Friday, July 17, 1987

Illinois: Teen Corzell Thomason, 17, Held For Using Pit Bull In Robbery

ILLINOIS -- Police charged a 16-year-old West Side youth with armed robbery Wednesday for using two pit bull terriers as weapons to rob another teenager.

The pit bulls were "just as good as a gun," said police Sgt. Randy Barton.

Barton said the youth, whose name was withheld because of his age, confronted Corzell Thomason, 17, Wednesday in the 1400 block of South Ashland Avenue and demanded $10.

When Thomason refused, the robber sicced one of his dogs on Thomason. The dog bit Thomason's right leg. The robber also struck Thomason with a dog leash, said the sergeant, and took Thomason's jacket and sunglasses.

Thomason was treated at Cook County Hospital and released.

By questioning residents of the area, police tracked down and arrested the suspect, said Sgt. Barton.

Employees of the city`s Animal Control Department confiscated the suspect's two dogs, named Commanche and Spot, from his home.

The dogs were taken to the department`s pound.

Police were attempting to determine if the 16-year-old, who is in police custody, is the same person who held up a man and took a portable radio on Tuesday in the 2200 block of West Roosevelt Road by threatening the man with one pit bull.

That robber was accompanied by several accomplices.

(Chicago Tribune - July 16, 1987)

Monday, July 13, 1987

United States: Series of Pit Bull Attacks Stirs a Clamor for Laws

UNITED STATES -- When Raylene Smith sees a pit bull, she sees a killer. Her mind flashes back to the day two years ago when two pit bulls knocked her to the ground, tearing at her stomach, legs, arms and thighs.

When Sarah Nugent sees a pit bull, she sees a breed of dog she has raised and loved for 22 years. She blames irresponsible owners and public hysteria for the intense hostility that has made her afraid to take her dogs for a walk.

Angered and frightened by a steady flow of horror stories about pit bull attacks on people, many cities and states are rushing to enact legislation to ban or regulate the animals.

Officials who work with animals say it is the most concentrated legal assault on a specific breed they can recall. The controversy is reflecting both tricky legal issues and troubling social issues as the dogs are increasingly put to violent uses.

Steel-Trap Jaws

The term pit bull refers to a wide variety of animals with squat, muscular bodies and steel-trap jaws descended from the fighting bulldogs of 19th-century England. They are known alternately as American pit bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers, and commonly include mixtures with Staffordshire bull terriers, bull terriers and bulldogs. All have in common a genetic history of being bred for fierce combat with other animals or other dogs.

Few definitive figures on dog bites are available. But the Humane Society of the United States says that since July 1983, pit bulls have been responsible for 20 of the 28 deaths after dog bites in the nation, including all five this year. The breed accounts for perhaps 1 percent of all dogs in the nation.

The most publicized recent attack came in June when a chained pit bull guarding a marijuana crop in California killed a 2-1/2-year-old boy. 

In the past week alone, a 3-year-old Ohio girl lost part of her nose after she was attacked by her family's pit bull and a Michigan man was charged with assault with a deadly weapon when his pit bull attacked a 12-year-old girl.

For victims like Ms. Smith, 45, who still suffers nerve damage from the attack, the emotional effects linger long after the assaults.

"I can't remember the pain, I can only remember the terror. I remember thinking, they're killing me and I can't stop them," said Ms. Smith, who lives in Houston.

Such incidents have stirred intense emotions around the country.

"From the testimony we heard here, I think we should treat them like bears or tigers," said Ethel Sandoval of Tijeras, New Mexico, a city that banned pit bulls after a 9-year-old girl almost died after being mauled by four pit bulls in 1985. 

Some Areas Ban Pit Bulls

Largely as a result of pit bulls, more than 600 communities have requested information on animal control ordinances from the Humane Society this year, said Randall Lockwood, its director of higher education.

In Cincinnati, which last year banned pit bulls, officials say they have received well over 150 calls in the last two months asking for information on the ordinance.

