Lawsuit Against South Texas No-Kill Shelter Alleges "Dog Laundering" After Adopted Dog Bites Child in the Face

lawsuit dog laundering Texas
A south Texas no-kill shelter is being accused of "dog laundering" in a civil lawsuit.

The Redacted Complaint
Hidalgo County, TX - In October, a lawsuit was filed in Hidalgo County against the Palm Valley Animal Society (PVAS) located in Edinburg. The lawsuit was filed after a child was bitten in the face by a dog her family had adopted from them eight days earlier. The complaint is unlike any complaint we have read before, given the volume of details and allegations contained within it. The narrative reads more like a juicy manuscript, instead of a straightforward statement of facts.


Part I: Background and the Bite

On page two, the underlying allegations begin, "PVAS describes itself as 'a lifesaving leader in south Texas dedicated to ending the killing of shelter animals in the Rio Grande Valley' that is committed to 'progressive lifesaving.' PVAS covets this 'no-kill' status and is willing to risk the health of both people and animals to achieve it." The complaint then quickly alleges that PVAS routinely adopts out dangerous dogs without disclosing the dangerous histories of the dog.

"PVAS has undertaken a laudable goal of saving animals to an unreasonable extreme by placing a higher value on that than on public safety. They regularly adopt out dogs they know are dangerous and with bite histories to unsuspecting members of the public without disclosing the dangerous histories of the dog.

Even worse, PVAS misrepresents the dog's characteristics. They post pictures of the dog looking happy and wearing a bandana. They post the dog on social media in a way that gives the false impression the dog would be a good family pet when PVAS knows it has a history of aggressive behavior towards people and in some instances when the dog even has a bite history. Then, when potential adopters come to look at the dog, they make similar misrepresentations about how the dog would be a good family pet. They then try to cover their tracks with pre-printed forms and releases they put in the new owners' hands in a stack of other paperwork as they walk out the door." - Reyes v. Palm Valley Animal Society

Our nonprofit has identified most items in these two paragraphs in previous special reports (2020 Edition: 125 Behavior Terms for Shelter Dogs Decoded that Mask Aggression in Dogs Available for Adoption and What's Behind the Clickbait Web Advertisements of Aggressive Shelter Dogs Available for Adoption?). However, PVAS trying to cover their tracks by placing a stack of "pre-printed forms and releases" into the adopter's hands as they walk out the door is new mutation.

Next, the complaint alleges how PVAS benefits through a public-private partnership (when a private humane society receives funds through a government partnership, which is common among no-kill shelters). Moreover, the complaint alleges that PVAS profits from this fee-based arrangement, and does so while "avoiding the oversight a government entity would have." Indeed, public-private partnerships involving no-kill shelters are typically designed to avoid oversight.

"PVAS has a contract with McAllen, Edinburg, Hidalgo County, and other Texas cities to take in a quota of around three- or four-thousand animals per year. For each animal PVAS takes in after they meet the quota, the city or county pays them an additional flat fee. They always go over the quota, and they always profit when they take another animal in. PVAS wants their community to think they are a purely charitable organization, but in reality, they have discovered a way to turn abandoned dogs into a multi-million-dollar cottage industry. PVAS has successfully monetized suffering while avoiding the oversight a government entity would have." - Reyes v. Palm Valley Animal Society

The next three pages spell out the history of "Bo," Animal ID A44864298, the dog that is the subject of this complaint. Bo was picked up by animal control on June 17, 2020 and came into PVAS on a catch pole, indicating it was aggressive towards people. PVAS records state the dog was an owner-surrender due to aggression toward animals and livestock. Additional PVAS records indicate the dog was characterized as "aggressive, snaps, [and] growls," states the complaint.

The dog was neutered and microchipped, indicating that it could have been in a shelter before. PVAS also implanted another microchip.1 The complaint then dives into the "dog laundering" allegations, a term that was invented by dog bite attorney Kenneth Phillips. This is also known as "shelter swapping," when no-kill shelters swap unadoptable dogs with other shelters, which changes the Animal ID, often involves renaming the dog and facilitates hiding bite histories.

"No-kill shelters such as PVAS launder dogs with aggressive histories like criminals launder dirty money. They transport them to other no-kill shelters and frequently change their names in order to hide their aggressive backgrounds and launder them. The no-kill shelters usually do this in a swap where they trade undesirable dogs and launder them for each other." - Reyes v. Palm Valley Animal Society

On August 9, the Reyes family adopted Bo. At no time, alleges the complaint, did PVAS disclose on the web advertisements for Bo that he was surrendered for aggression or that he exhibited aggressive behavior while in the shelter. Reyes has four children under the age of ten. She asked if the dog was safe with children. The PVAS adoption facilitator told Reyes, "Bo was kid friendly, had no bite history and was very playful," states the complaint. Bo is a "good family dog."

