Monday, January 28, 2013

The BSL Cliff

The Humane Society of the United States is so grateful that lawmakers have agreed on a reasonable measure to address the unintended consequences of the court’s ruling while still providing a remedy for victims of dog bites.
Tami Santelli, HSUS

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Revised: Jan 29, 2013; 20:39 GMT

We would like to ask Ms Santelli what exactly is the remedy for victims to which she refers? We find no explicit remedy for victims of pit bull attacks in the proposed legislation. In fact proposed SB 160 would rescind protections for Maryland citizens to the status quo ante April 1, 2012.

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The Maryland legislative task force has worked for the better part of a year to craft a bill, and the best they could do is write a bill that abrogates the court ruling. The legislation is presented, by the task force as well as well as by HSUS, as if it were in the interest of the victims of dog bites:
This is a reasonable compromise that will restore some measure of sanity and predictability to the ownership of animals in Maryland and the rights of people who have been injured.
Language in the bill itself, which is presented as emergency legislation, perpetuates this hypocrisy, pretending the legislation is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health or safety.

These are shameful misrepresentations: the proposed legislation would offer no protections whatsoever for those who have been  injured by pit bulls in Maryland, and reverting to the old Maryland common law imposes severe restrictions on the ability of victims to find a remedy for attacks. There are informative discussions of Maryland common law as it refers to dog attacks by pit bulls in both Kenneth Phillips' Dog Bite Law and in John Ensminger's Dog Law Reporter. Both of these important sources make it abundantly clear that it is difficult for victims of pit bull attacks to find a remedy under the Maryland Common Law; in fact, a remedy may be more difficult under Maryland Common Law than it is in any other state.

So why do the HSUS and the task force both insist the proposed legislation will protect victims?

In their determination to protect the interests of real estate owners and managers, insurers, and the vocal minority of dog owners who prefer fighting breeds, the task force has proposed legislation which ignores the victims of those dogs. And they have become perpetrators of the pit bull problem in Maryland.

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This post is one of a series on the Maryland pit bull conundrum. To view the index of all Maryland posts click here.

Maryland legislators reach compromise (Washington Post, Jan 17, 2013)
Legislation would ease pressure (Towson Patch, Jan 24, 2013))
Pit bull legislation (Maryland Reporter, Jan 25, 2013)

Maryland Senate bill SB 160 2013
MD Court of Appeals establishes new liability rule in pit bull attack cases

Special MD pit bull lobbying pages:
Humane Society Urges Corrective Pit Bull Law (HSUS Press Release)
On-line form which encourages spam to legislators (HSUS)
Protect Maryland Dogs (HSUS)
HSUS Urges Legislation to pass bill (HSUS)
Special Projects: Maryland (Animal Farm Foundation)

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks

Saturday, January 19, 2013

2012 Top Ten

This selection is listed chronologically, and does not reflect the number of page views. The list is subject to change.

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1/ The War Room
    Jan 3, 2012
    Pit bull advocacy learns about the ever-shrinking news cycle from D.A.Pennebaker's landmark 1993 film.

2/ Lake Mary
    January 20, 2012
    Please write to us immediately if you can explain this for us.

3/ Gameness: VIII
    February 21, 2012
    In 2011 and 2012 SRUV published a series of posts illustrating the target fixation of pit bulls. These dogs can endure awful punishment while engaged, including repeated blows with hammers, iron pipes, logs, baseball bats, and shovels. Any weapon a good Samaritan brings to bear does not deter them, including even a 9mm Ruger.

4/ Where is Johann?
    April 30th, 2012
   One of our series of posts investigating the conflation of pit bulls and Golden Retrievers.

5/ The Hannover Formula
    May 14th, 2012
    Our letter to Peggy Weigle, the Executive Director of Animal Humane NM, following the deaths of two people in New Mexico.

6/ AVA Policy 6.15
    June 1, 2012
    The AVA policy accepts the claim that Breed Specific Legislation is ineffective, based on "experience in other countries."  Why would Australia or any other country want to follow our lead on pit bulls?