Rhode Island, Washington, Ohio and Texas recently have enacted laws dealing with vicious dogs, and other states such as Connecticut are studying them.

In New York, a City Council member, Carolyn Maloney, this week proposed a pit bull ordinance that would require registration and liability insurance of at least $100,000 for current pit bull owners and would prohibit new owning or leasing of the dogs. Violation of the ordinance would be a misdemeanor punishable by fines of $500 to $5,000, up to a year in jail, or both.

Breeders Object to Laws

Ordinances specifying pit bulls are in effect in places ranging from Maumelle, Ark., to Buckley, Wash., and from Farmers Branch, Tex., to Lawrence, Kan. But specific laws have been overturned by the courts in Miami and Hollywood, Fla., Odessa, Mo., and St. Paul, Minn.

Breeders of pit bulls and other interested organizations love to claim that Pit Bulls are being singled out when in earlier decades it was supposedly German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers that were doing the most maulings and causing the most deaths. But is this true?

They also contend it is seldom possible to be sure precisely which dogs sould be classified as pit bulls. Because of legal challenges, only about 10 of some 40 breed-specific ordinances that were passed or proposed are still on the books, Dr. Lockwood said.

Canine Defense Fund Started

"It's gotten to the point where anything with four legs, tail on the south and teeth on the north is a pit bull," said Jean Fletcher of the American Dog Owners Association in Castleton, N.Y. The group has established the Canine Defense Fund to fight pit bull ordinances.

More common are "dangerous dog" ordinances, which mandate registration and bonds or liability insurance for owners of dogs that have bitten people and specify that dogs can be confiscated and their owners fined or imprisoned for a second incident.

"We're seeing a growing propensity to have mean dogs in an age when we're increasingly distrustful of law enforcement," Dr. Lockwood said. "But we're also seeing the general public less willing to put up with people who are unwilling to restrain their danagerous animals. Your right to own a vicious dog stops at the next person's throat."

Both proponents and critics of the dogs see a similar process at work. They say pit bulls are increasingly being bought by careless owners or owners who are intentionally training them to be vicious watchdogs or attack dogs. The dogs have become increasingly popular with youth gangs and drug dealers, officials say. 'Wild, Savage, Ugly'

As a result, the most dangerous tendencies of the dogs are being enhanced.

"There is a new type of pit bull coming about - wild, savage, ugly, uncontrollable," said Samuel McClain, a former investigator with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Philadelphia. "You can tell by the names - Homicide, Switchblade, Crazy Pete."

The trend and the public fury toward pit bulls is particularly troubling to longtime breeders.

"The problem is not with the dogs, it's with the owners," said Ms. Nugent, the Houston breeder. "It's a more difficult dog to raise than some, and not everyone should have one. The trouble is it has become the macho dog to have, so the wrong people want them, and the right people don't."

She contends pit bulls may already be peaking in popularity and before long a new breed will become the nation's mean dog of choice.

Less Sensitive to Pain

Many animal groups agree that raised properly and kept contained, pit bulls need be no more dangerous than other large dogs.

But they say a large percentage of pit bulls have always been raised for combat. And they stress that pit bulls, if raised improperly, pose special dangers. Pit bulls tend to hang on and rip into flesh. They are also less sensitive to pain, so they are harder to dislodge while attacking.

The backlash against the dogs is showing up in different ways. Animal shelters report a growing number of people turning their dogs in for "disposal." There have also been several reports of attacks on the dogs. In Kansas City a pit bull burned to death when a gasoline bomb was thrown into its enclosure.

But some people concerned with the issues say the furor says as much about humans as about pit bulls.

"People determine whether dogs will be useful inhabitants of a community or nuisances," an attorney, Lynn Marmer, said in an analysis of dog-control laws for the University of Cincinnati Law Review. "It is the people who breed and foster viciousness in dogs whom legislators also must control."

