Sat, Apr

Rescuer Viciously Attacked at LAAS Shelter While Giving "Pill" to Sedate Aggressive Dog


ANIMAL WATCH-A rescuer trying to "save" a dog named Maximus, whose behavior was so vicious he was described by Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette as a "danger to staff," suffered a savage bite while attempting to give him a pill to calm him down -- in other words, "drug him." 

The incident occurred when a fourteen-month-old mixed-breed dog lunged violently and bit the woman immediately after being brought to her transport vehicle. 

Yet, this dog was released to an unknown group with undetermined qualifications, which would purportedly make him an adoptable pet as a "second chance, misunderstood" dog and find his furrever home. Does drugging qualify as behavior modification? Or is it a mask to deceive a potential adopter? 


Maximus had a reported history of unpredictable aggression and was surrendered by his owner after a severe, unprovoked attack on a child. Yet -- knowing this -- Barnette (who is a former AKC dog breeder and thoroughly familiar with unacceptable dog behavior) still offered him on the LA Animal Services "Adoptable Pet" list, to any "50l(c)(3) rescue groups." He was not available to the public as he requires further behavior modification," his kennel impound card stated. 

Does this imply that the "rescue" has some magic method of removing "unprovoked aggression" from the dog's nature so that it will make a "safe" family pet? Or is it merely a way to unload another dangerous dog from the shelter without responsibly euthanizing it, so that the Best Friends national "No Kill" standards will appear to be met and Mayor Eric Garcetti can boast about the City of Angels?   

How much longer will shelter managers all over California, and beyond, be allowed to knowingly and deliberately release a dog like Maximus and not have personal liability? Is the purpose of having the dog go to a "'rescue" more about having a non-profit organization take liability than protecting the public? 

DogsBite.org provides an important list of county and civil grand jury audits and reports of animal service departments, as well as news investigations exposing taxpayer-funded shelters that hide the bite history of dogs up for adoption. (See:  Animal Shelter Investigations


The following is a warning to anyone purchasing a dog from a shelter or a "rescue." There is no magic in a "rescuer" -- or a "No Kill" organization that gambles on your safety. No amount of modification can assure you and your family are safe with a dog that has demonstrated prior aggressive or behaviorally unpredictable temperament. (See: Best Friends Animal Socety in Dog Fight over Shock Collars.) 

Even the ASPCA, one of the nation's largest humane organizations, states, on its website  ". . .there's no guarantee that an aggressive dog can be completely cured.  . . .There's always risk when dealing with an aggressive dog." 


Maximus, described at impound by LAAS as a 1 year, 2-month-old tan mixed-breed, was first surrendered to the East Valley shelter on August 11, 2020, after he had attacked and seriously bitten the owner's 15-year-old daughter on her left foot. According to the shelter records the bite was "severe" and "unprovoked." It had occurred while the victim was "sitting on the couch and moved their feet near the dogs face. The dog lunged and bit the child's foot and held on." 

Maximus was placed under quarantine and isolated at the shelter for ten days, as required by CA rabes law. He was made available for adoption/release to "Rescue Only" -- not available to the public -- on September 3, with the explanation, "because he needs further behavior modification." 

In this case, the initial "behavior modification" attempted by the allegedly experienced rescue organization was to "drug" him, according to shelter records.  


Whether the transporter used an over-the-counter product or a prescription tranquilizer, this was a dog that the "rescuer," herself, determined could not be safely handled by normal methods, such as, carrying it or placing it on a leash. 

Does this sound like an animal that is going to be a safe pet for adopters?  What qualifications is a "rescue" required to have by law to prepare such an animal for adoption and make assurances to new owners? The short answer and the long answer is: "none." 


Here's the written report of what happened when an experienced Animal Control Technician (ACT) attempted to safely transfer possession of the dog to the "transporter" (called a trainer by the representative of the rescue.) 

"On Wednesday at approximately 1130 hours, Receiving asked me to help get Maximus to a New Hope [rescuers]. I knew this dog was unpredictable and had to use the pole (animal-control device) to take him out of the kennel.  I was able to get him out with no problem and walked him to the front where the transporter was waiting. He told me multiple times that he wanted to get the dog on a leash and walk him before putting him in the vehicle. I asked Receiving to bring a leash since he was so eager to walk the dog. I put the leash on the dog while holding him on the pole and he was showing signs that he was ready to bite and grabbed onto the leash.  

I asked the man again to let me put him in the vehicle because I don't want anyone to get bit. He said maybe if I clipped the leash on Maximus' collar, he wouldn't bite it. 

As I approached Max, his body language changed, he crouched, his ears were back, showing "whale eyes" and growled.  I asked again to be allowed to just put him in the kennel, but the woman [transporter] said "let me give him a soft treat with a pill inside so he could eat it and calm down." 

I said it's not a good idea but she went ahead and put her hand with the treat straight toward the dog's face instead of placing it on the floor from a safe distance for the dog to eat it. 

Within a second Maximum bit her right wrist. I tried to get him off of her but couldn't and had to pin him to the floor. As I did, the woman also came down with the dog and he let go. I called receiving for help since I was still pinning the dog down. ACT A. came to help and called 911 since the woman needed medical attention. (The foregoing was edited for conciseness. Content unchanged.) 