The complaint alleges Bo did have a history of aggression, according to PVAS records, including, "acting aggressively, snapping and growling at the PVAS veterinarian who examined him," and being owner-surrendered due to aggression. None of this was disclosed to Reyes by the PVAS adoption facilitator, states the complaint. Reyes trusted PVAS and relied on their representation that Bo was a "good family dog." Reyes was not given dog's full history, states the complaint.

Reyes adopted the dog. The complaint alleges PVAS only supplied Reyes with partial medical and behavior records. Eight days later, the dog bit the little girl in the face. "Reyes heard screaming," states the complaint. She rushed into the other room and saw her 6-year old daughter "bleeding out, with half her face hanging off." Reyes applied pressure and called 911. She then locked herself and her children into a nearby bedroom to avoid further attack, states the complaint.

"Bo went berserk and animal control officers had to mace the dog repeatedly in order to control and detain him. After some time, the officers took the dog away. Donna Police described the dog as 'very aggressive,'" states the complaint. The child was transferred to Edinburg Children's, where she underwent treatment and plastic surgery. Due to Covid-19, only her mother could stay with her, separating the mother from her three other children. Both returned home four days later.

Leading Up to the Facial Bite

  • Bo was owner-surrendered due to aggression toward animals and livestock.
  • Bo came in on a catch pole and "his demeanor was aggressive toward people," states the complaint.
  • PVAS notes characterized Bo as "aggressive, snaps, [and] growls."
  • Bo was characterized by PVAS as "kid friendly, had no bite history, was very friendly" and was a "good family dog," states the complaint.
  • This history of aggression was not disclosed by PVAS to the adopter.
  • No previous bite history is alleged in the complaint, just aggressive behavior.

Part II: After the Bite & Dog Laundering

After Reyes emailed PVAS, informing them of the facial bite, PVAS told her that Bo is "back at Trenton and is under quarantine," states the complaint. However, Bo was quickly made available for adoption. Bo was listed for adoption on August 18, one day after the dog bit the child. On August 22, PVAS published new photographs of Bo, even though he was supposed to be in a bite quarantine block for 10 days after the bite, not posing for adoption photos, states the complaint.

"Subsequent adoptions demonstrate that PVAS is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve 'no-kill' status. This process is called 'dog-laundering.'"

Advertisements of Bo after the facial bite also did not indicate aggression, a bite history or a bite quarantine holding period. Bo was adopted on September 1 to "another unsuspecting family," states the complaint. The new adoption was made public on the PVAS Facebook page, but PVAS turned off comments on the adoption post for Bo. It can only be speculated as to why. Eight days later, Bo was returned to PVAS "due to aggression towards people," states the complaint.

"PVAS allows Bo to be adopted a third time. On September 12, 2020, PVAS adopted Bo out to another family. PVAS records again show that Bo has a bite history, and still characterized him as 'aggressive.' This adoption, merely three days after Bo had been surrendered for being aggressive, and less than a month after Bo bit [the little girl] on the face, shows not only that PVAS is willing to continue laundering these animals in order to obtain their 'no-kill' status, but that they do not care if anyone gets hurt along the way. To PVAS, the 'no-kill' status is more important than the well-being of people, and the well-being of the dogs. - Reyes v. Palm Valley Animal Society

Count 37 alleges that PVAS is "knowingly putting the public at risk by adopting out dogs like Bo without taking corrective action, without full disclosure" and "by lying about the dog's behavior." Such conduct, according to the complaint, "is just as negligent and reckless as shooting fireworks in the city, speeding," or other conduct that society cannot tolerate." PVAS might as well "fire a machine gun into the air without caring where the bullets might fall," states the complaint.

Counts 38 and 39 allege that the primary duty of any government is to protect the health and safety of its citizens. "Here, PVAS acting on behalf of the government, is negligently recklessly, and knowingly, endangering public health and safety. PVAS knows full well that dangerous animals should not be released to the community," states the compliant. "PVAS cannot hide its reckless conduct behind a veneer of animal welfare and conservation," states the complaint.

The complaint lists five counts of damages: negligence, fraudulent inducement, common-law fraud, bystander injury (the mother's shock and anguish of being near the scene and seeing her daughter's face mauled by the dog) and negligent misrepresentation. The complaint also seeks exemplary damages and has requested a jury trial. Discovery is scheduled to be completed by September 27, 2021 and the trial is scheduled for October 25, 2021. All dates can be amended.

After the Facial Bite

  • "Bo went berserk," after the bite. Responding officers had to "mace the dog repeatedly," states the complaint.
  • Bo is immediately put up for adoption again, even before the 10-day bite quarantine period was complete.
  • Bo's previous bite history or any history of aggression was not seen on any of the adoption advertisements, according to the complaint.
  • Eight days after Bo was adopted out again, he was returned due to "aggression towards people," states the complaint.
  • Bo was quickly adopted out a third time, indicating that PVAS is willing to continue "laundering" these animals to obtain their "no-kill" status.

