ANIMAL WATCH-Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette’s plaintive media pleas for pet lovers to “foster” impounded dogs from the City's six shelters during the Fourth of July holiday week touched the hearts of LA drummer Noel Jasso and his wife, Tori, who opened their home on July 7 to a two-year-old Pit Bull named Mugsy.(Photo above.)
Barnette promised that “fostering” would create badly needed room for the hundreds of dogs (and cats) that escape from homes/yards during the alarming citywide fireworks noise and displays, become lost, and are brought to the six LA City shelters.
Mugsy was identified as a "mixed breed," because LA Animal Services follows the Best Friends' Animal Society practice that does not reveal the known or “guesstimated” breed of impounded dogs, so they are not "branded" as to potential behavior.
But Noel recognized Mugsy’s bulldog lineage and felt no reluctance. He told me he owns two much-loved Pit Bulls that shared his life for ten years and are now living with his mother in her spacious home in Texas, with plenty of fresh air and exercise, rather than confining them to an apartment in LA.
Tori had never owned a dog, but she also fell in love with Mugsy.
Noel said they were informed by the shelter that Mugsy had been there since December 2018 and had been adopted and returned twice since then. Shelter staff advised them that Mugsy was “a little aggressive with other animals but he is good with adults and children." There is no other animal in their Van Nuys household; and he was so friendly that they truly believed Mugsy was a good match for them.
However, when a friend and his two daughters visited them on July 9, two days after Mugsy moved in, the dog barked, growled and lunged at the children. Although this raised serious concerns, Noel and Tori believed this behavior might be caused by Mugsy being in a new home and needing to adjust.
But Noel also noticed that Mugsy was becoming increasingly protective and possessive of him and fixated on anyone coming near him. He even growled at Tori when she approached.
He immediately asked a friend who has experience training Pit Bulls to assist him in evaluating how to handle this behavior in a positive way. He wanted to assure his wife became familiar with dog-language and how to communicate with Mugsy, who was otherwise friendly toward her and seemed happy.
The shelter said that Mugsy was not trained, but the friend discovered he responded readily to basic commands, so it was obvious he had received training at some time during his earlier life.
Regardless of their concerns, Mugsy continued to charm Noel and Tori, both 30, and they were making plans for permanent adoption and having Mugsy spend the rest of his life with them.
Then, on the evening of July 11--the fifth day with his foster family--Noel was sitting on the couch when his wife came into the living room and sat down beside him. Mugsy became suddenly alert and tense and his eyes focused intently on Tori. Noel had been advised that, if this happened, he should walk Mugsy back to his doggy bed and tell him firmly to lie down and "stay."
He kept a leash on Mugsy in the house, as suggested, so he got up and returned Mugsy to his bed, with a command to stay there.
Noel walked back to the couch and sat down by his wife and looked at Mugsy. What happened next caught them totally off guard.
Without warning, Mugsy, whose eyes were now totally focused on Tori, left his bed and came toward her. Tori told me that he stopped and rested his head very briefly on the corner of the couch, as he often did, and she didn't move. Mugsy then jumped up onto the couch and immediately lunged toward her, biting her head and ripping her scalp. He also bit her hand when she tried to protect herself. She began screaming as blood gushed down her face.
Noel said he quickly jumped up and grabbed the dog and it took all his strength to hold him and restrain him from continuing the attack. His wife escaped to another room. He secured Mugsy and tended to her wounds as much as possible before she was rushed to the hospital.
Noel then drove Mugsy directly to the East Valley animal shelter and returned him, informing the staff what had just happened. He said he believed they may have known about this from the dog's prior behavior but did not advise him.
Tori feels fortunate that she is healing physically from the wound above her right ear and the bite on her right hand which left a deep puncture, but she is emotionally traumatized and terrified of dogs. She is still in the early days of recovery and the full impact is not yet known.
Another unnerving aspect of this attack is that, if Noel had not been in excellent physical condition with exceptional upper-body strength which allowed him to lift Mugsy away, he might have lost his wife in an attack that could have turned deadly. And, if he had not been able to hold the agitated dog securely, the attack could have been redirected to his hands and arms, ending his successful musical career as a drummer.
