A Pit Bull Adoption Disaster: Animal Aggression, Anti-Anxiety Medication, Ceasing to Document Behavior and More

Results: Two Dead Cats, One Returned Pit Bull and Deep Regret

pit bull adoption disaster

This account of a pit bull adoption disaster shows why the public is losing confidence in shelters. The adopter wrote to DogsBite.org on the day of the disaster. The dog had not been returned yet.
In addition to many public shelters routinely "encoding" and "concealing" aggression in adoption advertisements, some are also using medications to dull the behavior of unadoptable dogs.
Read firsthand what the adopter experienced, the red flags he admits to afterward, and how his belief of assuming the shelter "had the best interest of the dogs in mind," is now gone for good.

A Pit Bull Adoption Disaster

DogsBite.org - We begin this post with an image from dog bite attorney Kenneth Phillips, who began a Do Not Adopt a Pit Bull campaign in 2018. His latest video shows how the federal government mobilized after six vaping deaths, but the government says "nothing at all" about the many deaths inflicted by pit bulls over the past decade. The CDC is the "nation's health protection agency," that "saves lives and protects people from health threats," states the federal website.

Nearly 400 Americans have been fatally attacked by pit bulls since 1998, the year the CDC stopped collecting breed data in fatal dog maulings.

Enclosed is a letter from Steve (not his real name) who recently adopted a pit bull from a county shelter. When his partner asked if the dog was good with kids or cats, the staff replied, "We don't know." The "cat test" instead occurred inside the adopter's home leaving two family cats dead. The adopter also said that he was given a supply of Tazodone (anti-anxiety medication) to take home with the pit bull "to help him transition to living with us." The advice and medication did not work.

Letter to DogsBite.org

Dear DogsBite,

I learned the lessons you all are writing about the hard way today. My partner and I were at a county dog shelter and she begged me for a pit bull that she fell in love with. I resisted and took her out for lunch so she could be out of that emotional environment to make a better decision. I wanted her to think about it for a few more days. But she begged me, and I caved. We took the dog home and put him in the bedroom initially. I later opened the bedroom door to show my brother our new dog. When I did, I grabbed him by the collar with a good grip, knowing I would need to control him from harassing our cats in the kitchen behind me.

I thought he would be easy to control for three reasons. He seemed friendly. He was obedient. And he "sat" when I told him too. I am also a pretty strong guy. I honestly thought I could take the dog in a fight. Now, I am much more humble. When I first opened the door and gripped his collar, our four cats sat still and seemingly unalarmed. The dog acted curious, but not dangerous. Then he yanked hard toward the cats. His force was very strong for a 75-pound creature. I was kicking him extremely hard and beating him over the head with a chair, but the pit bull was unfazed. I think those blows would have killed a human.

Upon realizing my powerlessness, and now two dead cats, I grabbed our remaining two cats, fled that room and locked the door behind me. I have a 3-year old son, so this could have been much worse. I can't believe this happened on day ONE of the adoption. I am so happy my son is safe, and I feel like such a coward for caving to her begging and an idiot for thinking this had a chance to turn out good. My partner has to drive the pit bull back to the shelter tomorrow and although she is not scared of him, I am terrified of what might happen on the way over there. I want you to know, this shelter I think, disguises the dog's aggressiveness by giving them Trazodone while they are there. They gave us a one week supply to help him transition to living with us. That did not even help!

We certainly have seen in past years that some public shelters will use Trazodone, Solliquin or other anti-anxiety medications to turn an unadoptable pit bull into an "adoption candidate" suitable for the adoption floor. As we stated in our 2016 examination of Sonoma County Animal Services, always request the "full disclosure" of all behavior memos, medical memos and bite records for a dog prior to adoption." Please understand that "disclosure" is not the same as "full disclosure."

"Requesting these records will be much easier than 'returning' a shelter dog due to aggression." - DogsBite.org, September 20, 2016

The adoption story of Steve and his partner also addresses the emotionally charged environment of a shelter, which often supersedes rational thinking and thoughtful refection. What will you actually do once the dog is in your home, and in this case, sharing your home with four cats? This particular pit bull adoption disaster unfolded in just one day. Two pet cats lost their lives and the animal-aggressive pit bull was returned to the shelter to start the adoption cycle all over again.

