Sunday, October 19, 2014

Portland Streetcar Pit Bull Attack: The Backstory

In January of 2012 Courtney Ebert-Hein of Longmont, Colorado adopted a pit bull named Chocolate from the Longmont Humane Society (LHS). Later that spring Alda Crill left her home in northwest Longmont with her two Yorkshire Terriers, Belagrin and Zoar, on a dual leash. Chocolate escaped from her nearby yard and within seconds Bela's chest was torn open and one leg was ripped almost off, according to police reports. A neighbor tried CPR on Bela, but she died shortly after arriving at Longs Peak Animal Hospital.

Belagrin; d. April 26, 2012

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In Mesa County, Colorado, on October 2012, a leashed pit bull named Bridgette charged two kenneled dogs. When Bridgette's handler attempted to control her she turned and attacked the handler.

In March 2013 Bridgette's subsequent owner was walking with Bridgette when they encountered another leashed dog. Bridgette reportedly bit through her own leash to attack and injure the miniature schnauzer.

Mesa County officials ruled that Bridgette was a dangerous dog and required her owners to surrender her. Bridgette's owners chose to surrender her to the LHS in Boulder County, a five to seven hour drive from Mesa County.

Two months later, in May of 2013, Bridgette was involved in a fight with another dog at the LHS shelter. Despite Bridgette's record of attacks Longmont officials decided she was improving and made plans to release her.

Bridgette moved to her new foster home on June 13. Four days later she escaped from her yard and attacked a neighbor and his Weimeraner while they were out walking. As a result of the attack Liz Smokowski, the director of the Longmont Humane Society, pleaded guilty on behalf of the society to misdemeanor possession of a dangerous dog.

As part of an unusual settlement a Boulder County judge ordered LHS officials to complete a restorative justice program and gave the organization a 12-month deferred sentence. If the LHS did not violate any laws during the 12-month period the conviction would be dismissed. Ms Smokowski accepted the sentence on December 13, 2013.

Liz Smokowski

* * * * * 

In August of 2012 Erica Montoya adopted a pit bull from the Longmont Humane Society. LHS officials informed Montoya that a previous owner had returned Baby Girl after keeping her only a month, and that Baby Girl "wasn't always good with other dogs."

In June 2014, Ms Montoya moved from Longmont to Westminister, Colorado and left Baby Girl with friends, after which the dog went missing.

On September 24 a Portland, Oregon police officer working on bicycle patrol stopped a 16-year old girl with a pit bull. The teenage girl was in the company of a 47-year-old homeless man, Leroy Parsons. The girl and Parsons told the officer that the pit bull they called Purrdy was theirs.

Later that evening the (still unidentified) teenager boarded a streetcar, where her pit bull attacked and killed a 13-year old Pomeranian named Lady. The microchipped pit bull was traced to Longmont and identified as Baby Girl.

Lady; d. September 24, 2014

The death of Lady on a Portland streetcar may have significant legal ramifications for LHS. The society quickly went on the offensive, and less than a week after the attack aired a story about finding forever homes for stray dogs. The feel-good TV spot, however, bears an unfortunate mixed message: the dogs are strays imported from the streets of Houston, which may not be a message Longmont citizens want to hear.

LHS also began importing dogs from Mexico as early as 2010. By 2012 nearly 16 percent of reported dog bites in Longmont were traced to dogs adopted out of LHS.

Baby Girl's (who gave her that name?) earlier owner, Ms Montoya, has since relinquished her rights to the dog. Ms Montoya's mother, Michelle Orozco, who by happenstance lives in Southeast Portland, said she only learned a week after the September 24th attack that her daughter's missing dog was in Portland, and was responsible for the fatal streetcar attack.

Ms Orozco said she is reluctant to assume responsibility for Baby Girl because her own pit bull isn't compatible with other dogs. Ms Orozco has contacted pit bull rescue groups in Oregon and Georgia to see if they could take the dog.

