Nellie Davis, 61-years old, was killed by her granddaughter's pet pit bull.
Insights from Behaviorists
DogsBite.org along with commenters have become alarmed at the misleading rationale that a "normal" response by a "noise-sensitive" dog is to attack and kill a family member when under the duress of loud sounds, like the crack of thunder. It is even more disconcerting that a police captain is echoing this false rationale provided by the dog's owner. One wonders if the dog had busted through the front door and killed a neighboring child, if police would be so easily misled?
DogsBite.org reaches out to animal behaviorists Gary Wilkes and Alexandra Semyonova:
Gary WilkesThe most common reaction of a noise-sensitive dog in the presence of loud noises is to run from the sound or "hole up." If the noise does not go away, they may frantically bite and claw through sheet-rock or sheet metal to try to escape…whether an exit beyond the obstacle would lead to safety or not. Once free of its cage, a normal dog would likely maintain its panicked attempts at flight or solicit comfort from a known human. The behavior of this dog is the opposite of what one would expect. Instead of becoming fearfully aroused it apparently became violently aroused. It has been suggested that the noise caused this dog to attack a human being. If true, I cannot understand why that would extenuate its behavior. It would seem to me that this explanation makes pit bulls many times more dangerous than any other type of dog. "Occam’s Razor" is a logical test of assumptions. It states that if there are two explanations for something, pick the more simple of the two. In this case, adding the thunder aspect seems to be an attempt to mask the dog's history of violence and breed type. If an English pointer stands fixated at a parakeet perched in a cage, the simplest explanation is that the dog is a pointer. The simplest conclusion in this case is that the dog is a Pit Bull Terrier with a history of breed-specific behavior and unchecked violence.1
Gary Wilkes is an internationally acclaimed animal behaviorist, trainer, author, columnist and lecturer. View additional posts by Gary Wilkes.
Alexandra SemyonovaA normal dog who is afraid of thunder, fireworks, marching bands, or other loud noises will panic and try to flee or hide. The normal dog in this state of panic becomes deaf and blind to things in its surroundings, interested only in escaping the noise. It won't take treats, won't be comforted, won't engage in any social interactions (including fighting). All it wants to do is get away from the noise. Every fiber of its being is concentrated on that and only that. People who own normal dogs don't need to worry that their dog will suddenly attack and kill them because there's stormy weather outside.Pit bulls are different. Deathly fear or total panic is a state of high arousal. It's well known that the pit bull doesn't compose a socially appropriate response to various kinds of arousal. They often react to any type of arousal by starting to unfold their genetically determined, breed-specific, sustained attack behavior. They often do this if they get excited during what started as play with another dog, during attempts to mate, or even during a petting session if the pit bull gets too excited about the human affection it's receiving. Startle is also known to trigger the genetic program the pit bull carries -- for example, an owner slipping on the ice. If this pit bull's reaction was related to hearing thunder, then it can only be in the sense that the thunder, like any startle or arousal, triggered a highly breed-specific reaction that only the pit-bull type dog will show.This pit bull already had a history of aggression. It had already shown it reacted to various triggers by executing its breed-specific behavior. I'm not sure why Captain Nelson would feel so sure that this time the trigger was hearing thunder. It's not clear why that would -- even if accurate -- somehow excuse not only the behavior of this pit bull, but also of all the others that attack in response to a stimulus that would cause any other dog to flee, to mate, or to bring its owner a favorite toy. The key to understanding this case isn't in pinpointing what the trigger for the pit bull was this time. We'll never know. It could just as well have been that this woman sneezed. The key to understanding this case lies in acknowledging that any kind of arousal in a pit bull can be fatal.The idea that this woman's stay in the hospital played some role is also ridiculous. When a known person comes home after an absence, even carrying unusual scents from a strange place, a dog still recognizes that person. The normal reaction is to be glad to see a friend who was gone for awhile. Normal dogs will show interest in the new smells, a kind of 'hey, where ya been?' interest. If one of the new smells makes a dog anxious (for example, it reminds him of how the vet's office smells), the normal dog will move away or hide ('you're not taking me to the vet today if you can't find me!'). People change their clothes, that kind of smell subsides quickly But it is in any case not a normal reaction to become highly aggressive and execute a sustained, killing attack just because someone has been gone for awhile or smells a bit odd.The only baffling thing about this case is why so many people, even a police captain, are so anxious to blame pit bull behavior on anything and everything except hundreds of years of selecting for highly breed-specific sudden killing behavior. The problem here wasn't thunder, and it wasn't that this woman had been in the hospital. The problem here was that the dog was a pit bull.2
Alexandra Semyonova is an internationally acclaimed animal behaviorist, behavioral biologist, anthropologist and author. View additional posts by Alexandra Semyonova.
09/27/12: Dogs Known to be Violent
KFOR.com reports that Nellie Davis recently moved in with her granddaughter after undergoing a heart transplant and long-term illness. According to neighbor Kenny Reeves, the two pit bulls the family kept in the apartment had a history of violence. "I can tell you it's not uncommon, issues with the dogs. The cops had been called before for the dogs fighting," Reeves said. "A week ago the dogs were fighting," April Reeves added. "You could hear people yelling at 'em."
