Fatal Pit Bull Attack in San Diego, California
The rehomed male, neutered pit bull-mix in quarantine after killing a 3-day old baby.
Passed Assessment Test
UPDATE 04/29/16: On July 7, 2015, a 6-year old boy in North Carolina was killed by a male, neutered pit bull that was rehomed by the Asheville Humane Society 3-weeks earlier. The pit bull had passed the SAFER temperament test before being adopted. Now, just 8-months later in San Diego, a male pit bull-mix rehomed by the San Diego Humane Society has fatally attacked. That dog also passed an assessment test prior to being adopted then killed a baby 5-months later.1
Currently, there is no way to reliably test for unpredictable pit bull aggression. State-of-the-art temperament tests like SAFER only provide a benchmark by detecting "obvious" behavioral issues. These tests greatly rely upon who is conducting them as well -- a person with 2-years of behavioral experience or 25? This 2.5-year old pit bull-mix came into the shelter on November 10 and was adopted out just 8-days later. We repeat again what we stated after Joshua's death:
The "state-of-the-art" temperament assessment test, SAFER, cannot measure unpredictable aggression nor can any current test. This is the risk every person accepts, knowingly or not, when adopting a pit bull.
After the death of 3-day old Sebastian Caban, the president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, Gary Weitzman, issued a letter to staff members and volunteers. It states, in part, the attack was unforeseeable and "there was not a fragment of aggression seen in this dog before tragedy struck." This statement emphasizes just how unreliable these tests are in assessing unpredictable aggression. "Seen in this dog," is only in the context of seeing the dog for 8-days.
Animal Expert Provides Insights
UPDATE 04/27/16: Sebastian Caban, 3-days old, was fatally bitten on the head by a family pit bull-mix while he laid in bed with his parents and the dog. What followed was a carefully executed breed manipulation plan by Deputy Director Dan DeSousa to confuse the media and public, along with an outpouring of media claiming the deadly attack came in response to the mother coughing. We reached out to Alexandra Semyonova, an animal behaviorist and author, for her observations.
Additionally, as we prepared this update, it was announced what we had suspected all along. The family pit bull-mix is a rescue. The San Diego Humane Society -- a private organization that has a partnership with county animal services -- adopted the dog to the baby's parents 5-months ago. The reason why we suspected this pit bull-mix had been rehomed is because it was neutered. This is a rarity amongst pit bull owners unless the animal was rehomed by a reputable shelter.
It’s quite sad that yet another killing of yet another child by a pit bull type is being diverted to a discussion of exactly which category of pit bull type dog is involved, and to a discussion of 911 dispatch response time.
The real problem here is not the 911 dispatch response time. It is not exactly which of the various pit bull type dogs killed this infant. It is not about figuring exactly what triggered the pit bull mix to execute its inherent motor pattern. Neither is this latest infant death about children and ‘any dog’, which will be the next damage control response pit bull advocacy predictably comes up with. The tragedy of this child’s death is about exposing a newborn baby to the type of dog that has been responsible for more child killings than all other breeds and types of dogs combined since the 1980s. A type of dog whose genetically determined, inherent response to startle (no matter what kind), in fact to any strong stimulus, is to attack the head and neck, grip, hold, shake, and not let go.
Yes, many types of dogs have bitten children, but we are not talking about a bite here. We’re talking about an instant killing, not preceded by any warning signals, not triggered by anything that would offend any normal dog, and so vicious that the parents of the child had trouble getting the pit bull mix off their baby.
As an expert on the domestic dog, I’m appalled at Deputy Director Dan DeSousa’s immediate response. He is apparently as aware of the statistics as I am, and is above all concerned about keeping yet another pit bull type out of those statistics.1 He is willing to slander any and all other types of dogs in order to do this. If he really cared about dogs -- or even about pit bulls -- he would react differently. We don’t help dogs by playing name-games that will lead to ever more children being killed by a particular type, then saying any dog would do it. We don’t help pit bull types by denying the danger they present, thus cooperating in setting them up again and again to fail in family homes. This aside from the loss of human life that results from this game, since DeSousa apparently doesn’t care much about that either.
I am also appalled at the focus on the 911 dispatch response time. These parents took a loaded Kalashnikov to bed with them because it’s the Internet fashion of the moment. The Kalashnikov shot their baby in the head when the mother coughed with her finger on the trigger. Just as with a machine gun shot to the head, a neonate is lost the instant any pit bull type dog has gripped its head, even if police were in the room at the moment the trigger went off. It’s misplaced -- and an attempt to avoid responsibility for their own terrible choice -- for these parents (and everyone else) to be trying to blame the overworked and understaffed 911 dispatch response center.
The normal domestic dog is a conflict avoider. At startle or threat, it will try first of all to increase distance and assess the situation. It will seek to compose an appropriate response, preferring a response that does not involve violence. If startled by a child (or anything else) in a position where it can’t instantly increase distance, a normal dog might lash out with an open-jawed bat to an approaching body part. A normal dog might do a pressureless grab at that body part. A puncture wound, some torn skin, a bruising could result -- but not a death. The normal dog will flee the situation as soon as a flight route opens up. It will not respond to startle by jumping up and gripping the head of anything that happens to be close by, applying full jaw pressure, and refusing to let go.