Discussion

Though we are not attorneys, nor did we attend law school, we do have one unusual advantage. We have reviewed many dog bite lawsuits and do understand parts of cases that could prove tricky. This appears to be a case of documented aggression that was undisclosed to the adopter, but not a case of an undisclosed previous bite to Reyes. That could change during the discovery process, if plaintiffs uncover new evidence. We hope that plaintiffs do find this evidence.

The conduct of PVAS after the facial bite -- "rinse and repeat," the continued laundering of a known dangerous dog -- truly speaks to the heart of the complaint's allegations of negligence, fraud and misrepresentation. But there are also many unknowns. Did PVAS disclose to the second and third adopters Bo's documented aggression and previous bite? This deception among shelters is so bad that two states, Virginia and California, have passed mandatory bite disclosure laws.

This complaint should be widely distributed to Texas legislators so that it can become the third state to pass a mandatory bite disclosure law.

Overall, the complaint expresses the same themes we have been documenting in no-kill shelters since 2016. The single metric 90% "save rate" trumps public safety. Failure to disclose aggression and bites to potential adopters is just one aspect. Shelters will also drug dogs, using Trazodone and other drugs to mask aggressive behaviors and not disclose to adopters what the medication is for. In a 2019 case we wrote about, the shelter told the adopters it was "transitional" medication.

Despite the complaint being loaded with details, allegations and conclusions before and after the facial bite, instead of a traditional statement of facts, it carefully lays out the alleged actions, motivations and profitable payment scheme of PVAS. This entity "wants their community to think they are a purely charitable organization," but in reality they are "monetizing suffering." Moreover, "PVAS cannot hide its reckless conduct behind a veneer of animal welfare and conservation."

We have not expressed these latter points enough in the past. There are the widely discussed issues of the single metric 90% "save rate," which can result in deception and attacks, as well as no-kill shelters hiding behind public-private partnerships to reduce oversight. There is much less discussion of the "laudable goal" of "saving animals," when in reality, the entity has "discovered a way to turn abandoned dogs into a multi-million dollar cottage industry," alleges the complaint.

Manipulating Public Trust

There are many people are like Reyes, who rely "completely on PVAS's representation that Bo was a 'good family dog.'" They do not believe a shelter would lie to them. They also falsely believe the shelter has the best interest of the animal in mind. The only interest PVAS seemed to have in Bo was clearing an adoption at any cost, whether it took 3 failed adoptions or 15. Bo was a known unstable dog; shuffling him to multiple households with unprepared adopters made him worse.

We have warned the public for five years that many shelters can no longer be trusted -- certainly not no-kill shelters. We have also warned that "it is critically important to understand that 'disclosure' is not the same as 'full disclosure.'" In order to gain full disclosure of the dog's medical and behavior history, you must request the complete case file. You have the right to request all behavior memos, medical documentation and bite records for a dog prior to adoption.

Whether this lawsuit is successful or not, it should put all no-kill shelters on notice that attorneys for victims are figuring out their game plan, which includes mass instances of dog laundering. Notably, the complaint states that after the facial bite, it was "business as usual -- PVAS continued to move their product," that product being a known dangerous dog, moved from household-to-household or transport-to-transport to keep it a "live release" instead of a behavior euthanasia.

When Adopting From a Shelter

  • Do your research
  • Go in with questions
  • Bring a trainer with you to the shelter to evaluate for signs of aggression
  • Request all intake records for the dog
  • Request all behavior records for the dog
  • Request all medical records for the dog
  • Request all "outcomes" for the dog (if the dog was returned to shelter)
  • An example of what these records look like

lawsuit dog laundering Texas

The Palm Valley Animal Society (PVAS) is being sued after adopting out a 98-pound dog that bit a child in the face. Among other things, the complaint accuses PVAS of "dog laundering."

1It is unknown why the Palm Valley Animal Society implanted a second microchip in Bo. Sometimes microchips slip (migrate down the body), or the chip cannot be read by a type of scanner.
2In a 2018 post, we discussed what shelters tell the public about a dog's behavior, versus what they tell new holding facilities, be it a transport, shelter swap or sanctuary. Given that Bo was "urgent" and "could be killed any day," according to a social media post, it would be interesting to see communications between PVAS and any rescue, transport or sanctuary about this dog. The swapping arrangement does not work if parties lie to each other!