"ACT J. explained to the man that it would be best to just get the dog in the crate.  I left and went inside. Within 1 minute ACT A. came in screaming that we need to call 911, that a lady just got bit. Clerical Staff called 911  immediately. I ran out here and saw the lady holding her right arm with blood dripping and she kept asking us to wrap her arm. 

I asked Volunteer what the lady's name was and how she was affiliated. He gave me her phone number and stated she was a Transporter. The lady had an underage source with her [indicated later to be her child]. She helped me answer the bite report questions." (This is an excerpt from a longer report by this employee.) 


Later that same date, then-Commander Karen Cox-Knipscheer wrote to Chief Veterinarian Jeremy Prupas, "Per our conversation, I am requesting the following dog for euthanasia rather than waiting on another County Health [rabies] hold period. 

"The above dog was relinquished by the owner due to a bite and being "aggressive towards people tendencies." While under quarantine, the dog escaped his kennel and bit an employee while on leash by another ACT and was quarantined a second time." 

"Request for euthanasia [Maximus was placed on "red list," on Sept. 10, and "networked" to try to find any rescuer who will take him before he is euthanized for safety] and a rescue pulled the dog. 

"Today was the transport pick up. This dog was on an ACD (animal control device) while the transporter came too close to give the dog a sedative treat. The transporter was bitten several times and staff did advise me about the severity of the bites. I spoke with the rescue. They do not want the dog back." 

Dr. Prupas responded, "Yes."  But in an e-mail later that day, the Commander informed the Chief Vet and GM Brenda Barnette, "Now the rescue is saying they want the dog still, after the quarantine.  Supervisor explained the liability to them and they are OK with it." 

On September 24, GM Brenda Barnette wrote back, "Why would they be allowed to take the dog? Did they own him before he ended up in the shelter? Can we let them quarantine him? He is a danger to staff."  


A Sept. 24 shelter note states, "Per my original statement, I want to make this the utmost critical information for everyone to be aware—that the transporter knew and saw how the dog's behavior was. She stated that she was going to give the dog some type of "DRUG" in a form of a pill that she placed inside a soft treat so the dog can eat it and will cause him to calm down.  I do not now or recall what type of drug it was but she was clearly aware that the dog was dangerous due to the fact that she wanted to give the drug." 

On October 5, 2020, the East Valley shelter memo record reads, "[Rescuer] is having her trainer pick up. Will be transporting the dog in a large crate. Is aware of all the bite history/behavior." 


In November 2019 Los Angeles CBS News investigative reporter David Goldstein found "Orange County Animal Care withheld dogs’ bite histories from people looking to adopt them, leading to cases of pets attacking their new owners.” 

“CBS2 obtained internal records [from Orange County Animal Care] which showed 32 dogs with bite histories at the shelter.  Twenty-three had no warnings or any information about biting previous owners on their kennel cards," he reported. 

He interviewed long-time SPCA Los Angeles president Madeline Bernstein, who stated, “Whether you bite a shelter personnel member or you bite a volunteer, or the dog has been returned for a bite, that information must be told to potential adopters.” 

See:  Goldstein Investigation: Local Animal Shelter Isn't Telling All About Some Dangerous Dogs Up For Adoption  


Once the adopter/"rescuer" signs a liability waiver, the shelter can claim immunity from liability. And most people do not want to sue a "rescuer" who may show few assets on paper -- or may be in a rented location and/or not be insured. By filtering aggressive dogs through "rescuers" increasingly public animal shelters are seeking to avoid liability for future attacks by dogs with repeated bite histories and still maintain their "No Kill" facade. 

 The public, politicians and the governing agencies don't really care what happens to the animal nor its past or future victims, as long as it is emotionally or politically beneficial to look the other way. 

Once the rescuer has taken legal ownership of the animal (usually free of cost if the dog has been "red listed"  -- meaning it is scheduled for euthanasia because it is a danger to the public) and signed a waiver of liability for the shelter, it is a "buyer beware" situation.    

Shelters and "rescuers" may include a disclaimer in their contracts, which states an adopter has been advised of the past behavior of the animal and cannot hold the adoption agency/group responsible for future damages. 

There is no limit on the amount of untaxed dollars may be taken in by a non-profit animal rescues and its success or failure is not monitored or evaluated, unless the conditions become so deplorable that public reports force the local shelter or humane agencies to act -- which usually results with a claim they are "working with" the rescuer to assure they can stay in business. 


There are many wonderful "rescuers" who spend countless hours and far more than they can afford to help animals. If you decide to adopt, be sure to check the background of the organization and avoid "second chance" animals.  

Unless you plan to spend the rest of your life protecting your friends, family, and even yourself, from a dog that may suddenly turn on you or someone you love, or on a stranger or another animal, don't let your heart rule your good decision-making. Get a loving dog, who needs a loving home and who has demonstrated that in his/her past.  

Do not consider any dog with warnings about keeping it away from other animals or people or that "needs time to feel comfortable" with you or anyone else. Those are warning signals that you may be getting a dog that General Manager Brenda Barnette might admit, " is a danger. . ." 

See also: Dog with History of Aggression Attacks Child at Los Angeles Animal Services 'No Kill' Shelter  and  LA Shelter Employee Mauled by Dog with History of Aggression


(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.