7/ Delise's Dark Shadows
    June 5th, 2012
    Pit bull expert par excellence. This is one of our all-time most read posts.

8/ Pit Bulls Don't Exist
    September 3, 2012
    The wisdom of the ages . . . 

9/ Responsible Advocacy
    September 28, 2012
    Our appeal to animal welfare executives to act responsibly.

10/ Political Recklessness
     October 8, 2012
    The dead-end street the AVMA and the humane societies are travelling on.

11/ Fighting Breeds
      October 24, 2012
      An early effort to prove that there's no such thing as a fighting breed, and the corollary that pit bulls are no more aggressive than Golden Retrievers.

12/ State of Denial
     November 25, 2012
     Folks, this is not intended as a pun or a cute metaphor; it is literal. An amazing number of Marylanders really do deny certain self-evident facts, such as whether or not pit bulls exist.

13/ Questions for Journalists When Interviewing Animal Welfare Professionals
     November 20, 2012
    . .. . in which we ask animal welfare professionals to go into a dark room, close the door behind them, and spend a few moments of quiet reflection. No one will know . . . . 

14/ Zen and Pit Bulls
    December 9, 2012
    The Maryland legislature has spent nearly a year trying to wiggle around the  Court's finding, and remains stymied . . . 


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Point Counterpoint

My heart so goes out to those families and friends. That said, regulations such as special licenses, microchips and muzzles when outside the home would not have prevented those attacks.
Karen Hiller, Topeka City Council Member

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Ms Hiller refuses to accept responsibility for her advocacy of dangerous dogs.

In the excerpt above Ms Hiller refers to the attack on two-year old Savannah Edwards on December 13, 2012, which resulted in Savannah's death, and the bizarre attack on the Tibbits at 1823 N.W. Polk on December 28th. Ms Hiller claims that attacks by pit bulls within a home would not have been deterred by Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). Hiller continued:
I’m not sure any of us know exactly what happened that provoked the dangerous behavior.
Ms Hiller must know that the bewilderment she expresses has been expressed hundreds of times before, by owners and advocates following pit bull attacks. And in Savannah's case it was not dangerous behavior, it was murderous.

Ms Hiller's claim that BSL would not have deterred the attacks is patently false. Of the twenty-two recorded deaths attributed to pit bulls during 2012 at least sixteen of them occurred in homes or yards of residences where the dogs lived, and the victims were family members.* BSL in the communities where those canine homicides occurred would have eliminated or reduced the number of deaths.

Ms Hiller was a proponent of the new (2010) Topeka animal control ordinance, which in effect repealed Topeka's BSL. The new legislation also allowed animal shelters to adopt out pit bulls. Many of the dogs from Helping Hands and other shelters were abandoned or surrendered by previous owners because they displayed aggressive behavior. Releasing these dogs into the community, placing them in family situations, is a recipe for disaster.

The public does not yet know the provenance of the pit bulls involved in the two recent attacks. If the dogs that killed Savannah or attacked the Tibbits were adopted from a shelter, then Ms Hiller's new legislation is directly responsible for placing those dogs in the homes.

In the same news article, Bill Acree, the executive director of Helping Hands HS, said the shelter continues to see fewer dogs euthanized as a result of the new animal legislation. Bill, that would be because the shelter is adopting them out, placing them in family homes. And you will see more and more pit bulls come through your revolving door as time goes on.

Helping Hands is apparently working overtime to adopt out their pit bulls. Several days ago we saw the listing for a dog named Emma.

This dog is advertised as a GSD/Australian Cattle dog mix. Emma is predominantly a brindle pit bull. If Helping Hands is resorting to adopting out pit bull mixes by using deceptive practices Topeka can expect to see more attacks in the future.

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* Fatal Pit Bull Attacks

DA to decide fate of dog  (Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec 14, 2012)
Hiller stands behind removal of breed-specific rules (Topeka Capital-Journal, Jan 6, 2013)
Pit bull attacks son's parents (Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec 28, 2012)

Google News Today's pit bull attacks

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Questions for Journalists or Law Enforcement to Address Following a Canine Homicide Involving a Pit Bull Adopted from a Shelter or Rescue

Savannah Mae Edwards of Topeka was the 22nd person to be killed by a pit bull in 2012, and the sixth to be killed by a dog adopted from a rescue organization or shelter.