(Special to the New York Times - July 12, 1987)

Tuesday, July 7, 1987

United States: An Instinct for the Kill

UNITED STATES -- On a summer evening in the San Jose suburb of Morgan Hill, 2-year-old James Soto—a dark-haired, energetic child—was toddling about in the fenced backyard of his family’s modest house.

It had been a good day for the Soto family: Arthur, 31, an unemployed construction worker, and Yvonne Nunez, 30, also jobless, had taken James and brother Perry, 5, to a round of garage sales. Arthur had found a lawn mower, the boys had picked out a few used toys, and the four had made a celebratory stop for ice cream before heading home.

The night was growing cool, and Yvonne had put James into a jacket and sweatpants before allowing him to play in the yard with his newly acquired Tonka truck. When she went out soon afterward there was no sign of the boy and the gate in the wooden fence was standing open.

Arthur, who had been unloading the family pickup, hadn’t seen little James leave the backyard, but the woman who lived in the dilapidated house next door had. She had just noticed him heading across her porch, she told Arthur. Moments later the frantic parents found their son in the powerful jaws of Willie, the 52-lb. pit bull terrier chained in that neighbor’s back yard.

By the time Michael Berry, the dog’s owner, emerged from his house and wrenched his pit bull off the child, it was too late. Unconscious and bleeding profusely from gashes in the head, face, arms and torso, the little boy was “unrecognizable as a human being,” in the words of a paramedic called to the scene. 

James died at 3:52 a.m. in the emergency room at Santa Teresa Hospital. Cause of death: a massive loss of blood. Says Morgan Hill police chief John Abbey: “It was the worst trauma case that hospital personnel had ever seen.”

As hideous as it was, the June 13 mauling was hardly an isolated incident.

Statistics compiled by the Humane Society of the United States show that seven of the 13 fatalities attributed to dog attacks last year involved pit bulls like Berry’s. The James Soto incident brought this year’s death toll to five, with pit bulls responsible in every case. Small children are frequently the victims.

“When a pit bull is looking at a 3-year-old eyeball to eyeball, it sees another animal,” explains Minneapolis animal-control officer Dave Nordmeyer. “Every city in this country is going to have tragic problems with the breed.”

With America’s pit bull population at an all-time high (half a million, by some estimates) and growing fast, the breed is at the center of a furious debate. Those who see the dogs as hair-trigger killers want them outlawed; pit bull fanciers argue that any badly trained dog is capable of such savagery. In the meantime stories like the Sotos’ are becoming all too familiar:

•Graphic TV footage of a pit bull attack actually occurring caused a furor when it was aired on network news last week. A Los Angeles TV crew had accompanied animal-control officer Florence Crowell when she visited the home of Edlyn Hauser to investigate an earlier alleged attack by the woman’s pet pit bull. The tape showed the dog suddenly hurling itself at Crowell, biting both her hands and her breast before being beaten off by a neighbor. L.A. City authorities are considering what action they can take.

•On June 6, 5-year-old Avery Bowden of Hyattsville, Md. was watching television when he was attacked by the family’s pet pit bull. The 90-lb. terrier jumped on the bed, dragged him to the floor and bit him on the face, arms, back, legs and groin. Brother William, 7, beat the dog off with a curtain rod. Avery will undergo extensive plastic surgery to erase scars from the slashing wounds.

•Last January Baltimore narcotics officer Bert Ricasa was attacked by a pit bull belonging to a suspected drug dealer. As Ricasa was mounting the stairs, the guard dog lunged and kept biting even after it was shot through the neck. Knocked to the floor, the 5’10” Ricasa pumped four more bullets into the animal. Not until a colleague clubbed the dying dog on the head were Ricasa and his men able to pry open its jaws with a nightstick.