What the County Shelter Told Him

We asked Steve some follow up questions, such as, "Do you recall the adoption listing? Did it say anything like, 'Must be the only dog in the home?'" Or, "Not cat tested?" Or, "Shelter favorite?" The adopter replied with more information, indicating that the shelter was fully aware the pit bull was animal-aggressive, so much so, it could not even be around other dogs. Steve saw other red flags too, but as he states, he just "assumed these people had the best interest of the dogs in mind."

It was just basic information [that the shelter provided]. I looked through the dog's records and I thought it was unusual that they only documented medical stuff but did not seem to document any behavior.

Another red flag I should have picked up on was they instructed us to keep him away from other dogs when we went for a walk with him. I thought that was maybe normal procedure but they had a fenced in dog area with like 20 dogs playing together1 so the instruction to do that when they were socializing other dogs was odd.

The only information I got about the dog was that he was a stray and he was 4 years old. They said that was the only information they had. It is information I personally asked for because if he was formerly in dog fights or anything I wanted to make sure we would pass on that opportunity.

He was not a "staff favorite" but other "staff favorites" were listed. I was even thinking that we should perhaps go for a staff favorite because it may have had a higher chance of being friendly, but your tone suggests that "staff favorite" is a ruse to offload certain dogs for whatever reason. The thing is, when out shopping, I am on alert for scams, but that sort of spammy "staff favorite" maneuver just flew over my head because I assumed these people had the best interest of the dogs in mind.

I have more to say because the situation seemed unusual. My partner asked the staff who deal with the dog regularly if he would be good with kids or cats and to their credit they did just say, "We don't know."

After we returned from lunch, in order to give more thought about adopting the dog, and when I caved, I was surprised at the quickness of the process. I asked if there is a waiting period. They said no, just give us $18 (he was on sale because he was there longer than 2 weeks).

It didn't stop me from proceeding, but I thought it was terrible that they would allow impulse purchases like this to occur. It made me second-guess if they had the animal's best interest at heart.

They didn't ask us for much information. They just handed over not only what is possibly a dangerous creature to us without proper vetting, but let's not forget they did not even do the minimal due diligence to ensure they were giving the animal to somebody who could love it instead of an impulse purchaser who would grow bored or some sort of animal hoarder.

When I was inside looking at the dogs I saw another red flag, which I ignored. Some of the dogs had been returned. Now this could be because they make it easy to make impulse purchases. But when I read the reasons for return, the word "behavioral" was rare. It sounded like bullshit reasoning. For example, I saw "wrong breed" as a reason for a return. Now I am wondering if behavioral issues are being covered up by just making up stuff like "wrong breed." I mean the animal was rescued from a shelter -- not bought from a certified breeder or anything.

In addition to private and county shelters routinely "encoding" and "concealing" aggression in adoption advertisements and "dropping" breed labels in their zeal to reach the holy grail of a 90% "save rate," they are using medications (drugging the dogs) to stunt the behavior of unadoptable dogs, and as this case shows, ceasing to document or perform any behavioral evaluations at all. "We don't know" translates into "We don't want to know" for liability or adoption purposes.

What happened to Steve and his partner is not unusual; it has become typical. After this pit bull adoption disaster, hindsight came at a high cost. Soon after our brief reply to his first email, asking a few questions, the pieces flew together for him. They were duped. They walked into that shelter vulnerable and without the understanding of what many shelters have become today. "Close the adoption" as fast as possible to reach the single metric 90% "save rate" peddled by "no-kill."

Public trust in open admissions shelters continues to erode. This couple wanted a vetted pit bull, but were duped into an animal-aggressive one.

For these reasons and more, the largest community-based shelter in Colorado, the Denver Dumb Friends League, began embracing Socially Conscious Sheltering in March, instead of the toxic "no-kill" equation. Please review the eight tenants of Socially Conscious Sheltering, which includes the priority of safety for people and pets. On the heels of the League adopting these tenants, the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association issued a statement opposing the no-kill movement.