Initial reports indicate that the dog was adopted from a rescue or shelter; the public must know which organization is releasing dangerous dogs into the community.

Numerous individuals were involved (and may be culpable) in the death of Savannah. This includes the owner of the pit bull as well as the family members who may have exposed Savannah to the dangerous dog. Prosecutors have been reluctant to bring charges against families who, through their own negligence, lose a child; the possibility presents a dilemma of biblical proportions for law enforcement.

The individuals and organizations who rescued, fostered, or otherwise maintained the dog and eventually placed the dog with Savannah's family may also be culpable. All of these individuals and the organizations they are affiliated with may be subject to charges ranging from child endangerment to negligent homicide or an equivalent charge. The organizations face potentially devastating financial consequences if they are sued by the Edwards family for wrongful death.

The only way to stop rescues and shelters from adopting out dogs which later kill humans is by holding individuals and organizations accountable. The questions below may help those who are investigating the death of Savannah and serve as a guide for other similar investigations.

Revised: Jan 4, 2012; 06:42 GMT
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Question:  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 is an evasion, as the adopter may have recently moved to the address where Savannah died. The information may be confidential but a child has been killed; a humane society can be expected to cooperate in the investigation of the death. Can Mr Acree prove that the pit bull that killed Savannah did not come from Helping Hands? Assuming that it did not, what rescue or shelter provided the dog?

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Q: Shawnee County investigators should now know the provenance of the dog but may be unwilling to make the information public. Journalists are often capable of discovering information not available to law enforcement and should pursue a parallel investigation into Savannah's death. Shelters and rescues which were not involved with the dog that killed Savannah could easily be convinced to make full disclosure, to clear themselves from suspicion. Ask all regional shelters and rescues to prove they did not adopt out the animal in question.

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Q: Journalists can uncover other important information by checking public records. How many of the dogs adopted out from shelters and rescues have subsequently been involved in attacks on other pets? How many of these adopted pit bulls which were involved in attacks have been returned to the owners after the attack? How many adopted pit bulls have been involved in attacks on humans? What happened to the dogs in these cases? This information will help develop the overall picture of the effects of rescue and adoption of pit bulls in the region.

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Q: What are there county requirements for reporting dog attacks? Are accurate records maintained? This area of Kansas is an active area for "rescuing" and adopting out pit bulls; does the Sheriff's Department record whether or not the attacking dog was a "rescue" dog? Does animal control record the breed of dogs involved in attacks?

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Q: Most rescues are registered 501(c)3 tax exempt organizations, and thus have a public responsibility. Do local pit bull rescue organizations (such as GameDog and Mid-America Bully Breed Rescue) voluntarily provide information regarding the pit bulls they place in family homes?

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Q: Animals adopted from animal shelters must be spayed/neutered by Kansas state law, but there are potential loopholes in the process. How many of the dogs in Shawnee County which have been adopted from shelters or rescues remain intact? How many are unlicensed? How many adopted intact pit bulls live in homes with infants or children? Do the shelters and rescues perform followup visits to confirm that the adopted dogs have been neutered?

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Q: Did the owner of the dog that killed Savannah have previous citations for dangerous dogs, dogs running loose, or any other animal citations? Did the owner previously own fighting breeds before adopting this animal? Do the local rescues check the backgrounds and records of potential owners for previous ownership patterns?

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Q:  When the identity of the dog in question is determined, check it's history. Was this dog rescued from a fighting (or suspected fighting) operation? Did the rescue or shelter organization determine that the dog had been rehabilitated and was no longer aggressive? How was this determined? Did the rescue organization use in-house "experts" to decide that the dog was no longer aggressive? Do these rescue organizations use anyone other than pit bull advocates to determine the aggressiveness of pit bulls eligible for adoption?

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Source: DA to decide fate of dog  (Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec 14, 2012)

Google News Today's pit bull attacks