This response is unique to the pit bull types, including the various pit bull mixes. A normal dog would have jumped off the bed and, if jealous, slunk off to pout. Jealous normal dogs don’t go into a sudden, gripping death-hold attack. Yet again we see that the pit bull types are not like other dogs. ‘Any dog’ education will not help these pit bull killings of children to stop, and we need to quit pretending it will. People like DeSousa, who are charged not only with animal welfare but also with public safety, need to stop the games they’re playing.
As for the ‘any dog’ thing, it’s true that any dog that inflicts serious wounds in a startle situation shows it isn’t safe to keep among us. Where a dog -- any dog -- shows lack of preference for conflict avoidance, lack of acquired bite inhibition or willingness to abandon bite inhibition in ANY conflict, and lack of willingness to quit until the other is dead, it is my opinion that it is neither safe for us nor good for dogs in general to keep that dog alive. And so here is the final appalling part of this story: the law should not be such that a man like DeSousa has any choice but to humanely euthanize any dog that has killed, even if that dog was one of the pit bull types he seems above all enamored with. - Alexandra Semyonova, animal behaviorist and author
Semyonova has graciously allowed us to post an excerpt from her book, The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs, pertaining to the myth of whether a dog can or can't be jealous -- Myth 44. Purchase your copy of the book today. Also visit Semyonova's website: Nonlinear Dogs.
UPDATE 04/25/16: Death Due to Bite Injuries
The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office has identified the 3-day old baby boy that was attacked and killed by the family pit bull-mix last Thursday. Sebastian Caban of San Diego died due to dog bite injuries to his head, states the medical examiner's news release. The manner of death was ruled an accident. The "decedent was mauled by the family dog after the dog was startled awake when sleeping on the bed with the mother and decedent," states the news release.
Other developments include the baby's parents calling 911 twice before giving up and taking the injured baby to the hospital themselves. Over the weekend, NBC 7 reported that between 7:15 pm and 7:45 pm on Thursday, April 21, Sebastian's parents made two unsuccessful 911 calls, one 28 seconds long, the other 34 seconds long. Neither call was answered by dispatch. During this same period, a total of 73 calls came into dispatch seeking assistance, San Diego police said.
Special Update: Fire Dan DeSousa
UPDATE 04/22/16: We would like to point out to readers that what this post should be primarily about is a 3-day old baby lying in bed with the family pit bull and his parents. This is inexcusably unsafe with most dogs, but especially with pit bulls and other powerful breeds. That is a kind way of stating it. The criminal way of stating it is endangerment, which is likely why the Child Abuse Unit was called out. This aspect had to be investigated for a child this young -- just 3-days old.
San Diego County Animal Services
Instead of focusing on this important safety aspect, we must discuss the deliberate manipulation by Dan DeSousa, Deputy Director of Animal Services, to protect the pit bull breed by mislabeling this dog. There are only a few AC departments in the U.S. that consistently demand to be called out like this, DeSousa of San Diego County Animal Services is one of them. By deliberately manipulating this dog's breed, reports began stating that this dog is a "great dane-terrier mix."
Deputy Director Dan DeSousa should be fired for deliberately manipulating this dog's breed to confuse the media and public after a 3-day old baby was killed by a family pit bull. -DogsBite.org
Let's start from the earliest report at 11:30 am (PST), where the dog is a "2-year-old American Staffordshire terrier," according to DeSousa." In the next report, at 1:56 pm, the dog is a mix. The dog is a "2-year-old, neutered male American Staffordshire terrier-mix, DeSousa said." By 2:31 pm, the dog became a "great dane-American Staffordshire terrier mix," according to DeSousa. Then near that time, "a two-year-old mixed breed American Staffordshire terrier named Polo."2
There are two parts to DeSousa's manipulation. Part one is calling the dog an American Staffordshire terrier, which is exactly the same breed as the American pit bull terrier -- many people in the public do not know this. DeSousa, from the get-go, purposefully tried to confuse the media and public. Part two of the manipulation is more sinister. The first part of a "mixed breed" label indicates the predominant breed, for instance a pit bull-boxer is predominantly a pit bull.
Within three hours of media reports, DeSousa tried to make the confusing Staffordshire label the least predominant breed by placing it second. (This is after the media released photographs of the dog.) By 2:39 pm, the breed label became the ultimate goal of DeSousa, 100% denial of any pit bull heritage. The dog became a "great dane-terrier mix," according to DeSousa. This was all deliberately orchestrated to hide the truth after a neutered family pit bull killed a newborn baby.
DeSousa's Plan Did Not Prevail
The upshot is that you cannot fool all the people all the time. By 5:30 pm (all California times listed), the Associated Press, which is syndicated nationally, picked up the story along with the photograph of the dog and correctly labeled it an American Staffordshire terrier-mix. This label is 100% interchangeable with a pit bull terrier-mix. After looking at the dog's photo, the Associated Press -- at least this particular writer -- could not call this animal a "great dane-terrier mix."