Sarah Clusman, LHS Director of Operations, reportedly informed Oregon officials her agency could assist in getting the dog back to Colorado, if necessary. But Ms Smokowski, perhaps more wary of the clock ticking on the one-year deferred sentence, rapidly stepped back from the offer:
I don't know any details of the situation. . .  We haven't heard from anyone. . .  We do not have anyone available for something in that type of situation, said Smokowski when asked about Baby Girl's possible return to Longmont.
Multnomah Animal Services Director Mike Oswald said Baby Girl will remain at the agency's shelter in Troutdale, where her behavior will be evaluated. Officials will then decide whether the dog, which now has an interstate rap sheet of attacks including the final, fatal attack on Lady, can be adopted or placed with a pit bull rescue group.

Meanwhile, the courts in Boulder County must decide how the fatal attack by Baby Girl will affect LHS's deferred sentence.


There were three dogs riding on the Portland streetcar, and it was a peaceable kingdom until the fourth, a pit bull, was brought aboard. As a result of the fatal attack all Portland dogs, including 13-year old Pomeranians, must now be carried "in a secure container" when riding the streetcar, or the rider is subject to a citation.

Similar rules regulating dogs in public spaces such as parks and public transit are being enforced across the country. These rules, intended to protect the public from fighting breeds, cause undue hardship on all dogs and their human companions. If legislators had the political fortitude to restrict pit bulls and close pit bull mixes, all other dogs and their human companions would continue to ride transit and enjoy public spaces in peace.

* * * * * 

Britta Bavaresco, co-founder of Portland's Animal Shelter Alliance, said officials may never be able to determine what the dog went through during the three months since it was reported missing in Colorado.
I'm not making excuses for the dog . . . . But the pit bull may have been fighting for her life, it could have been confused or stressed.
Hopefully Ms Bavaresco (or others who reflexively find excuses for pit bull attacks) will not be among those who evaluate Baby Girl's suitability for rehoming.

* * * * *
Resources on LHS Financial Standing:
Longmont Humane Society: Donations still rolling in after Nov. payment
   Longmont Times Call; December 4, 2013
Elevations Foundation Funds Furry Friends at Longmont Humane Society
   [PDF] Elevations Foundation, Elevations Credit Union; December 2, 2013
Longmont Humane Society Still In Big Financial Trouble
   CBS 4 Denver; November 18, 2013
Longmont Humane Society Overcrowded, Facing Huge Financial Woes
   CBS 4 Denver; September 22, 2013
Longmont Humane Society Facing Possible Foreclosure
   August 7, 2013
Longmont Humane Society makes plea for donations to avoid foreclosure
$772k needed by November for loan payment
   Longmont Times Call; July 25, 2013
Construction cost overruns from the facility's expansion that began in 2006 and six years of financial deficits have drained the organization's reserves, leaving the humane society unable to make its 2013 and subsequent annual loan payments, executive director Liz Smokowski said.