Related articles:
01/04/21: Working at an Open Intake Shelter: Deliberate Breed Mislabeling, Aggressive Dogs...
03/20/20: Do Not Adopt A Pit Bull, Especially Right Now: Rescue and Shelter Shenanigans...
11/16/19: A Pit Bull Adoption Disaster: Animal Aggression, Anti-Anxiety Medication, Ceasing...
05/11/18: What Shelters Tell the Public About Behavior vs. What They Tell New Holding Facilities

After Degloving Injuries and Skin Grafting Surgeries, Pit Bull Attack Victim Back in Hospital for Sepsis and Pneumonia

Kyle Cracolici - degloving injuries
Kyle Cracolici suffered degloving injuries and worse after being attacked by two pit bulls.

Out of Hospital
UPDATE 02/13/21: A February 13 update indicates that Kyle is now out of the hospital and is still recovering from pneumonia. "He's on antibiotics and seizure medications. He has to use a breathing apparatus, up to 10x a day," states the GoFundMe. Apparently, someone tried to claim his unemployment while he was hospitalized too. Kyle was viciously attacked by his roommates two pit bulls last July. He was recently readmitted to the hospital after skin grafts became infected.


02/04/21: Readmitted to Hospital
Pasco County, FL - In early February, a devastating update was published to the GoFundMe for 32-year old Kyle Cracolici. He was viciously attacked by his roommate's two pit bulls last July. The dogs attacked his girlfriend, Kristen Calvagna, too, but Kyle suffered life-threatening injuries. Kyle had lived with the pit bulls for several months. But that day, when he opened the front door to let Kristen inside, things turned from routine into chaos. The dogs' owner was away at the time.

Kyle's mother, Debra Kugler, began a GoFundMe for him after the attack. Kyle was initially hospitalized for 9 weeks. The February 4 update states, "Kyle's back in the hospital, because sepsis set in, and now has double pneumonia, heart issues, suffered a seizure, and now, the team of doctors discovered a spot on the brain." The pit bulls inflicted destructive degloving injuries, and injuries affecting large surface areas; the types of injuries that carry a high risk for infection.

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 by Debra Kugler, Organizer

Unfortunately, Kyle's back in the hospital, because sepsis set in, and now has double pneumonia, heart issues, suffered a seizure, and now, the team of doctors discovered a spot on the brain.

At the moment, we don't know what that signifies. He's on IV antibiotics, but this infection seems to be spreading everywhere. No Covid. They're testing for TB, and other things, and he remains in isolation. He's scared and so am I.

It's possible one of the many wounds he suffered, got infected, and the infection spread. - Debra Kugler

Kugler described the events leading up to the attack. On July 17, Kyle was expecting Kristen to come over for a quiet night of watching movies. As soon as Kyle opened the door to let Kristen inside, who had spent time with the pit bulls previously, the dogs barged through the door and attacked her. "Kyle, raced after her, to get the dogs away, and to protect Kristen," Kugler said, "but the dogs then latched on to him, and wouldn’t let go." Kyle's roommate was not home to help.

"As they were tearing him, and shredding him apart, they dragged him from the front yard, to the backyard," Kugler said. All that Kristen remembers is Kyle saying, "They’re killing me, they’re killing me." There was nothing she could do to help him. She had blood all over her, which was mostly Kyle’s blood and she couldn’t even dial 911 on her phone, so the neighbors did, Kugler said. Arriving officers shot and killed one of the pit bulls that was still actively attacking Kyle.

I was told by an extremely, kind and compassionate, Deputy, that Kyle’s wounds were horrific, and he was fighting to stay alive. They didn’t think he was going to make it. He was transferred by the ambulance, to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, and when they brought him in, the ER team, couldn’t even believe he was still breathing. He was rushed in to surgery and at that point in time, his condition was listed at critical with life threatening injuries. He lost so much blood, so he was given blood transfusions. I have no idea how many. - Debra Kugler

A detective told Kugler there had been two previous incidents involving these same dogs. "Two other people had been hurt, as well," she said. "The owner of the dogs was told to remove them, but he never did … His life goes on, and my son’s will never be the same." Kyle did not have insurance, so finding a physical therapy facility was proving difficult. Her attorney also told her, "The owner of the property does not have enough assets to cover hardly any medical bills."

Updates to the fund in August include Kyle being depressed 5-weeks into the hospitalization and tired of the wound cleanings, "because [they are] extremely painful." In late August, he underwent skin grafting surgeries. By September 20, Kyle was set up for home health care, out patient physical therapy and mental health therapy. The home health nurse taught Kristen how to clean and re-bandage the skin grafting areas, an extensive process, in order to prevent infection.

In October, some of the wounds got infected, which required at least one trip to the ER. By mid November, he suffered an "extremely bad infection, again" on his right leg. "The leg keeps draining, and the picture he showed me was horrible. If it's not cared for properly, sepsis could set in." Kugler said. By December, doctors warned her that Kyle's right leg might need to undergo skin grafting a second time, "because, it's not taking. Too many infections," according to Kugler.