•In Pittsburgh, 10-year-old Nia Calvert was jumped by a pit bull during her family’s June 10 fishing excursion to the city’s Carnegie Lake. While Nia was near the shore, two teenage boys unleashed a pair of pit bulls and threw them in the lake to swim. One of the dogs tore out of the water and into Nia, biting her five times. Hearing her screams, one of the boys pulled the dog off the little girl and slammed it against a tree to subdue it.

•On June 10, 1986 in Bessemer, Mich., a pit bull tore through a fence, almost strangling itself before breaking free of its chain. The animal then attacked a 20-month-old child playing near his mother. The pit bull snapped the child’s neck, then carried his body into a wooded area.

Described by one vet as “the Rambo of the dog world,” the common pit bull—a crossbred strain of the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull terrier—has an unparalleled reputation as a canine warrior. Descended from a line of dogs trained in 19th-century England to attack tethered bulls for sport, they bite without provocation and fight to the death. Short, muscular and tenacious, the dog can exert an astounding 1,800 pounds of pressure per square inch with its powerful jaws.

“They grab hold and keep shaking like a shark. They tear huge chunks of meat out of you,” says Elson Duvall, an animal-control official in Maryland. 

Adds Dr. Patricia O’Handley, associate professor of veterinary medicine at Michigan State University: “Pit bulls have a tendency to be aggressive and territorial. When they defend, they don’t bark—they bite. This is not the breed for average people.”

Pit bulls are, in fact, less popular among ordinary dog lovers than among back-alley types who prize them for the very qualities that make them dangerous. Although organized dog fighting is illegal in the U.S., thousands of fans still savor the so-called sport. To satisfy the demand for combatants, unscrupulous breeders peddle hundreds of pit bulls crossbred for great strength and explosive temperament. Drug dealers and other lowlifes favor pit bulls as fearsome guard dogs, and inner-city teenagers have begun to adopt them as symbols of manhood.

In Philadelphia, where poorer neighborhoods are overrun with youths who train their dogs to fight one another, the number of pit bulls has grown from 25 to more than 4,000 in just five years. “The situation for the dogs is often desperate,” says Pat Owens, director of the Philadelphia-based Women’s SPCA of Pennsylvania. Typically, the creatures are starved or fed irritant substances like hot sauce and gunpowder to make them mean. Ears and tails, which would be vulnerable in a fight, are hacked off. To sharpen the dogs’ taste for blood, they are fed live kittens and other small animals. 

When the dogs are ready for battle, they are pitted against one another on street corners; often hideously injured, the losing animals are left to die in agony. Even those survivors brought to the SPCA are doomed; like most animal shelters, the Philadelphia facility puts pit bull strays to death rather than place a potential killer in an unsuspecting household.

Lawmakers across the U.S. are beginning to crack down on pit bulls. Some communities have banned the dogs outright, others have imposed strict licensing and require pit bull fanciers to take out liability insurance. Since ordinances directed at specific breeds are difficult to enforce (in part because most offenders are of mixed bloodlines) laws targeting dangerous animals in general can be more effective. At least 35 communities have enacted measures imposing severe penalties on people whose pets are involved in attacks on humans. A Washington state statute, effective July 1, is particularly stringent: Dog owners there are now subject to felony charges and fines of up to $10,000 if their animals are involved in repeat attacks or cause death or severe injury.

Pit bulls have their defenders, of course—among them even the occasional victim. Jerry Lynn Miller’s son James, 4, was killed by her boyfriend’s pit bull in Magnolia, Texas. She was angered when a police officer shot the animal dead. “I lost my child, I didn’t have to lose my dog too,” she said. Pit bull loyalists decry the notion that their dogs should be banned from city streets (as they are in Lynn, Mass.). They argue that careless breeding has produced a few unstable specimens that have tainted the image of the pit bull; that badly handled animals are the unfortunate exception to the rule. The dogs, they claim, are what their owners make them. “You couldn’t make a truly bred pit bull bite a human,” says Al Isaac, an official of the Pit Bull terrier Club of Northern California.

