ANIMAL WATCH-At the June 27 meeting of the Los Angeles Animal Services' Commissioners -- all appointees of Mayor Eric Garcetti -- Commissioner Roger Wolfson, a screenwriter, urged the creation of an LAAS poster on how to handle a dog attack, indicating he had already received support of the idea from GM Brenda Barnette and Commission President Larry Gross.
This poster, he explained, would not teach how to avoid an attack, but be similar to the CPR educational material used during a heart attack or choking.
This could educate the public and save lives, he exclaimed, adding that he thought of this because dog attacks are becoming a big issue in LA and then quickly qualified, "not in numbers but in the impact on the emotional safety of the public."
Wolfson's excitement heightened as he declared the dog-attack poster could be issued with a press release that would establish LA Animal Services as a "national entity."
Commissioner Wolfson, who, along with other members of this Commission has no professional animal-sheltering training or field experience, admitted he really didn't know what would be on the poster and this would require "creativity" from knowledgeable people in the Department.
GM Barnette did not appear enthusiastic over the poster prospect. There could be several obvious reasons, first -- contrary to Wolfson's inference -- dog attacks (especially involving pit bulls) are increasing in both the city and inside shelters.
The U.S. Postal Service confirmed that L.A. has also risen to #1 in attacks on postal carriers.
Barnette also may have been recalling the violent Pit Bull, Sammy, she personally instructed to be released to a “rescue” and was the “poster child” for what not to do. Sammy was a shelter dog, previously named Sodom, with a history of aggression. After Barnette's release, he was "fostered" in a home where he launched a brutal, unprovoked attack on a potential adopter and was stabbed 19 times by a neighbor.
COMMISSIONERS AND MANAGEMENT OF LAAS AVOID RESPONSIBLITY
Contrary to Commissioner Wolfson's perception, the physical safety of the public and LAAS employees/volunteers -- not just their emotions -- is the responsibility of the Commission (which legally heads the department.) It is time the public demands this obligation is enforced.
CityWatch readers may recall the devastating attack on a shelter worker in December, 2016, which received little acknowledgement by either Barnette or the Commission and was not disclosed by LAAS to the major media.
There are other glitches -- GM Barnette intentionally maintains no systematic tracking system for dog attack reports on humans or other animals (which could be easily entered on-line in a prescribed form by victims or owners.) This issue has been discussed with Barnette and at Commission meetings numerous times.
Also, Animal Control Officers in LA are rarely the first responders. Commissioner Wolfson failed to mention, or may not know, that a 911 call is customary for dog attacks on humans and brings the Fire Dept., an ambulance, and LAPD officers to provide protection. In the current era of dogs intent on doing serious damage beyond stopping an intruder, often police officers are left with no alternative but to shoot the attacking canine(s) to save lives.
IS THERE UNIVERSAL ADVICE FOR DOG ATTACKS?
Since no two dog attacks are the same -- especially in the era of spontaneous, unprovoked Pit Bull attacks -- there is not really much more advice than to quickly call 911. (Calls to LA Animal Services' current system may result in long delays or encounters with a faulty phone system.)
Any advice to avoid an attack can vary according to the size, propensity and number of dogs involved. Pit Bulls often attack without warning and their body language may appear "friendly," so do not make assumptions. During any dog attack it is hard to think, but here are some generic tips that might help:
(1) Immediately get inside a location with a solid door or in a vehicle, if possible. Climb on top of a car if possible and yell "help" but do not scream (this can excite a prey-driven dog.)
(2) Turn slowly sideways to appear smaller and less threatening (and, if possible) move slowly (still sideways) to a stationary item to hold onto as a way to protect the front of your body and vital organs and lessen the chance of being pulled down. This may provide time for someone to help/stop an attack. (Avert the dog biting your thighs and legs, if possible, to avoid severing major arteries and veins.)
(3) Not looking a dog in the eyes can lessen the perception of a challenge, but keep the dog in your peripheral vision, experts advise.
(4) Not screaming or trying to run away is a good idea in dog attacks; however, try telling this to a child or a person who sees an aggressive animal approaching or has just been bitten -- it may not work as intended on a poster.
(5) Using a fire extinguisher can stop or at least slow down dog attacks. Keeping a working extinguisher handy at home or in a vehicle is a good idea anyway.