Pit Bull Adoption Prompts "Sudden Death"

Another theme in this pit bull adoption disaster is "Sudden Death." Attorney Phillips uses this theme in his 2019 Super Bowl video. Victims in these attacks are dozens of times more likely to be pets than people. Two of the couple's cats suffered "Sudden Death" fairly instantly after the new pit bull spotted them. But the adopter quickly realized it could have been worse. "I have a 3-year old son, so this could have been much worse," he wrote. "I am so happy my son is safe."

Lastly, the very first tenant of Socially Conscious Sheltering adopted by the League states, "Place every healthy and safe animal … Safe means that the animal has not exhibited behavior that is likely to result in severe injury or death to another animal or person." The sixth tenant addresses aggression as well. The no-kill movement is 100% tolerant of adopting out animal-aggressive dogs. The safety of family pets already living in a "forever home" is not a priority of no-kill.

It is too early to tell if Socially Conscious Sheltering is just new jargon with no safety priority at all.



1What Steve is describing, "they had a fenced in dog area with like 20 dogs playing together" is called a "Playgroup," which has become a trendy way to magically resolve behavioral problems in dogs, such as fear aggression or dog-aggression. Throw the dog into a playgroup and it's aggression issues will surely disappear. When do shelters opt to not place a dog into a playgroup? When the dog has serious animal-aggression. This Pit Bull Adoption Disaster account shows the adopted dog may have even failed at "A Challenging Dog's First Playgroup" (Page 11). How's that for "disclosure" of the dog's behavior by the county shelter?

Related articles:
05/11/18: Shelters and Humane Groups Often 'Encode' and 'Conceal' Aggression in Adoption....
10/21/17: Pit Bull Attacking Decoy Dogs Shown to Courtroom; Judge Orders Dog-Aggressive...
09/20/16: Many Shelters Candy-Coat Dogs with Aggressive Behaviors in their Zeal to Increase...

Fatal Pit Bull Mauling Suspected: Man Found Dead, Covered in Blood Inside Modesto Home

Dustin Bryan - suspicious death pit bull
Investigators suspect the suspicious death of Dustin Bryan is a fatal pit bull mauling.

Man Found Dead
Modesto, CA - Police say a 21-year old man discovered dead and covered in blood inside a La Loma neighborhood home may have been mauled by one or both pit bulls living in the home. He was discovered about 7:00 am Tuesday by family members he was staying with at a home in the 100 block of Village Road. His death is being treated as "suspicious" until an autopsy is conducted and the cause of death is determined, said Sgt. Kalani Souza of the Modesto Police Department.

According to Souza, the family and the victim went to bed Monday night and investigators do not believe the victim left and returned at any point. Jacob Anderson, who lives at the home, said the victim (who is a family member) was sleeping on the couch. Anderson said he did not hear any noises of an attack and said the pit bulls "had never been aggressive in the past." As many pit bull owners have said before him, Anderson said a seizure could have caused the gruesome attack.

**Detectives Investigating Suspicious Death**

Preliminary investigation suggests the male may have been attacked by two pit bulls, which belong to the owner of the residence. The two dogs were placed into quarantine by the Modesto Police Department Animal Control Unit. The 21 year old male was visiting the residents of the home, and had stayed the night last night with their permission. The investigation is continuing, and Detectives are treating this investigation as a suspicious death. An autopsy has been scheduled with the Stanislaus County Coroner’s office in the coming days. - Modesto Police

Earlier this year, a 52-year old man was killed in the middle of the night by his pet pit bull of 10 years. Police suspected Homer Utterback suffered a seizure before the attack. This does not excuse the disproportionate response by the dog -- brutally killing its owner. Of the 500 dog bite fatalities we have recorded since 2005, pit bulls have been implicated in every fatal attack while the victim was actually, or purportedly, having a seizure, except for one case involving a rottweiler.

