Well over 100 animal lovers from around the state flocked to the Bloomfield Board of Health meeting held Thursday evening . . .
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Revised: Sept 10, 2012; 14:25 GMT
The recent news out of Bloomfield provides a textbook lesson in how pit bull advocates use the social media to intimidate public officials and hijack the public process.
If experience can be our guide, the hundred or more people who flocked to the Board of Health meeting on August 16th are not animal lovers, animal advocates, or animal welfare activists. If the discussion had been about the mistreatment of laying hens, the poaching of elephants in Kenya, or the abuse of the bile bears in China, few of those in attendance on the 16th would have come.
The people who did come were, for the most part, single-issue pit bull activists, who journeyed to Bloomfield to support Memphis the pit bull.
The fiasco began when Memphis was picked up as a stray eight months before the hearing. The reason pit bulls comprise 40 - 75% of the population in animal shelters is because previous owners discover behavioral issues and abandon their dogs. Karen Lore, Director of Bloomfield Health & Human Services, acknowledged behavior problems in Memphis, which were confirmed by Pia Silvani of St Hubert's Animal Welfare Center. Silvani's evaluation was the last sound advice the city received, and at the insistence of the pit bull advocates it was soon ignored.
Silvani's evaluation should have been the end of the story, but instead it's where the plot spirals out of control. At this point the controversy might have been manageable, but officials made a series of miscalculations which allowed the advocates of fighting breeds to take control of the dialogue.
Bloomfield officials passed Memphis on to Jeff Coltenback, a pit bull advocate and FaceBook wallah. Within days Coltenback ignored the terms of his agreement with the city, who then requested the return of Memphis. Coltenback went to work on the social media, generating a frenzy of support for Memphis and, most likely, donations for his 501(c)3. The Aug 16th board meeting descended into farce.
The officials bowed under the pressure and agreed to yet another evaluation for Memphis. The Board of Health then made another critical mistake. They accepted Jim Crosby, apparently at the urging of Coltenback, as the evaluator. Crosby was, for a brief period, the Bay County (FL) Animal Control Director, but left under suspicious circumstances. Crosby is (or has been) a pit bull owner and is (or has been) associated with several special interest groups that strongly oppose pit bull regulations. He then disgraced himself with his posted comments in a public forum after the fatal pit bull attack on Mary Diana Bernal.1
The situation deteriorated, if that's possible, at a second public forum on Sept 6th, when Coltenback served Ms Lore with a lawsuit, the first of three promised lawsuits against city officials. Ms Lore was manipulated into reading a letter of support for Memphis, which must have entertained the crowd. Crosby offered his evaluation of Memphis which, you guessed it, absolved the dog. The forum ended abruptly when audience members began to yell questions from their seats and police rushed to protect city officials.
At every step, the Bloomfield Board of Health relinquished control of the process to the advocates of fighting breeds. The likely outcome at this point is that Memphis, a pit bull with behavior issues, will be adopted as a family pet. If Memphis hurts someone, who will bear responsibility: Coltenback or the City?
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1 See Jim Crosby comments on the death of Mary Bernal
Police Intervene at Bloomfield Forum (NorthJersey.com)
Memphis Given Temporary Reprieve (Baristanet)
Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the 30+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, published by Animal People. To view or download the current PDF click here. This page may also include information from Dogsbite and Fatal Pit Bull Attacks.
Information on euthanasia rates is from Pit bulls and Political Recklessness, by Merritt Clifton. Shelter intake and euthanasia rates are published annually in the July/August edition of Animal People.