All this couple wanted to do was save a homeless pet. The media promotions by Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette imply the assurance of the City of Los Angeles that this is something the public should, and can, safely do.
DID LA ANIMAL SERVICES KNOW MUGSY WAS DANGEROUS?
On July 16 at 10:07 p.m., I pulled up Mugsy's photo and profile (Animal ID A1823355) on the LAAnimalServices.com public search page and found him under available dogs:
My name is Mugsy. I am a neutered male, brown brindle and white Mixed breed.
The shelter thinks I am about 2 years and 8 months old.
I have been at the shelter since Jul 11, 2019.
This information is less than 1 hour old.
(This was followed by complete information on how to adopt him and a form to email this information to a friend.)
When I told Noel that Mugsy's profile was still up on July 16 and that I had taken numerous screen shots of his indicated availability for adoption, he said he is "worried that the dog will be adopted where there are children."
CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RECORDS ACT REQUEST SUBMITTED
On July 17, when computers were turned on at the LAAS City Hall office, my CA Public Records Request was waiting, asking for ALL records on Mugsy. Why was he first impounded? Or was he a stray? Did the original owner or any subsequent adopters report aggression toward humans? What about the adopter(s) who returned Mugsy--were there comments as to why? Did they describe dangerous or alarming behavior of any kind? Did staff or volunteers make any notes that Mugsy had shown any type of human aggression (now-designated only as "bad behavior" by LAAS)?
GM Barnette stated recently to the Commission that, upon adoption, all prior records and notes or posted observations on animals are shared with the new owners. If that is true, shouldn't the same transparency also extend to “fosters”?
My CityWatch article, LA Animal Service’s GM Trying to Hide Pit Bull History to Hype Adoptions? discussed that the September 12, 2017, meeting of the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission was the second attempt by GM Brenda Barnette to gain approval for a plan to remove any indication of breed on kennel cards of dogs in LA City shelters. The stated goal was to increase Pit Bull adoptions.
Barnette emphasized at that meeting, "Information on file with LA Animal Services provided by the prior owner or notes of concerns by shelter staff will NOT be shared with potential adopters choosing a canine companion or a family pet. However, it will be kept by LAAS for statistical reporting."
But staff and volunteers are and have always been allowed--encouraged--to give positive descriptions that could embellish the animal’s potential and influence adoptions to reach the City’s “No Kill” goal.
Practically speaking, it would be unusual for a Pit Bull nearly three years of age to have been surrendered/returned to the shelter two (or more) times for reasons other than some level of violent or threatening behavior, serious destruction, or excessive barking.
Or, it could be that Mugsy was perfect--up until the moment he wasn't?
The response to the CPRA should tell us much more about Mugsy's past and LAAS' disclosure to Noel and Tori.
WHO IS ALFREDO NOEL JASSO?
Noel Jasso is a Los Angeles-based session drummer and music instructor who has been playing drums/percussion professionally for over ten years for major artists.
He states modestly in his Bio that he "has been fortunate enough to have his music licensed in both television and film and continues to write with several artists and producers."
He also wants to give back to Los Angeles and has started a non-profit organization to open a music school, Eden Music Academy, in Highland Park, "geared to help lower income families give their children the opportunity to express their creativity through music and offer private and group lessons to children who could not otherwise afford them."
Although he found a temporary location to begin making this dream come true for the youth of Northeast LA, he is grappling with the Los Angeles bureaucracy which makes almost any good deed impossible.
THE WHOLE TRUTH – ACCORDING TO LOS ANGELES ANIMAL SERVICES
This young Los Angeles musician, who cares deeply about the community and its children, could have lost his wife and/or had his successful musical career ended on July 11, 2019--just because they wanted to save a shelter dog.
Alfred Noel Jasso trusted LA Animal Services' GM Brenda Barnette when she said she needed people to "clear the shelters" to help homeless animals. He and his wife, Tori, trusted the shelter to tell them the whole truth about Mugsy. They obviously were responsible pet owners who wanted to give Mugsy a happy "forever" home.
Let's hope their trust in LAAS GM Brenda Barnette and the City of Los Angeles was not misplaced.
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(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.