The victim's husband, Cleveland Davis, Sr., told reporters that he hopes his wife of over 30-years is remembered for more than how she died. "I really want everyone to know she was a strong lady and a proud lady," Cleveland said. "She never complained although she went through so much." Police Captain Dexter Nelson described the scene as "gruesome" and that the victim "died a horrific death." Homicide detectives continue to investigate the woman's death.
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09/27/12: Attack Blamed on Thunder
The San Francisco Chronicle offers more details, including that the residence was an apartment; the victim lived with her granddaughter who owned two large pit bulls; one of the pit bulls broke out of its crate and attacked; police shot that dog because it was threatening emergency responders; and last but not least, police Captain Dexter Nelson is blaming the fatal attack on stormy weather, as was done after Deborah Roberts was killed by her pet pit bulls earlier this month.
This particular dog had problems with thunderstorms and lightning and that type of thing, so the dog became quite unstable and upset. - Dexter Nelson
After 85-year old Mattie Daughtery was relentlessly attacked and killed by her daughter's pet pit bull, the family blamed the attack on "noise" from construction work being done on the house.3 After 56-year old Johnny Wilson was mauled to death by his daughter's six pit bulls, the daughter blamed the attack on his "loud" voice. Instead, what these fatal pit bull attacks represent over and over again is the unpredictable explosive aggression consistently carried out by pit bulls.
Pit bulls -- The Living IED: Designed for death, awaiting detonation.4
09/27/12: Woman Killed by Pit Bull
Oklahoma City, OK - In a developing story, Oklahoma City Police say a woman was attacked and killed by a pit bull in her home last night. Police received a 911 call just after 11 pm on Wednesday from a woman who said she found her grandmother, 60-year old Nellie Davis, dead in the home and the pit bull out of its crate. Responding officers tried to contain the pit bull, but were unsuccessful. An officer was forced to shoot the dog to death after it continued to act aggressively.
3After a neighbor shot the attacking pit bull -- and the dog offered little response -- "It took two police officers and many rounds to finally kill the animal." Again, the attack was allegedly set off by construction "noises." Though Mattie lived at the home, she apparently was "unfamiliar" with her daughter's pit bull that was kept at the home.
4This phrase was first used in the 2010 blog post after the mauling death of Johnny Wilson. It is time to use it again.
09/11/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: Jefferson County Woman Attacked by Own Pit Bulls Dies
08/17/12: 2012 Dog Bite Fatality: Elderly Oklahoma Man Killed by Two Pit Bulls
09/04/10: 2010 Dog Bite Fatality: McMinn County Woman Mauled to Death by Family Pit Bull
01/18/10: 2010 Dog Bite Fatality: 56-Year Old Man Killed by Daughter's Six Pit Bulls
08/04/08: Triggers: What Prompts a Pit Bull to Attack?
The article from Fox 25 has horrible reporting, very little detail, except that which appears to be sympathetic to the dogs. How can anyone say for certain the dog attacked because of the storm — the only witness is dead! Who made this claim that the dogs didn't like storms? The granddaughter? It wasn't the neighbors — if they could hear it when the dogs fought, then they certainly would have heard them going crazy over storms before. It just really sickens me when the owners make excuses for their pits even after a family member is killed. How many owners/family members have been killed this September? I know it's large. So scary. The other article has much more graphic detail, and witness statements, but still blames the storm.
Just another CRATE AND ROTATE story with a dash of thunder and No-Kill:
"After he healed, Jonah was as strong as a mule. He could pull a car up a hill … Jonah was great with people and children, but had little tolerance for other male dogs … Once Rocky [his other dog] ended up with a broken jaw … one bite was all it took … So for five years, Jonah lived in half of my house, and Rocky lived in the other half. I can't explain to you how complicated this made my life … Jonah was terrified of lightning. Any time the thunder rolled, I would go into the other room and find him in the bottom of the utility storage cabinet, with cans of wd-40 and paint knocked over and fallen on his head. He would push aside car wash buckets, paint-brushes and anything else that was in his way to burrow down into a dark space to get away from the noise and the flashes."
Tightly wound with dog-aggression and still with balls, Jonah acted fairly normally in his fear of thunder and lightening by trying to get away from it (not attacking and killing his owner). Side tracking here, but this story of a No-Killer gets better:
When he decided he needed to get out of the fence, he could do it. It took me a while to figure out how he did it, but once I did, I was amazed … He would then grasp that metal ribbon in his pink gums and work it back and forth, back and forth until eventually it would snap. He would then take his soft, black, wet nose, and jam it as hard as he could into the wiry hole made by the broken piece of chain link. He continued to push his face into this hole, working his head back and forth, as the hole grew larger and larger. Once the hole was big enough for him to get his entire snout in, he knew that he had won. He worked, eyes squeezed shut, pushing with his back feet, as hard as he could, until finally, bleeding and torn, he would jam his entire alligator head out of that tiny hole.
