Monday, December 17, 2012

NOLA to Topeka

In 2010, I worked with the City of Topeka to repeal its pit bull regulations of nearly 25 years.
Katie Bray Barnett

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Revised: Dec 18, 2012; 16:24 GMT

On December 13th, 2012, 2-year-old Savannah Edwards of Topeka, Kansas, was attacked by a pit bull and died from her injuries.* A chain of events which began in late August 2005 and culminated with Savannah's death seven years later provides a fascinating study of causal relationships. A few of the links in the chain of events include:

  • In late August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans.
  • Among the hundreds of volunteers who returned home with pit bulls was a young woman from Topeka named Katie Bray.
  • In 2007, I met Ledy VanKavage. The first time I spoke to Ledy she was giving a presentation on how to prevent cities from enacting breed-discriminatory laws. VanKavage encouraged Bray to attend law school.
  • 2008 - 2009 Bray interned at Best Friends Animal Society in Maryville IL for two summers and worked with VanKavage on several projects.
  • 2009 (Fall): Bray starts her first year at University of Kansas School of Law
  • 2009 (Oct): Bray registers a student chapter of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF)
  • 2009 (Winter) Bray co-authors (with Ledy VanKavage) “The Fiscal Impact of Breed Discriminatory Ordinances in the Era of DNA.”
  • In January of 2010 VanKavage is invited to address the SALDF; Bray also invites local politicians and humane society representatives. VanKavage's presentation on this occasion is titled “Due Process and Doggie Discrimination: The Current Climate of Breed Specific Legislation.” 
  • Following VanKavage's presentation, the city of Topeka forms a committee to write new animal legislation. The committee also included University of Kansas law student Katie Bray Barnett, nationally recognized as an expert on animal control legislation.**
  • 2010 (May) Bray receives the Advancement of Animal Law Scholarship from ALDF
  • In 2010, I worked with the City of Topeka to repeal its “pit bull” regulations of nearly 25 years.
  • 2011 (May): Bray graduates from law school

Ms Bray, along with her husband, manages GameDog Guardian, a pit bull rescue working in the Topeka-Lawrence area. She currently serves as the Program/Legislative analyst for Best Friends’ pit bull terrier initiatives.

Ms Bray has not been reluctant in posting details of her personal story; stories currently appear on StubbyDog, SeattleDogSpot, ALDF, as well as on GameDog. In her role as Adoption Director for GameDog she has "coordinated the successful adoption of hundreds of bully breed dogs."

Early reports indicate that the pit bull that killed Savannah on Dec 13 came from a shelter or rescue. Bill Acree, Director of Helping Hands Humane Society, reported that a check of their records "shows no one from the incident address adopted" a pit bull from Helping Hands. This bit of legalese is a non-denial: the tenant of the residence may have changed address. Helping Hands has yet to crosscheck the names of all those associated with the address as well as the family against the names of those who have adopted from Helping Hands.

It is not yet known which rescue provided the dog which killed Savannah. Regardless of which shelter or rescue adopted out the dog, Katie Bray’s career path, encouraged and mentored by Ledy VanKavage of Best Friends, has produced a climate of tolerance of fighting breeds. This climate, and the hundreds, perhaps thousands of pit bulls introduced into the region, led to Savannah's death.

Bray's role in the removal of Topeka's BSL, as well as her role in rescuing and adopting out fighting breeds, has resulted in the death of this child. Ms Bray and her mentor must now hold themselves accountable, even if the authorities do not.

Cities which have never adopted Breed Specific Legislation may bear less responsibility for pit bull attacks in their communities than cities which have had BSL but then abandoned it, as Topeka did. Cities which have enjoyed the protections of BSL, then grow indifferent and discard these protections for their citizens, are culpable. The leaders who voted to abandon BSL must also accept responsibility for attacks in their communities.

The leaders of Topeka must reinstate the former BSL provisions and halt the adoption of fighting breeds; they must restore the protections of BSL to the public they serve.

Savannah Mae Edwards

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* SRUV has learned (here) that Savannah was killed in unincorporated Shawnee County, which includes Topeka.

2-year-old Topeka girl dies from dog attack
     (Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec 13, 2012)
Child, 2, Dies Of Injuries Suffered In Dog Attack
     (, Dec 14, 2012)
Dog Attack Victim Identified
     (, Dec 14, 2012)
** City approves animal ordinance
      (Topeka Capital-Journal, Nov 28, 2010)

Related Post: Helping Hands

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks in the US