By late January, things were slowly improving. Kyle had received a motorized wheelchair and was living in a hotel room until some type of permanent housing became available. Just under two weeks later, Kyle is admitted back into the hospital. This time for sepsis, double pneumonia and more. "I'm praying he makes it through this," Kugler said. "His body is so weak, and it hurts to breathe, and he's scared. Kyle said they are taking really good care of him," Kugler said.

Reoccurring Attacks & Injuries

Last week we reported on an attack involving two pit bulls, where the dogs dragged 34-year old Candis Danielson under a travel trailer and "feasted on her legs." Doctors had to amputate one of her legs above the knee and her other leg is severely damaged. Though Kyle's attack occurred last July, readers can now see what Danielson has to look forward to in the coming months. Wound cleaning, re-bandaging, skin grafting surgeries and the grave threat of infection.

The pit bulls belonging to Kyle's roommate had been involved in two previous attacks. Kyle had only recently become his roommate. The pit bulls that nearly killed Danielson had a history of attacks too. That owner had "an extensive history" with local animal control spanning back over a decade. In both cases, the dangerous dogs remained with their owner. In both cases, the lives of the victims were ransacked, possibly beyond repair, and the lives of the owners were untouched.

Pasco County Animal Control said the dogs, Coco and Puff, had a history of aggression. One incident occurred April 27, 2020. It involved an attack inside the owner’s residence when the dogs bit two guests, one of whom had to be treated at the hospital.

Then in May, the two dogs were involved in an attack on Honeymoon Island. In the report, the owner claims one of the dog’s collar fell off and it ran toward the victim’s dog. As the dogs began fighting, the victim and his mother were bitten by the dog.

Both of these incidents, however, didn’t result in the dogs being taken away. - Fox 13 News, September 1, 2020

The victims ages in both attacks were close too, 32 and 34-years old, respectively. This is an uncommon age for a male to undergo a life-threatening dog attack. These were not everyday dogs either -- each were a pair of pit bulls with a history of multiple attacks. Six months after Kyle was "shredded" by the dogs, his life still hangs in the balance. His GoFundMe has only raised just under $10,000. At some point Kyle qualified for Medicaid, but financial ruin continues to linger.

We hope that Kyle pulls through. We encourage you to read through the whole fundraiser and the many updates. No one should ever have to endure savage degloving injuries from "pet" dogs, injuries requiring massive skin grafting surgeries and the horrors that follow. These two pit bulls dragged this 32-year old man from the front yard to the backyard, and literally "shredded" him. This was all during Covid-19 too, where Kyle has been isolated from the people that he loves.

Kyle Cracolici - degloving injuries

Arm degloving injuries inflicted by two pit bulls, before and after the skin grafting procedure.

Kyle Cracolici - degloving injuries

Leg injuries inflicted by two pit bulls, requiring extensive skin grafting procedures.

Related articles:
02/08/21: After Multiple Pit Bull Attacks in the Humboldt County, Emerald Triangle Region…
01/20/21: Victim Shares Account of Vicious Pit Bull Attack on Christmas Day at Seahurst Park

2021 Dog Bite Fatality: Newborn Baby Girl Killed by Family Dog in Kearney, Nebraska

fatal dog attack Kearney Nebraska
A family dog killed a newborn baby in the middle of the night in Kearney, Nebraska.

Dog Kills Newborn
Kearney, NE - On Friday afternoon, it was reported that a 1-month old baby girl died as a result of blunt force and cranial trauma inflicted by a family dog. The attack occurred about 3:00 am Wednesday, according to Kearney Police. A Good Samaritan ambulance was dispatched to a home in the 500 block of West 14th Street for an infant not breathing. KPD was first to arrive on scene and discovered the newborn dead. A family American bulldog inflicted the deadly attack.

Police did not issue a press release after the fatal dog mauling. However, Buffalo County Attorney Shawn Eatherton did issue a release Friday stating that an autopsy performed on February 11 confirmed the infant died as a result of blunt force and cranial trauma caused by an American bulldog residing in the home. An investigation into the history of the dog revealed no prior known aggression. The cause of death was ruled accidental. The dog was euthanized on February 10.

Fatal Dog Mauling Trends

This is the only recorded fatal dog mauling in Nebraska since 2005. Last year, we discussed fatal dog attacks that occur in the "middle of the night." We stated then, "We do not track the time of a fatal attack. Perhaps we should, especially for ages 0-2 years old." A 2019 Central Texas pediatric study reported that most serious dog bite injuries occurred during the evening hours, 46.8% (5:00 pm to 8:59 pm). During the night hours (9:00 pm to 4:59 am), only 13.8% of injuries occurred.

Last year, there were six John or Jane Doe fatal dog maulings, which is a high number of unnamed victims. Each person was killed by a family dog. In half of the cases, police did not issue a press release after the death. These deaths were only discovered through FOIA requests by this nonprofit, and in one case, a request sent in by a local media outlet. Of the 46 persons killed by dogs in 2020, nearly one-quarter, 22%, lacked an official news release, a disturbing trend.