When I was growing up, my family had small dogs. One was quite afraid of loud noises. But he never, ever tried to attack anyone. He just found a place to hide.
Classic Crate and Rotate Mishap…
A threat to themselves, their families and their community these Nutters are.
25 Pit Bull DBRFs in the US over the past 362 days..
Wow, these DBRF's are racking up FAST… I think September may be a recordbreaking month!
YQN: I hear what you are saying. I had a Gordon Setter as a kid and he would hide under the bed or in the closet upon hearing any loud noise (what a wimp!).
Wow. She starts to recover from a heart transplant..and then dies like this. Awful. I get the chills just thinking of being in that apartment with that dog trying to break out of its crate.
I'm with you, Opalina: that article is poorly written and uninformative. Crap journalism like that drives me nuts. There are tons of unemployed and underemployed journalists out there, even in OKC, and yet confusing articles like this are published.
And yeah, it sounds like the writer is scrounging to excuse the dog's behavior, or at least blame it on something external to the dog.
"“Pit bulls need to be in the right setting; they can’t be kept in a cramped little bitty apartment,” neighbor Kenny Reeves said."
What does that have to do with anything?
I really hate that our blog owner is having to deal with new stories so often.
I actually blinked a few times tonight when I checked in on the blog and thought, not another one.
This poor woman to have gone through a heart transplant only to be subjected to a "horrific death".
How anyone can make an excuse for any dog that does something like this is beyond explanation.
What a very sad week this has been with new victims, who were put into this situation with dogs who were known to be dangerous not just with the inherent danger of the breed but what they as individuals had done in the past.
I feel criminal charges are called for in these cases.
If one is to poke around in the extensive Bibliography section of DBO, The first CDC DBRF study done in 1977 is laying there.
It shows that in 1974 there were just 5 DBRFs and in 1975 there were 6. None of the dogs involved belonged to the family.
Now we routinely exceed those annual totals in a single month. We've also had months with 5 Pit Bull DBRFs.
The Dog Lobby has some Splainin' to do…
Gary Wilkes is the first sensible behaviorist I have ever read/heard.
Now can we get this kind of thing out there and have the media run with it……….
That kind of thing WOULD make a difference.
I am looking forward to reading other posts by Mr. Wilkes.
Thank you so much for posting this.
When discussing a house pet, here is no difference between "it killed someone for no reason" and "it killed someone because it was scared of thunder."
I agree Snack. Any animal that is driven to attack due to a relatively common loud noise has no place in any community.
Moreover, I don't think these people actually hear or understand what they are saying: "Yup, poor pittie was scared by [insert common loud noise], so there's nothing wrong here!".
To me, what they are ACTUALLY asserting is that NO pit bull or pit bull owner can be trusted! Something I agree with whole-heartedly!
Let's set the record straight, shall we? I'm not an animal behaviorist, but I have had many years of experience with dogs. What I'm about to say cannot be substantiated with a degree to back me up, but I think it will make a ton of sense.
The pit bull broke out of its cage, not because a noise startled it, not because it realized its time in the cage was over, and the next pit bull's turn was up, not because someone fell off a ladder, not because it was neutered yesterday, but because there was a stranger in the house.
This is just another example of a pit bull's relentless attempt to get to its prey. The fact that pit bulls climb fences, and jump out of windows, proves that nothing will stop them. These are not normal dogs, and trying to make up stories to explain why they killed your grandmother, shows how sick the owners of these dogs are. Don't ever try and normalize a pit bull. This is why the body count of humans is going up. These are not isolated incidents. They will continue until BSL becomes the norm, and not the rule.
"Punish the deed, not the breed" Really? How do you punish a pit bull for its deed? The deed it committed is what it was bred for. Hence the need to regulate the entire breed.
If most dog breeds are as dangerous and unpredictable as nutters would like us to think, then dogs would not be popular pets and most people would be scared to death of them all. Nutters have to push other breeds down in order to elevate their breed of obsession.
bitbypit, I wasn't using, "there was a stranger in the house" as an excuse. That, to me, is a natural tendency of pit bulls. To attack a stranger for no reason. If I came across as trying to excuse away the dog's behavior, I wasn't trying to.
Now here is a twist — Newsok.com updated their article. Forget the B.S. about the victim being away from the home since May; apparently she had only been away for a FEW DAYS:
"Family members told police the dog was known for becoming agitated by thunderstorms and may have not recognized Davis, who had been in the hospital for a few days before returning home Wednesday, Nelson said."
Major lying Nutter family alert!
All this excuse idiocy is just a smokescreen trying to obscure the bloody elephant standing in the room:
Due to horrific and negative breed stewardship, Pit Bull breeders are selling MANKILLERS!
Thank you to both Gary Wilkes and Alexandra Semyonova for your insights.
If any kind of excitement, good or bad, can trigger the attacking behavior, that animal is not safe as a house pet.
"Gee, it's thundering outside, my dog might kill me in response."
In what world should that be a normal situation?