breed that was even detected by the DNA results. And for one of the dogs, exactly zero of the 859 respondents correctly identified a breed of dog in the mix (and this was the dog with highest breed concentration).
It's important to note why this data is important. In the United States, more than 40% of the canine population is mixed breed.
For decades, the only possible way to identify mixed breed dogs was through visual identification, and many city juristictions have used such identification to influence their animal control policies.
However, we are now getting a lot of science-based data on the efficacy of such ideals, and the results don't support visual breed ID as a basis for policy:
- Visual ID of dogs is highly inaccurate when compared to DNA results
- The Visual ID of mixed breed dogs is highly subjective, as most 'experts' don't agree on the breeds based on looks
- Even those well-educated in the field are susceptible to judgment biases
Thus, statistical data that has often used to promote breed-specific policies is, and has been, based on visual breed identification that is proving itself to be highly subjective and inaccurate. And if public policy-makers want to rely on scientific and accurate information for their decisions, then the best solution will be to focus solely on behavior-based ordinances that target how dogs (and owenrs) BEHAVE, not how they look.
In a citywide poll, seniors in Calgary were more likely to be in favor of outlawing 'pit bulls and other large canines' more so than younger Calgarians, who overwhelmingly rejected such a law.
According to the poll, 64% of those over the age of 70 supported breed bans, while only 19% of those aged 18-29 were in favor. Overall, 48% opposed breed bans, while 40% supported them.
It's worth noting that the poll was done as a non-random internet poll, so the data is far from scientific, but it does reflect similar research done over the years that indicates that while older people tend to favor breed specific laws (likely rooted in decades old hysteria that no longer has merit), younger people overwhelmingly oppose BSL. This also helps us understand why more and more communities are continuing to move away from the idea of breed-specific legislation and instead, moving more toward breed-neutral policies that focus on the behavior of the dogs.
Currently no Connecticut municipalities have breed-specific ordinances, but because they exist elsewhere, the state House decided to prevent it from ever happening.
The bill now awaits action by the Senate.
I continue to be amazed at how overwhelmingly state legislatures support ordinances that prevent breed-specific policies and force municipalities to deal with aggressive dogs through BEHAVIOR based ordinances, not by targeting 'breeds". Nothing it seems passes unanimously any more, and yet, this bill has so far, and in Maryland, although the two houses couldn't agree on the verbage of their law so it didn't pass, there were ZERO legislators that favored a breed-specific approach.
We'll continue to keep you up to date on this bill as it progresses. Congrats (so far) to the people in Connecticut that are working on this bill.
Due to a dozen other things going on right now, I'm a little behind, but do need to get caught up on a couple of fatal dog bite incidents that have happened over the past couple of weeks that I've not had a chance to report.
As I always note, I'm not the biggest fan of writing up these stories. Dogs are wonderful animals that bring so much value to our lives. However, unfortunately, sometimes a series of the wrong set of circumstances can lead one to attack. And sometimes, although very rarely compared to the 75 million owned dogs in this country, these attacks can be fatal. When they do happen, it is essential to look at the entirety of the circumstances in determining why these events took place.
Here are two such incidents over the past couple of weeks:
Beau Rutledge was a two year old boy that lived in southern Fulton County just outside of Atlanta. The boy and his family lived in a townhome together with their pet dog.
However, two weeks ago, the boy's mother went to the bathroom and left the boy and the dog alone together. At some point while the mother was in the bathroom, the dog; described by the media as a "pit bull", mauled the young boy, killing him. The causes of the attack are very unclear....and there were a LOT of missing pieces to the puzzle based on the media reports.
When the mother came out of the bathroom and saw the child and apparently 'knew instantly" that the boy was dead. No more details were given. Meanwhile, it is surprising that the mother was apparently in the other room and didn't hear any type of commotion that would have alerted her to the attack.
Young children simply do not understand canine behavior and warning signs, and thus, are going to be unable to determine when a dog is uncomfortable or hurt by a situation. Because of this, toddlers should always, ALWAYS be supervised when around a dog. Last year, at least 14 of the 17 fatal dog bites involving children under the age of 6 happened while the toddler or infant was unsupervised (2 of the 3 others where it is unclear if the child was attended or not at the time).
This story made a lot of headlines in the Georgia area. Nice job of CBS Atlanta to call on an area expert to talk about dog behavior and what can lead to horrific tragedies like this one.
In Coschocton, OH, thirty five year old Rachael Honabarger was attacked last week outside of her home by her own dog. A neighbor who was driving by right after the initial attack saw that Honabarger was in trouble and rushed to help pull the woman's 3 year old German Shepherd off of her. The victim was flown to Grant Medical Center in Columbus with what were described as "severe" neck injuries.
The victim died from her wounds two days later.
Not much is known about what may have started the attack -- and likely there will never be a clear explanation. A neighbor who lives nearby notes that the dog has "always been very aggressive" and "guarded the yard and the house."
Socialization is an important element for dogs -- and if dogs are not well socialized, they can often become aggressive. When your dog shows signs of aggression, it is essential that you seek the help of an area trainer to help you with the dog. Major attacks like this are seldom a dog's first sign of aggression.
My heart goes out to the friends and family of this young woman.
This story was in a lot of media outlets as well. Cochocton has a poverty rate of 16.2% -- so a bit above the national average, although it's unclear if this played a role at all in the tragedy.
This is a public service announcement for those who are very forgetful: Sunday is Mother's Day. Don't forget your mother on Mother's Day and be sure to send her a nice card.
Don't have access to a Hallmark store? We're making it easy.
KC Pet Project has some pretty amazing Mother's Day Cards available. Buy one now (with your donation of $10 (or more) and give us your mother's mailing address and we'll send a card out in the mail to your mother for you.
Doesn't get easier than that.
The donation goes to a good cause, and I must say, these Mother's Day Post Cards are ADORABLE. So buy one, and support two great causes: your Mother (or a mother you know) and KC Pet Project.
You can order yours today HERE. Here are a couple of samples of the cards, more at the link.