Had the Buffalo County attorney, in this instance, not issued a news release, this infant's death likely would have gone undetected.

It is proper to question why this occurred. Is Covid-19 impacting normal protocols? Over 95% of information that reaches the public about fatal dog maulings does so by the media directly reporting police and coroner news releases. Without these releases, the media reports are absent. During 2020, we also saw a 45% decrease in media reports regarding fatal dog maulings. That was Covid-related, as the media industry lost over 36,000 jobs from January through June 2020.

Finally, from November 1, 2019 to February 12, 2020 (pre-pandemic), there were 16 dog bite fatalities reported. From November 1, 2020 to February 12, 2021 (amidst pandemic) there were 6 dog bite fatalities reported, an abnormal decrease of 63%. There is no precedent for this. When combining 15 years of dog bite fatalities, there are no seasonal differences in the frequency. This is unlike nonfatal dog bites, where frequency increases during the spring and summer months.


15 years of dog bite fatalities by season

15 years of U.S. dog bite-related fatalities by season (2005 to 2019) by DogsBite.org.

Related articles:
07/06/20: 2020 Dog Bite Fatality: Pit Bull Kills Toddler in the Middle of the Night During July 4th...
01/13/20: 2020 Dog Bite Fatality: Family Pit Bull Kills 4-Month Old Baby Girl in Dayton, Ohio

After Multiple Pit Bull Attacks in the Humboldt County, Emerald Triangle Region, Cliché Red Herring Distracts from Real Issue

humboldt county red herring pit bull attack
Multiple violent pit bull attacks dominate Humboldt County, Emerald Triangle Region.

Fourth Serious Attack
Humboldt County, CA - On Friday, another violent dog attack was reported by the Redheaded Blackbelt, a media outlet that serves the Emerald Triangle. This is the fourth violent attack in the region since January 9. Humboldt County has a population of 135,000 and contains cities like Arcata and Eureka and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We first interacted with the Blackbelt in 2018 after a pit bull "rampage attack" in Arcata left one man dead and another adult injured.

Given the severe decline in media reports of violent dog attacks since Covid-19 set in last year, it is surprising that low population areas in northern California are reporting so many attacks. Or perhaps not? Humboldt County is one of the most dangerous counties in California, according to Ranker.com. The county led the state in murders, car crashes and accidental deaths, and is the epicenter of the cannabis industry. The county even inspired a NetFlix series, Murder Mountain.

In 2016, a commenter on City-Data talked about revisiting Arcata and Eureka after 40 years. NoMoreSnowForMe states, "I've never seen a town with so many people walking large dogs -- mainly pit bulls." The title of the thread is, "Whoa, What's with all the pit bulls in Arcata?" The breed of dog involved in the most recent violent attack, the February 5 facial attack in Eureka, has since been identified as a pit bull.1 The other three serious attacks also involved pit bulls.

Deputies arrived on scene and located a 59-year-old female victim with serious injuries related to a dog attack. The victim was given emergency medical treatment by first responders on scene and then was transported to a local hospital in unknown condition. The dog, identified as a pit bull, had already been contained upon deputy arrival.

While conducting their investigation, deputies learned that the dog’s owner was outside with the dog when the victim reportedly walked by. For unknown reasons, the dog reportedly escaped its harness and attacked the victim. - Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, February 8, 2021

The first attack occurred on January 9, when two adults within the Covelo Fire District were airlifted due to dog bites. Though a correction was eventually made, the report originally stated the victims suffered from frostbite too. Commenters said the couple was attacked by their own pit bulls while trying to break up a dog fight. Two air ambulances were dispatched to pick up the couple; each ride can cost $30,000 or more. No other information was released about this attack.2

The second, and most violent attack, occurred on January 28 in the 200 block of Myers Avenue in Myers Flat.3 Commenters said the 35-year old female victim could lose both legs, so we added it to our Dog Bite Fatality Watch List. On January 29, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release about the attack. The victim was visiting the dog owner's property when his two pit bulls attacked her. We learned even more after a GoFundMe was created for Candis Danielson.

Shortly thereafter, two local media reports followed. Danielson had gone over to her neighbor’s house to help him with his generator during a power outage when the neighbor’s dogs got out of his trailer and attacked her, according to Aaron Merriman, an emergency medical services worker who responded to the scene. The two pit bulls then dragged Danielson under the owner's trailer and inflicted extensive damage to her legs and feet, Merriman told the Local Coast Outpost.4

Danielson's sister, Shiann Davis, created the GoFundMe page. Davis is a photographer and her boyfriend, Myles Cochrane, owns a pit bull. At this stage, the Outpost article destroyed our interest in the case, due to it including revolting propaganda from Cochrane, who had no involvement in the attack, but defends pit bulls (Cochrane formerly worked as program director at KSLG FM, owned by the Outpost’s parent company, Lost Coast Communication, Inc., noted the Outpost.)