Sources on Portland Streetcar Attack:
Pit bull kills Chihuahua at Tualatin motel
   Fox12 Oregon; October 13, 2014
Dan Dassing said he had the door cracked open, and the pit bull lunged through the door when he heard the Chihuahua bark, even though the pit bull's owner had him on a retractable leash. "The pit bull just reached right inside the door and grabbed our Chihuahua and just lock-jawed onto it," Dassing said.
   The Oregonian; October 13, 2014
Third vicious pit bull attack in three weeks reported in Portland area
   The Oregonian; October 12, 2014
Portland streetcar dog attack: Girl with pit bull banned from streetcar for 90 days
   The Oregonian; October 6, 2014
Girl banned from Portland street cars after fatal pit-bull attack
   Seattle Times; October 6, 2014
Streetcar dog attack: Colorado pit bull owner relinquishes her rights; dog's fate in hands of county animal services
   The Oregonian; October 3, 2014
Streetcar dog attack: Pit bull had history of problems with other dogs, report shows 
   The Oregonian; October 2, 2014
Portland officer works to send killer pit bull back to Longmont owner
   Longmont Times Call; September 30, 2014
Houston strays find homes in Colorado
   9News; September 30, 2014
Streetcar dog attack: Case may end with pit bull's return to Colorado
   The Oregonian; September 29, 2014
Streetcar dog attack: 'She's never done this before' girl with pit bull told police
   The Oregonian; September 26, 2014
Missing Colorado pit bull blamed for fatal dog mauling on Portland streetcar
   ABC7 Denver News; September 26, 2014
Streetcar dog attack: Pit bull that killed Pomeranian was reported missing from Colorado in June
   The Oregonian; September 25, 2014
Streetcar dog attack: Q&A on the fatal pit bull-Pomeranian incident
   The Oregonian; September 25, 2014
Portland Streetcar pit bull attack: Rules for animals on public transit can be slippery
   The Oregonian, September 25, 2014
Pit bull attacks: Stories, commentary about the breed attacking, being killed abound
   The Oregonian; September 25, 2014
Pit bull attacks, kills Pomeranian on Portland Streetcar in Pearl District
   The Oregonian, September 24, 2014
Longmont Humane Society faces 'dangerous dog' case
   Longmont Times Call; October 17, 2013
Longmont couple believe attack that left their dog dead is lesson for pet owners
   Longmont Times Call; April 26, 2012
Longmont Humane Society rescues dogs from Mexican municipal dump
   Boulder Daily Camera; July 14, 2010
Dog attack leaves Longmont man hospitalized
   Longmont Times Call; May 7, 2010

Reporting by Dawn James:
The Longmont Humane Society is Killing Pets and Hurting People Across the Country
   Craven Desires; October 2, 2014
Bloody Money Trail
   Craven Desires; February 12, 2014

32 years of logging fatal & disfiguring dog attacks
   Animals 24-7; September 27, 2014

Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the nation's authoritative source for current dog attack statistics, the 30+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada.
View or download the current PDF

This page may also include information from Dogsbite and Fatal Pit Bull Attacks.

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Victims' Memorial Violated by Pit Bull Advocates

This article is reprinted with permission of the author, Barbara Kay, and the editor of Animals 24-7, where it first appeared.1
* * * * *

Contested Space

Now for the story that didn’t make national news (it did make local news). It concerns an art exhibit whose meaning transcended art, certain attendees whose motivation had nothing to do with art, and the fine line between freedom of speech and public-institution integrity.

ArtPrize is an outdoor, international art competition, in continuous progress from September 24 to October 12,  2014.  It occupies three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan and invites the public to its epicenter, Calder Plaza, to enter into a “conversation” about what art is and why it matters.

This year a three-dimensional entry called “Out of the Blue,” 15 feet wide by 150 feet long, by Joan Marie Kowal, features thirty individual crosses decorated with flowers in the nation’s first physical memorial for victims of dog bite-related fatalities (the installation’s name epitomizes the nature of the attacks). Many involve pit bulls. Visitors are encouraged to express empathy for the victims by leaving flowers and other tokens in a designated memorial space. Information is provided at the site on bite prevention and responsible dog ownership.

Predictably, given the ferocious tensions between anti-pit bull crusaders and pit bull advocates, many of whom attack survivors themselves or loved ones of victims, the memorial became what is known in academic jargon as a “contested site.” While victims and their supporters came to mourn and comfort each other, some pit bull advocates could not resist the temptation to violate the solemnity of the occasion. They congregated, wearing t-shirts identifying them as activists, with their pit bulls, alongside the memorial, a visual challenge and a willful disruption of the healing atmosphere the memorial was meant to encourage. As Ms Kowal, the artist, stated in emails to MLive and the Grand Rapids Press, “visitors can’t even see the art and many have told me the bully breed owners, sitting on the ledges blocking the view of the victims’ biographies and refusing to move, makes them unable to enjoy the piece.”

Although unseemly and cruel, their presence was not illegal.

ArtPrize & the ACO

Pit bull advocates protest in front of Joan Kowal’s memorial to dog attack victims.