Other persons, most commonly the dog's owner, killed by a pit bull due to an alleged seizure include: Della Riley, 42-years old (Cleveland, OH, 2018); Jamie Owsley, 21-years old (Quincy, IL, 2017); Charles Hagerman, 44-years old (Chicago, IL, 2012); Tonia Parks, 39-years old (Rockford, IL, 2011); Kelli Chapman, 24-years old (Longville, LA, 2008); Brandon Coleman, 25-years old (Morgantown, WV, 2006); Lorinze Reddings, 42-years old (St. Louis, MO, 2005) and likely others.

Evening Updates

The man's sister identified the victim as Dustin Bryan on Facebook and to Fox 40 News. Sgt. Kalani Souza also reiterated the horrific scene: "It was horrific enough for our officers to call and treat this as a suspicious death. So investigators did respond to just ensure that what was going on." Stanislaus County Animal Services provided photographs of the pit bulls to the news outlet as well. Police believe "Beze," 13, and "Saxon," 5, attacked Bryan in the upper body, killing him.

Beze, at 13-years old, marks yet another senior pit bull involved in a fatal dog mauling. The culprit that killed Utterback was at least 10-years old.

During the rabies quarantine period, both pit bulls will be monitored for aggression, according to Stanislaus County Animal Services Executive Director Annette Patton. She also said the shelter was in "lockdown" mode. "The animals need to be separate from the public and they need to be quarantined for 10 days," Patton said. "So, we have a lockdown situation here at the shelter, which means it is locked behind closed doors so we don't put anybody at harm or at risk," Patton said.

Though police do not know how much interaction Bryan had with the dogs in the past, he had been a frequent visitor to the home on Village Road. Notably, by nightfall Tuesday, the Fox 40 footage shows that the couches and chairs that had been discarded outside of the home's front door earlier in the day had been removed. Bryan had been sleeping on a couch when he was discovered dead and covered in blood by family members at about 7:00 am Tuesday morning.

Disproportionate Response

The suspicious death of Bryan falls into a frequent pattern of pit bulls -- a disproportionate response due the selection for abnormal aggression (high arousal and aggressivitiy in a safe environment). As animal behaviorist Alexandra Semyonova stated in 2006, "The environments (the fighting pit, the baited bull) for which these behaviors were selected as an adaptive response are so extreme that in fact there is no appropriate context for these behaviors in normal life."

There are many fatal pit bull maulings that fall into this category, including the majority of fatal attacks by pit bulls. The pit bull breed appears disproportionately in fatal dog attacks due to this very trait. In addition to the disproportionate response by pit bulls in these cases, the lack of any identifiable trigger is why the pit bull breed is uniquely dangerous. Whether the victim suffered a nocturnal seizure is less relevant given that no identifiable trigger can proceed a violent attack.

suspicious death pit bull modesto

Two family pit bulls, 13 and 5-years old, are suspected in the fatal dog attack of Dustin Bryan.

suspicious death pit bull modesto

Furniture seen discarded outside of home where police suspect a man was killed by pit bulls.

map iconView the DogsBite.org Google Map: California Fatal Pit Bull Maulings.

Related articles:
11/04/14: 2014 Dog Bite Fatality: Neighbor's Pack of Pit Bulls Kill Modesto Man, Critically...
05/09/09: Alexandra Semyonova: Heritability of Behavior in the Abnormally Aggressive Dog


Baseline reporting requirements:
Law enforcement departments across the United States should release consistent "baseline" information to the media and the public after each fatal dog mauling, including these items.

2019 Dog Bite Fatality: 3-Year Old Boy Killed by Two Family Rottweilers in Louisville, Kentucky

rottweilers killed boy louisville
Steven Thornton III, 3, was killed by two family rottweilers in Louisville, Kentucky.

Clarifications & Questions
UPDATE 10/03/19: On Tuesday, a 3-year old boy was declared dead after being mauled by two family rottweilers. The coroner later identified the child as Steven Thornton III. On Wednesday, Lt. Emily McKinley, of the LMPD Homicide Unit, said the investigation showed the boy had gotten out of the house through an open bedroom window sometime during the overnight hours of October 1, while the rest of the family slept. Police have not said when the family discovered Steven.