But the dogs’ defenders have their work cut out for them. Deaths like James Soto’s are becoming all too common, and more and more pit bull owners are finding themselves in the position of Michael Berry—who agreed to have his dog Willie destroyed after it savaged James Soto.

A 37-year-old employee of the Santa Clara County transportation department, Berry had raised pit bulls for ten years. After the attack, police searched his property and said they found both dog-fighting magazines and a treadmill used for training pit bulls for combat. They also reported finding about 200 marijuana plants in the yard, and theorized that Willie had played some role in discouraging pot poachers.

Arrested on suspicion of murder and held in lieu of $100,000 bail, the beefy, mustachioed Berry held a jailhouse press conference after James’s death. Speaking in a soft, quavering voice, he denied any responsibility for the mauling. He said he had no knowledge of the marijuana crop and described Willie as a trophy-winning show dog who was “more or less a pet.” Added Berry: “This was a horrible, unforeseeable accident, and it wasn’t planned or anything. But I feel the parents were largely negligent in letting a 2-year-old out at twilight time.”

The Santa Clara County district attorney’s office disagreed. Berry was arraigned June 16 on a charge of involuntary manslaughter—the stiffest possible under the circumstances, according to prosecutor Alan Nudelman.

James Soto’s mother is prepared to see that Berry answers for her son’s death. “It was such a horrible thing that words can’t express my feelings,” says Yvonne Nunez, who plans to campaign for laws regulating pit bulls. “I don’t want anyone else to go through what my family has gone through.”

(People Magazine - July 6, 1987)

Friday, July 3, 1987

California: Edlyn Hauser, who turned her Pit Bull loose to attack Animal Control officer, has been charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon - her Pit Bull, Benjamin

CALIFORNIA -- Felony assault charges were filed Wednesday against the Glassell Park owner of a pit bull that attacked three people, including a 7-year-old child and an animal control officer investigating the child's injuries, the district attorney's office announced.

Edlyn Joy Hauser, 37, will be arraigned today, said Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Kay.

After the arraignment, prosecutors will formally drop seven misdemeanor charges filed against Hauser last week. Hauser is expected to remain free on $5,000 bail posted after her arrest on the misdemeanor counts, Kay said.

Kay said prosecutors decided to file the stiffer, felony charges after reviewing the case.

"It looks like a felony," he said.

Bodily Injury

Hauser was charged Wednesday with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon--the pit bull, Benjamin. Two of the counts allege that the assault produced great bodily injury, an enhancement that could result in sterner punishment, Kay said. If Hauser is convicted, the maximum sentence would be 10 years in prison, he said.

The recent spate of attacks involving Benjamin began June 21, when Hauser's landlord, Warren Volpe, and his daughter, Brisa, were bitten by the dog. Fifty stitches were needed to close Brisa's wounds, Volpe said, and he suffered less extensive injuries.

The next morning, Los Angeles Animal Control Officer Florence Crowell went to Hauser's home to investigate the incident and was savagely bitten by Benjamin. That attack was filmed by a KCBS-TV television crew.

Crowell, who suffered a crushed bone in her hand and chest injuries, spent six days in Glendale Memorial Hospital before her release last weekend. Co-workers said it will be at least four to six weeks before she is physically able to return to work.

Regarded as Evidence

The pit bull, officially regarded as evidence in the Hauser case, remains caged in a Department of Animal Regulation shelter. Authorities have indicated that they will ultimately seek permission to destroy the dog.

Hauser, in a brief statement last week, proclaimed her innocence on the misdemeanor charges.

"I feel terrible that my dog bit people," she said. "But it wasn't my fault."

But the news film of the attack showed Hauser calling out a warning to Crowell:

"Benjamin is coming out," Hauser said. "So if you don't want to get bitten, you better get out of here."

Moments later, the pit bull charged Crowell.

(Los Angeles Times - July 2, 1987)