DOG ATTACKS DO NOT FIT A "POSTER-PERFECT" PATTERN
It is rarely anticipated that a dog -- formerly man’s best friend -- will engage in an attempt to maim or kill a human or other innocent animal, either of which may have been part of its family. Here are some recent nationwide attacks where "poster" advice might not help:
July 4, 2017 -- A 6-year-old girl left in critical condition after a pit bull snapped. The beautiful child, named Anastasia, and her mother, Dawn Highsmith, 32, were inside a home in Cleveland (OH) around 7:45 p.m. when something fell onto the floor,” spooking the dog.” The police report states “the brown and white pit bull latched onto Anastasia's face dragging her around the living room before turning onto her mother and Melissa Highsmith.” A male resident at the home, an off-duty corrections officer, who was also bitten, “shot the dog which he owned four times.” Anastasia was last listed in critical condition.
July 5, 2017 – Los Angeles, CA -- A woman in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles was seriously injured after being attacked by her own two large dogs, KTLA reported.
Responding officers found the woman being attacked and one of the dogs was fatally shot by an officer. The victim was taken to a hospital in serious condition, but her wounds were reportedly not life threatening. LAPD Detective Meghan Aguilar told KTLA, "lethal force was likely used because officers feared for their lives.”
July 3, 2017 -- Manor, TX -- A 7-year-old child was attacked by a Pit Bull-mix in Manor (TX), was shown in shocking video, KXAN reports. The child was playing in a yard when the dog ran out of a house as its owner opened the door.
Home security video shows the dog chasing the child and attacking him as he tries to run away. The owner of the dog is following and trying to pull his dog off the boy. Police described the attack as “unprovoked.”
The dog’s owner agreed to surrender the animal and will be getting city ordinance citations totaling $400 in fines. Manor police said the dog’s owner could be charged with a third degree felony for an attack by a dog.
July 3, 2017 -- A 62-year-old St. Petersburg [FLA] woman brutally mauled by five dogs shared her story, after release from the hospital, only with News Channel 8. On Monday morning, St. Petersburg police say the five pit bulls pushed their way through a window from the house across the street.
“She can barely walk or stand up. She is covered in stitches from head to toe,” News 8 reports. Macon said she thought she was about to die. “They come charging and then they come charging at me.” At 5’2″ and 98 pounds, Macon was no match for the dogs. Family members tried to help but couldn’t. Then, the dogs attacked another woman.
May 11, 2017 -- A 6-month-old from Hawaii was mauled to death Monday by her family's pit bull. Layla Tsuda told KHON-TV that the baby was playing in a baby walker inside their home.
Tsuda reportedly went to the bathroom and when she came back she found the dog mauling the girl. She was able to stop the attack, but the baby had suffered major injuries, and died after being rushed to the hospital.
The family said they were left blindsided by the attack. The pit bull was part of the family for the last nine years and had not bitten anyone prior to the attack.
July 4, 2017 -- A 78-year old woman was attacked by a pit bull in New Haven [Conn] on Tuesday and suffered severe injuries to her head, neck, back of the head and both arms in the attack, WTNH reports.
The victim was the landlord at the property and the pit bull belonged to a new tenant, who was reportedly attempting to acclimate the dog and make introductions when the attack happened in the backyard. Neighbors rushed to her aid. Police say she remains in critical condition.
July 6, 2017 -- Greenville, NC -- Two Rottweilers who attacked a volunteer and her young son at 'For the Love of Dogs' in April turned on the organization’s co-founder in a Wednesday mauling that sent her to a Greenville hospital. Della Fitz-Gerald came to the aid of a teenage volunteer who was being attacked by the dogs, who were in the care of the rescue group.
The 17-year-old suffered from large lacerations and puncture wounds throughout her body, Samuel told the Wilson Times. Della Fitz-Gerald also suffered severe injuries to her arms. She and the volunteer have since been released from Vidant Medical Center.
June 2, 2017 -- Virginia Beach, VA – There’s still blood inside a home on Bunker Hill Lane in Pine Meadows after a dog attacked a 90-year-old woman. The victim’s daughter, Linda, said it was a vicious and unprovoked attack. She says her mother underwent surgery, including an arm amputation, before she died.
“I’ve never in my life seen an animal like that...it was like watching an animal kill another animal in the wild." Linda says the pet couldn’t be stopped during the roughly five-minute rage.
She says she just adopted the one-year-old, 50 pound American Pit Bull Terrier hours before the attack and was in the backyard playing with the dog when she heard her mom inside yelling for help after falling in her bedroom.