It is only known that police were dispatched to the boy's home in the 4800 block of Brenda Drive just before 9:00 am Tuesday morning.

Louisville Metro Animal Services spokeswoman Teeya Barnes said the agency will not release a photograph of the dogs or provide comment "out of respect for the victim and the grieving family." However, many readers have been questioning whether the one dog seen taken from Steven's home even is a rottweiler. Thus, we are pointing out the difference between a poorly bred rottweiler and a rottweiler bred according to the strict breeding (International) FCI Standard.

Police have not stated when or where the family acquired the two dogs. Though Sylvia Turner and her sister Sherri, who live next door, told WDBR the rottweilers had not been at the home long. Coincidentally, the child's grieving uncle, Anthony Thornton, breeds rottweilers, AKA "The Rott's Den." Several years earlier, Thornton had been breeding pit bulls too, according to his Facebook page. The questions left unanswered by police and animal services further fuel this speculation.


10/01/19: Family Rottweilers Kill Boy
Louisville, KY - For the second time this year, Louisville Metro Police are investigating after a family dog killed a child. In May, 2-year old Isaiah Geiling was mauled to death by a family pit bull in the Chickasaw neighborhood. This morning, two family rottweilers killed a 3-year old boy in the Newburg neighborhood, about 15 miles away. The attack occurred about 9:00 am in the 4800 block of Brenda Drive, located in a subdivision behind Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

"It's a very devastating thing that's happened here, and obviously our prayers go out to the family of this child." - Dwight Mitchell, a spokesman for LMPD

"The dogs have been taken from the premises at this time. They were rottweilers," Dwight Mitchell, a spokesman for LMPD told WDRB. According to the 911 audio, the boy had fallen out of a window into his family's yard, where the two rottweilers attacked him, reports the Courier Journal. This same scenario has occurred in multiple fatal dog maulings in the past -- some of those cases resulted in criminal charges. Louisville Metro Animal Services took both rotttweilers into custody.

Neighbors said the family moved in about a year ago and the 3-year old boy, "Little Steven," was often seen playing in the front yard with his younger sister. The rottweilers, which were new to the home, were kept behind a fence. Neighbor Sylvia Turner said she saw the boy's mother shortly after police arrived at the home. "(She was saying) the dogs, the dogs killed my baby." No charges will be brought against anyone in connection with the boy's death, Mitchelle said later Tuesday.

Rottweiler Victims

Thus far this year, rottweilers have killed three children, including 2-year old Jaysiah Chavez in Fresno, California and 15-month old Kyna DeShane in Henderson, Nevada. A rottweiler-mix was also involved in the violent pack attack that took the life of 19-year old Adrieanna O'Shea in Knox County, Tennessee. Just yesterday in Coslada, Madrid, a "guard dog" rottweiler attacked its owner's face and throat, killing him. The man reportedly suffered "endless bites on his face."

The Jefferson County Coroner's Office later identified the boy as Steven Thornton III. The cause of death was "injuries consistent with dog attack."

The most common victims in fatal rottweiler attacks are young children. Between 1978 and 2018, rottweilers were involved in 117 deaths. 76% (89) where children ages 0-11. The majority of these children, 71% (63), were ages 0-4. There are only three other fatal rottweiler attacks documented in Kentucky, including two 3-year old boys (in 2001 and 1999) and a 53-year old grandmother in 1993 who was brutally killed while trying to save her 3-year old grandson from the rottweiler.

rottweilers killed boy louisville

Residence where two family rottweilers killed a boy in Louisville, Kentucky Tuesday morning.

rottweilers kill boy louisville

One male, younger, rottweiler-mix is seen being taken by Louisville Metro Animal Services.

map iconView the DogsBite.org Google Map: U.S. Fatal Rottweiler Attacks By State

Related articles:
04/27/19: 2019 Dog Bite Fatality: Baby Girl Mauled to Death by Rottweiler in Henderson, Nevada
03/25/19: 2019 Dog Bite Fatality: Two-Year Old Boy Mauled to Death by Two Roaming Rottweilers


Baseline reporting requirements:
Law enforcement departments across the United States should release consistent "baseline" information to the media and the public after each fatal dog mauling, including these items.