"Dogs are one of the greatest gifts to humanity. Regardless of breed or size, if they’re raised right they will in all likelihood succeed. It’s unfathomable some humans have the luxury of being called a “gentle giant” yet many qualifying pit bulls don’t get the same privilege. That said, these particular dogs should never have had this opportunity at attempted murder." - Pit bull owner Myles Cochrane, January 29, 2021

Cochrane then deleted a photograph of his family pit bull on his Facebook page, possibly to protect his "media relations" reputation. That however, did not solve Cochrane's problem, given that his girlfriend is a photographer and has other pictures of Cochrane and his dog. Again, why did the Outpost publish Cochrane's anthropomorphic remark in the first place? Doing so served two purposes: to victimize pit bulls and to make advocates for victims of dog attacks gag.

No sooner had we tossed the Myers Flat story into the "Stories Not Worth Sharing" folder, when the Blackbelt released a devastating and detailed account of the attack by Danielson's fiance, Kenneth Swafford. Danielson is a mother of five children and was doing a favor for her neighbor (who commenters state is this man), when his pit bulls dragged her underneath a trailer and "feasted on her legs." Thus far, she has suffered a lower leg amputation below her right knee.

35-year-old Myers Flat woman, Candis Danielson, was attempting to help her neighbor on Thursday, January 28, 2021, when the neighbor’s two pit bulls attacked her, dragged her under a travel trailer, and “feasted on her legs,” resulting in the amputation of her right foot. Kenneth Swafford, Candis, and their children live together just four doors down from the dogs who attacked her. Swafford described the neighbor as disabled and unable to provide training and discipline to the dogs. According to Swafford, he and his fiancée had always been wary of the dogs and characterized them as “dangerous” knowing they had killed as many as 11 other dogs, including “eating their own puppies.” - Redheaded Blackbelt, January 30, 2021

When Swafford arrived at the hospital, he asked Myers Flat Fire Department Chief Aaron Merriman, "How bad is it?" The chief responded, “I haven’t seen anything like this since I was in the Marines.” When doctors told Swafford that Candice would likely need amputations, Swafford said he collapsed and his brother caught him before he hit the concrete. Swafford also wanted to make clear that he is "not a pit bull hater." He currently owns a pit bull as does his family.

Swafford wanted to make clear that he is “not a pit bull hater.” He said, “A blue-nosed pit has sat by me for 10 years and never been dangerous. Our family has another red-nosed pit that is safe.” He emphasized that “the dogs that attacked Candis are vicious and need put down.” - Redheaded Blackbelt, January 30, 2021

Vicious Dog Hearing

Samantha Kargas, the Public Information Office for the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the dog's owner has a history of contacts with Humboldt County Animal Control. As of January 30, "One dog has been surrendered to our Animal Shelter and the owner has expressed interest in getting the other dog back," Kargas told the Blackbelt. Because the owner wants one of the dogs back, a hearing regarding whether that pit bull is dangerous or vicious will be held.

Reading the detailed account from the Blackbelt did not change our opinion of keeping the Myers Flat attack in the "Stories Not Worth Sharing" folder. The outcome is too painful. The owners of "good" pit bulls teaming up against the owner of "bad" pit bulls in a Zoom-based vicious dog hearing. We stated on Twitter that "we will take no part in," and we meant it, because none of the involved characters are willing to address the painfully obvious issues that matter the most.

The Red Herring Debate

This red herring debate, spurred by pit bull owners Cochrane and Swafford, is a deliberate distraction. It does not matter that one pit bull is "good" and another pit bull is "bad." What matters is the severity of injury when any pit bull inflicts a violent attack -- plenty of "good" family pit bulls are also culprits in these attacks. Permanent injuries, disfigurements and maimings are often the result. The "good" or "bad" pit bull red herring debate fails to prevent these devastating injuries.

Additionally, how many readers think the owner of the pit bulls that attacked Candis had an insurance policy on his dogs? (No one raise your hand.) How many readers think that Swafford or his family have coverage on their pit bulls? (No one raise your hand.) What about Cochrane? It is unlikely that Candis will receive compensation for her injuries from the dogs' owner. If Swafford's "good" pit bull attacks a child in the face, that child would likely face a similar bleak outcome.

Neither the owners of a "good" or "bad" pit bull can cover the exorbitant cost if their dog chooses to attack. Candis didn't just lose one foot, her other leg was severely injured too. Recall the dogs "feasted on her legs," as she lay trapped underneath the travel trailer. This was also a multi-pit bull attack, which can inflict exponentially more damage than one pit bull attacking. That Swafford adamantly did not want to be called a "pit bull hater," is yet another distraction that is irrelevant.