Linda says the back door was locked and she used a hammer to crack the glass to get inside. Once inside, she says the dog rushed ahead, straddled the 90-year-old woman and started biting her neck and shoulders. The dog eventually bit the woman’s legs and stomach area. “He just started biting her; biting her and shaking his head,” she said.
Linda says she hit the dog with a hammer, but he didn’t stop. The attack ended when she nudged her mom’s walker into the dog.
Linda says she adopted the dog from Forever Home Rehabilitation Center after seeing a posting on Craigslist to adopt the dog for $20.
June 19, 2017 -- Lancaster, PA – A pit bull escaped from its yard and jumped into a nearby parked minivan, savagely attacking a 5 year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl strapped into her car seat.
A witness who helped the mother wrestle the dog off the children told WPMT-TV that the boy “didn’t really have a face” after the attack. After being pulled off the child, "it managed to wriggle free and resume the attack," Tom Grab told reporters.
Charlie and Ruby Warfel's mother rushed them to the hospital in the bloody van. Her brave and heartbreaking story and photos these two adorable, happy children before the attack is told on the GoFundMe page for the Charlie and Ruby Warfel Fund.
On February 1, 2015, NBC4 Investigative Reporter Joel Grover aired a chilling report on attacks taking place in Los Angeles by dogs that had already attacked but been returned to owners by LA Animal Services.
Jon Hinton, whose 8-year-old son was mauled by an Akita in 2013, told NBC4 at that time, "The same dog injured a woman nine months earlier, and then mauled the face of a man 11 months after attacking the boy. After each attack, the city did not impound the Akita."
Public response was overwhelmingly critical of LA Animal Services. As a result, GM Brenda Barnette advised Grover on February 24 that a Directive was issued to all Animal Services employees, ordering them to 'impound immediately' any dog that injures a person who ends up requiring medical care, or seriously injures another dog or cat."
Following is the contact information posted by NBC4:
If you know of a dog that has attacked a person or pet, immediately report them to LA Department of Animal Services at 888-452-7381, or http://www.laanimalservices.com/.
REPORTING A DANGEROUS DOG TO LA ANIMAL SERVICES
On July 7, 2017, I called the number above, which provides merely a recorded directory to the various animal shelters. There was no option to report dog attacks other than the standard admonition to call 911 "for a human life-threatening emergency.”
(Ironically, although we are required by law to provide almost human-equivalent care for our pets -- food, shelter, exercise, medical care, etc., another dog killing our furry family member is apparently not considered an "emergency" by Animal Services.)
I then went to the LAAS website (above) and again found NO option to report a dog attack -- unless you are sophisticated enough to click on "Policies" and then down to "Dangerous Animals." At that point, here is the (poorly written) message:
An animal may be considered dangerous if it has attacked a person or another animal. An animal Control Officer will go out and investigate to determine if the animal is dangerous. If found dangerous, the animal may be impounded for further observation. Report ALL dangerous animal to your nearest Shelter.
On June 29, two days after Commissioner Wolfson made his "poster" suggestion, PETA's LA Companion Animal Coordinator Diana Mendoza, sent an email to the LAAS Commission, entitled: "Response to LAAS phone issues from PETA." It states, in part:
"…[w]e're writing today in response to Brenda Barnette's disappointing statement regarding the Los Angeles Animal Services' (LAAS) phone system at Tuesday's Board of Animal Services Commissioners meeting.
"As many of you know from our previous outreach, the current phone system is plagued with issues and errors, and -- despite Ms. Barnette's assurances on Tuesday -- there have been no improvements since we first brought this issue to the board's attention in February. The system continues to provide inaccurate information…a "Press 1" option continues to send callers to never-ending dead air; and there's still no option for emergency situations."
CAN A POSTER REMEDY ANIMAL SERVICES' DOG-ATTACK RESPONSE?
To its credit, after official appeals by owners of dogs that have attacked and inflicted injury on humans or domestic pets, the current Commission has to-date been very conservative about overturning any dangerous-dog or dangerous-owner decisions by LAAS' hearing examiners.
Commissioner Wolfson’s naive suggestion of creating a poster to bring attention to an issue LA’s public officials want to ignore, at least confirms his acknowledgment that LA has an escalating dog-attack problem. It also recognizes that the City has an obligation to provide education and, primarily, public safety. Sadly, the Commission has shown little concern over attacks, even involving its own employees. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that Wolfson spoke about how the poster could gain national acclaim for LAAS, rather than stressing the local impact it could have.
GM Brenda Barnette may not want this spotlight to be placed on LA Animal Services' response record.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.