2019 Dog Bite Fatality: Woman Dies After Vicious Attack by Her Own Pit Bull in Hampton, Virginia

Morgan Crayton killed by pit bull
Morgan Crayton, 31-years old, died Monday after being attacked by her pit bull.

Pit Bull Kills Owner
Hampton, VA - A 31-year old woman has died after suffering life-threatening injuries inflicted by her own pit bull a day earlier. On Sunday at approximately 5:13 pm, emergency medical responders were dispatched to a home in the 100 block of Powhatan Parkway. Arriving officers discovered an injured female, who had been attacked by her own dog. "The victim was transported to a local hospital with life-threatening injuries," states a release issued by the Hampton Police Department.

On Monday, police identified the victim as 31-year old Morgan Crayton.

The preliminary investigation revealed that Crayton was in her backyard with multiple dogs when the attack occurred. The dog also attacked a 68-year old woman who tried to help Crayton. Her injuries were not life-threatening. "The attacking canine, a 92-pound pit bull, has been removed from the home and is now in the custody of Hampton Animal Control," states the news release. A different family dog had bitten Crayton one day earlier, but the injuries were minor, officials said.

Crayton's Facebook page shows a champagne-colored large male pit bull named "Chopper," likely an XL pit bull designer breed. Crayton also referred to Chopper as her daughter's "protector." Chopper injured himself in July, requiring ACL surgery, according to comments on a July 14 post. For a while at least, the dog used a wheelchair for stabilization purposes. A dog that appears to be a black Labrador is also pictured in the home. No other living dogs were located on her page.

In 2018, a female champagne XL pit bull named "Layla" savaged a little girl's face in Omaha leaving doctors and nurses "shaken" by her injuries. Layla was the offspring of a mating by ManMade Kennels. In 2017, an XXL pit bull was involved in the fatal mauling of Cecille Short in Oklahoma City. In 2014, marking the debut of these types of dogs, a massive male champagne XL pit bull from BMT Kennels killed 4-year old Mia DeRouen. Police called that dog a "monster."

According to a neighbor, Crayton and her partner had owned Chopper for nine months. Hampton police estimated the dog was about two years old. On July 22, about a week after Chopper injured himself, Crayton checked into the Riverside Regional Medical Center for a nasty dog bite injury to one of her arms. The biter is only referred to as a "he," as Crayton explains that she is "about to get stitches." In haunting foreshadowing, a friend says in response, "I'm glad it wasn't worse."

Owner-Directed Fatal Attacks

Crayton's death marks the sixth owner-directed attack, where the dog killed its owner, so far in 2019. Pit bulls have been involved in half of these fatalities. Other breeds include a pair of boxers killing their owner, Nancy Burgess-Dismuke, in South Carolina; a pair of coonhounds killing their owner, Arlene Renna, in New York, and a pair of dobermans killing their owner, Elaine Richman, in Texas. Women, ages 31 to 67, made up 83% (5 of 6) of victims in these owner-directed attacks.

Police clarified Monday there was a total of five dogs in the home Sunday. Four remain after hauling away the 92-pound attacker. That dog will be euthanized after a 10-day quarantine.

Morgan Crayton killed by pit bull

A champagne-colored pit bull named "Chopper," seen on Morgan Crayton's Facebook page.

map iconView the DogsBite.org Google Map: Virginia Fatal Pit Bull Maulings.

Related articles:
02/02/18: 2017 Dog Bite Fatality: 22-Year Old Woman Dies in 'Grisly Mauling' by Her Pit Bulls...
11/17/17: 2017 Dog Bite Fatality: Adopted Out Pit Bull Kills Elderly Woman in Virginia Beach


Baseline reporting requirements:
Law enforcement departments across the United States should release consistent "baseline" information to the media and the public after each fatal dog mauling, including these items.