When asked in court by the Denver Assistant City Attorney how the level of dangerousness and potential damage changes when multiple pit bulls attack a human, versus one pit bull, Dr. Borchelt testified, "by an order of magnitude," meaning extremely worse. Furthermore, when asked by the City, "Is it your opinion that an attack upon a human by multiple pit bulls, in fact, is exponentially more dangerous than an attack by multiple dogs of other breeds?" Dr. Borchelt answered, "Yes." - DogsBite.org, February 28, 2018

Candis was first taken to Garberville Hospital then transferred to St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, likely by air ambulance. Next, "when she can breath well without assistance," states the GoFundMe, she will receive treatment in San Francisco (possibly by an acute care burn unit). We estimate that $1 million is the starting point for her medical expenses. This is the only relevant issue, along with 33 years of continuing documentation about the severity of pit bull injuries.

The Commenters

We eventually did decide to write about the Myers Flat attack, but only in the context of the surge of attacks in the Humboldt County area. There was a third attack in January too. The day after Candis was terribly mauled, a pit bull attacked a 5-year old boy in the face in Covelo, which is part of Mendocino county and the Emerald Triangle. That dog fled afterward. The unnamed owner surrendered three dogs to authorities, but it is unknown if the actual biter was among them.

The Blackbelt has always had interesting commenters. The articles of the recent violent dog attacks are no different. There are over 120 comments on the January 29 attack. Commenter Diana even voiced our own thoughts closely. "Talking about 'good' and 'bad' dogs is silly and hides the point. Yes, dogs that are well cared for by knowledgeable and responsible owners are less of a danger to the general public. The point is, how bad does it get when things go wrong?"

"That’s not about good ownership -- labs have had plenty of terrible owners, but when things go wrong they are infinitely safer than pit bulls which, in the US make up no more than 7% of the total dog population, yet are responsible for over 60% of fatal attacks." - Commenter Diana

Finally, as we were writing this post, a GoFundMe was started for the February 5 victim. She was transported to St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka then airlifted "out of the area due to not having the proper medical care for her here," states the GoFundMe. She "has a long road of recovery ahead of her." She will need to "travel back to Sacramento for follow up visits," indicating that she was airlifted to the UC Davis trauma center, which reported these findings in a peer-reviewed study:

Results: "334 unique dog bites were identified, of which 101 involved the head and neck. The mean patient age was 15.1 ± 18.1 years. Of the more than 8 different breeds identified, one-third were caused by pit bull terriers and resulted in the highest rate of consultation (94%) and had 5 times the relative rate of surgical intervention. Unlike all other breeds, pit bull terriers were relatively more likely to attack an unknown individual (+31%), and without provocation (+48%)." - (O'Brien, 2015)


Myers Flat Addendum

On February 11, 2021, a Vicious and Dangerous Dog hearing was held. The pit bulls owned by Don Mertz, Hussy and Sissy, were declared vicious and ordered euthanized. Mertz is also prohibited from owning any dogs for up to three years. Sissy was surrendered at the scene. Mertz initially expressed interest in keeping Hussy, but he surrendered that dog the next day. Three people were injured during this brutal attack: Candis Danielson, Kirk Swafford, and Dave Rath.

Animal Control officer Taylor Pedersen said his agency has "an extensive history" with Mertz, which dates back to 2010 and involves other dogs, as well as Hussy and Sissy, reports the Blackbelt. Proving once again, that nuisance and dangerous dog laws are so poor they cannot even hinder a serial repeat offender until a catastrophe occurs. The most recent update on Candis' GoFundMe states that she lost more of her right leg; the amputation is now above the knee.


humboldt county red herring pit bull attack

The "good" pit bull vs. "bad" pit bull debate is a red herring -- a distraction by pit bull owners.

humboldt county red herring pit bull attack

Murder Mountain is based on Humboldt County, where pit bull attacks have been surging.

1A commenter stated, regarding the adult facial bite in Eureka, "It’s believed the dog is a resident of an RV that’s been illegally camped/parked on the county side of the street for months. There have been complaints about the RV’s shady activity with no resolve. Very unfortunate an innocent person was attacked." Reporter Kim Kemp also stated in comments regarding the woman's injuries, "The description I was given was horrific."
2Covelo, population 1,140, is part of the Round Valley Indian Reservation.
3Myers Flat only has a population of 132 people, according to U.S. Census data.
4This could be the travel trailer that Candis was dragged under, while two pit bulls "feasted on her legs."

Related articles:
07/02/18: 2018 Dog Bite Fatality: 'Rampaging Attack,' Dog Attacks Two, Killing One, in Arcata

See also: Review of Humboldt County Animal Control, the City of Eureka Animal Control, and the City of Fortuna Animal Control 2018