04/22/16: Family Pit Bull Kills Newborn
San Diego, CA - A 3-day old baby was fatally attacked by a family pit bull, San Diego Police said Friday. The deadly attack occurred Thursday night on Flanders Drive in the Mira Mesa area. The dog is now in the custody of San Diego County Animal Services, police said. Dan DeSousa, Deputy Director of Animal Services and longtime pit bull sympathizer, said the dog is a 2-year old male, neutered pit bull, but insisted on calling the animal an "American Staffordshire Terrier."3
The baby's mother and father were watching television in bed with their newborn and the dog, reports Sgt. Tuu Nguyen with the Child Abuse Unit of the San Diego Police Department. You read that statement correctly -- the 3-day old baby was in bed with the pit bull and the baby's parents. When the mother suddenly coughed, Nguyen said, "the dog made contact with the baby leading to traumatic injuries." The parents rushed the baby to the hospital, where it was declared dead.
“At this time it appears to be a tragic accident. It’s such a horrific, tragic case.” - Sgt. Tuu Nguyen, San Diego Police Department
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that child abuse detectives were called to the couple's home on Flanders Drive off Camino Ruiz about 8 pm Thursday to investigate. Nguyen said no other children were taken from the home or placed under other care. The investigation will be completed after an autopsy confirms the cause of death, Nguyen said. Police called county animal control officers half-past midnight to impound the pit bull. The dog will be held in quarantine for 10-days.
San Diego County Fatal Pit Bull Attacks
During the 11-month period from December 24, 2011 to November 11, 2012, pit bulls from San Diego County killed four people. In one of these cases, the dog was found in Balboa Park in San Diego then taken across the border to Tijuana. Within a week the dog killed its owner's 4-year old granddaughter, América Viridiana. This same period also includes a fifth death, the fatal mauling of Remedios Romero-Solares and was attributed to "American bulldog-mixes" by DeSousa.
How did DeSousa and San Diego County Animal Services respond to this disaster? By giving away pit bulls for free in a special promotion titled, "Dare to BULL-ieve." The taxpayer-funded promotion began in mid October of 2012, after three fatal pit bull attacks in the previous 10-months and just days after the serious mauling of a child in the county. By a wide margin, 69% to 31%, polltakers voted that the county government should not promote "free pit bull" adoptions.4
2In an ABC 10 News interview, DeSousa makes his bias clear: "It's a tragic incident for everybody involved. What I don't want is for people to stereotype a dog and say, 'This dog did this because it looks like a pit bull." DeSousa also stated, "It is up to the family to decide if they want this animal back." As of April 27, the baby's parents have not yet decided this. The decision to euthanize "should" have been immediate, but it rarely is with pit bull owners.
3DeSousa also quickly "humanized" the pit bull by ensuring that its name was included in media reports. In this case, the media and public knew the pit bull's name before the baby's name. It seems that after the "Year of Hell" in San Diego County, 2011-2012, when pit bull-type dogs took the lives of four people, DeSousa developed a new "disaster response" PR plan. 1.) Deliberately mislabel the breed to confuse the media and public, 2.) Invent a "mix" and place it first as the predominant breed, and 3.) Humanize the attacker by releasing the dog's name. But DeSousa did make an error by releasing the dog was neutered. It stands in direct contrast to the false claim often trumpeted by pit bull owners that "only male unaltered pit bulls kill." Learn more about owning a dangerous breed.
4DeSousa is now calling the dog an "American Staffordshire terrier-mix." As readers of this website know, pit bulls and American Staffordshire terriers are the exact same breed. DeSousa is just trying to "protect the breed" by deliberately confusing the media and the public after a neutered pet pit bull fatally attacked a newborn baby. To further our point, in yet another article, DeSousa calls the dog, a "Great Dane-American Staffordshire Terrier mix," again to diminish the pit bull's role in this fatal attack, to confuse the media and the public AND this is all while we are looking at two extremely clear photographs of the dog. DeSousa deliberately used "Great Dane" as the first mix too, which indicates that is the "primary" breed. Pit bull is without a doubt the primary breed in this instance.
5Yes, San Diego County taxpayers. You helped pay for that 10-minute "Remark-a-BULL" and "Adorable-a-BULL" promotional video and all other "Dare to BULL-ieve" program costs, along with giving away pit bulls for free.
The Reliability of Temperament Tests
- Aggressive Behavior in Adopted Dogs that Passed a Temperament Test by E'Lise Christensen, Janet Scarletta, Michael Campagnaa and Katherine Albro Houpt, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 106, Issues 1-3, August 2007.
- Reliability, validity and feasibility of existing tests of canine behaviour, by Mornement et al., Anthrozoology Research Group, Animal Welfare Science Centre and Monash University, AIAM Annual Conference on urban animal management, 2009.
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