But the presence of one attendee at Calder Plaza, Rachel Jensen, is particularly discomfiting. Ms Jensen is an animal control officer with Grand Rapids’s Kent County health Department. A photo of Ms Jensen with her friend Emily Sanders, on a Facebook page, taken at the event, both cuddling large pit bulls, is followed by comments indicating that both were present at the exhibit for advocacy reasons (“we put the Make Michigan Next fliers with pro-pibble stats and bite info in her info box” and ”You guys rock. Thanks for getting on that so fast and bringing your pups out to raise awareness.”)

Given their role as tax-funded first responders in dog-related crises, it is reasonable to assume that animal control officers should be politically neutral in breed-related debates. Or at least appear to be. Because if it is known that an ACO is biased in favour of a particular breed, one might justifiably be concerned about her faithful reportage around attacks.

Responding to my media query around the propriety of Ms Jensen’s presence at ArtPrize with her pit bull, the Kent County Health Dept Communications manager, Lisa Laplante, addressed only the legal aspects of the matter, noting that Ms Jensen (she did not name her; I am naming her) was “on her own personal time” and there had been “no violation of employee policy.” Stonewalling, in short.

I wonder if we would see the same reaction if, say, a police officer “on his own personal time” were to attend a memorial for the Sandy Hook massacre of children, and have himself photographed there, grinning triumphantly while holding his hobby assault rifle aloft, inviting congratulatory comments on his pro-active support for the right to bear arms, within view of victims’ parents and friends. I think in such a case, the public outcry would be instantaneous and virulent. I daresay that if no employee policy existed before the incident, one would be hastily implemented, forbidding all law enforcement personnel from publicizing their support for the NRA on occasions dedicated to gun victims.

However legal Ms Jensen’s behavior was, it was also psychological abuse of her own, so to speak, clients. I therefore deplore in the strongest possible terms the evasive bureaucratise employed to deflect attention from this irreducible fact. Ms Jensen is not just another member of the public. She represents a government department supported on public monies. Her job requires her to maintain scrupulous objectivity in canine-related crises. Realistically it is common knowledge that pit bull advocates gravitate to jobs in the control and shelter industry, and they see no ethical bright line between their official job and their passion for pit bull advocacy. There is nothing we can do about that. At the very least, though, there should be limits placed by wiser heads on their freedom to advertise their bias, in particular when their activism causes psychological harm to members of the public.

I hope that this incident will lead to self-interrogation on the part of authority figures in the Kent County Health Department, leading to new protocols for employees designed to protect its badly-stained image. I hope such an initiative will encourage other such departments around the nation to follow suit – in their own interest and as a symbol of respect for those survivors of pit bull attacks who wanted to visit “Out of the Blue,” but whose traumatized psyches could not bear the thought of sharing space with clones of the dogs who ruined their lives.

* * * * *
1 This post is excerpted from Three pit bull stories to chew on by Barbara Kay, which first appeared in Animals 24-7 (October 7, 2014).

County defends animal control officer who protested ArtPrize memorial to dog-attack victims
   MLive; October 3, 2014

SRUV uses the definition of "pit bull" as found in the Omaha Municipal Code Section 6-163. As pit bulls are increasingly crossed with exotic mastiffs, Catahoula Leopard Dogs and other breeds, the vernacular definition of "pit bull" should be made even more inclusive.

Sources cited by news media sometimes refer to "Animal Advocates" or sometimes "Experts." In many cases these words are used to refer to single-purpose pit bull advocates who have never advocated for any other breeds or species of animals. Media would be more accurate to refer to these pit bull advocates as advocates of fighting breeds.

Similarly, in many cases pit bull advocates refer to themselves as "dog lovers" or "canine advocates" and media often accepts this usage. The majority of these pit bull advocates are single-purpose advocates of fighting breeds.

Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the nation's authoritative source for current dog attack statistics, the 32+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada.
View or download the current PDF

Record 33 fatal pit bull attacks & 459 disfigurements in 2015

2015 Dog Bite Related Fatalities (Daxton's Friends)

Fatal Pit Bull Attacks

Today's pit bull attacks