In the 15-year period of 2005 through 2019, canines killed 521 Americans. Pit bulls contributed to 66% (346) of these deaths. Combined, pit bulls and rottweilers contributed to 76% of the total recorded deaths. | More »
DogsBite.org - Back in April, we were contacted about the "live release rate" trumping public safety at a California shelter. This is an epidemic across the country. In some cases, it borders on criminal. Dogs with serious aggression are being adopted to the public, sent to fosters, transferred to rescues and transported across county and state lines. They are being recycled back into communities instead of being euthanized due to the holy grail of boasting a high "save rate."
To examine the issue up close, we filed a public records request in July for 34 dogs, including all behavioral and medical notes, at Sonoma County Animal Services. We were alerted to these particular 34 files to examine -- this is not a "random sampling" of cases -- in order to review questionable and problematic cases. Also to review the over arching issue of live release rate being prioritized over public safety, and in many cases, being prioritized over animal welfare too.
You will read about dogs with serious aggression euthanized only after being adopted or fostered and returned. You will read about dogs with multiple aggression memos that management adopted out anyway.
In the case of Sonoma County, the files show that some shelter workers operate under a "climate of fear," the fear of personally interacting with some of these aggressive dogs, as well as, sending them back into the community. Staffers witness the aggression and document the behavior (in behavioral memos) and at least in the 34 files we reviewed, many of these memos by employees are simply ignored by upper management. The live release rate pressure literally trumps all.1
Albuquerque Set the Stage
As was so eloquently stated by Jim Ludwick, an employee who helped spur the investigation into Albuquerque Animal Services adopting out dangerous dogs last year: "It is not a success, and it is not responsible, if we show sympathy for the dogs we see at our animal shelters, but have no concern for creatures we do not actually meet: the pets and children, out of sight, out of mind, who may pay the price if we unleash the dogs we should euthanize for public safety reasons."
As we were reviewing the 34 case files, Contra Costa Animal Services -- a county adjacent to Sonoma County -- was placed on the hot seat for adopting out a dog that attacked its new owner within hours. The adopters said the shelter told them the dog had "aggressive tendencies" but the issue was downplayed. Dr. Richard Bachman, the Veterinary Medical Director for Contra Costa Animal Services, said the same dog tried to bite a trainer in the face, yet it remained "adoptable."
A trend [Bachman] sees everywhere as shelters are judged by their live release rate. "So anything that leaves alive makes it look better statistically." Bachman said he believes the public is being placed at risk.
What we found in the Sonoma case files is not nearly as egregious as the practices at the Albuquerque shelter or the recent investigation into the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. We believe there is a single reason for this too. Some employees are resisting. They are documenting this aggression and questioning upper management. They share the "Ludwick perspective" of having concern for those who may pay the price when failing to euthanize for public safety reasons.
Animal behaviorist Alexandra Semyonova examined the 34 files from Sonoma County Animal Services, chose the worst case scenarios and provides a summary analysis.
We narrowed the cases down to 13 for this post, using only the worst-case scenarios. However, even that task was difficult, choosing the worst cases from the 34 files. So we developed a set of parameters for behaviorist Semyonova. Choose the worst-case scenarios when shelter upper management had knowledge of the aggression problem -- through emails, behavior memos and/or staff meetings -- but allowed the aggression continue, and even to escalate, instead of euthanasia.
Along with the summaries by Semyonova, we are providing the full case histories so that you can examine first hand the "evaluations," behavioral memos and vet records. You will see the intake, release and outcome histories as well. Some readers may find the case files cryptic (abbreviation heavy), but they are golden in supplying the truth behind the clickbait web advertisements of many seriously problematic dogs peddled by county shelters to the public as a "ray of sunshine."
Our Call-to-Action follows this section where we spell out how the public can request the uncensored behavioral and medical files of a dog before it is adopted. We recommend bringing a dog trainer with you as well.
Overview of Files by Semyonova
What the files reveal is consistent refusal on the part of the contracting behavior consultant, Megan Alexander (MA), a dog trainer who calls herself a behavior consultant, and of management to acknowledge obvious signs that a dog is a danger to the public and/or pets the public keeps. Only when undeniable liability issues -- not safety issues! -- become clear do they decide that a dog has to be euthanized. In some cases, they pass liability on to a rescue rather than euthanizing an obviously dangerous dog.
The behavior evaluation looks very summary. There is a reckless interpretation of results, ignoring signs of danger, much too quick to say okay with dogs, cats and kids. Refusal to adjust evaluation in light of staff observations, which give a much better idea of how a dog will be in daily home goings-ons. Refusal to heed information from fosters and adopters, including bite incidents. Refusal to acknowledge what over-arousal, impulsiveness, inability to self-dampen means (RE increased risk). Insistence on considering only how a dog behaves when with MA. Worse yet, it's obvious that MA insists on repeating her "behavior test" until she gets the positive results she wants.
It can in itself be legitimate to repeat a behavior test after a period of training and human interaction in a shelter. However, the repeat test must not be done by the trainer who has been working with the dog, nor with shelter staff the dog is familiar with. The point of the test is to see how the training has influenced the dog's reaction to someone it doesn't know and who is not a dog training professional. The re-test must show whether generalization of training has adequately taken place, not just whether the dog will now behave well with its trainers. It is furthermore unrealistic to expect trainers and staff who have become involved with a dog to objectively interpret results of a re-test. Any re-evaluation must be done by someone who is not involved in any way and who has neither an emotional nor an ego stake in getting positive results.
Another problem with the evaluation is refusal to consider both breed/type-specific traits and size of dog when interpreting behavior and assessing risk. - A. Semyonova
In Their Zeal to Adopt Out the Otherwise Unadoptables, Many Shelters Candy-Coat Dogs with Aggressive Behaviors
Amos is advertised as "all around perfect," but is a serial cat hunter and killer. Herschel wants you to "share lots of time" with him, giving him more time to bite you! Rainbow is a "ray of sunshine," but was returned by four separate owners. Jolene "absolutely loves people!" which is why the dog required four AC officers to catch and restrain her. "Rebel without a home" has been renamed so many times, not even we can keep up, passed off to a rescue to be renamed and rehomed again.
Nicholas is advertised as a "lovebug" and was poised to tear off a little girl's face while her mother filled out the adoption paperwork!
Marshmallow is allegedly "sugar-based," but fixes his stare on young children. Initially advertised as kid-friendly. Annie is advertised as a "friendly girl" that "body-crashes" when playing and scares even the vet! Lu Lu is "comical and curious" and life is just "one big party for her." That life came to an end after serious fence-fighting. Arnie is one "very special boy" who requires Solliquin to overcome chronic over-arousal. He became a "featured" adoptable dog in August for the shelter.
Advertised as fine with a "dog-savvy" cat? That tester cat was recently "retired" because it was attacked by a dog being temperament tested.2
Sissy is advertised as "gentle and sweet!" yet scares the bejesus out of some staffers. "Despite numerous memos to management regarding Sissy's aggressive behavior she remains available for adoption," writes staffer. Sparky is advertised as "caring and lovable" on April 17, even though four days earlier she had attacked two people, causing one of them to file a hazard report. Rufus had three different advertisements. By the third "rebranding," all signs of aggression were erased.
Summary of the Numbers
Of the 34 case files, 25 (74%) of the dogs came in as strays (ownerless). Of the stray dogs, 20 (80%) were pit bulls. 8 cases came in as owner surrenders -- 75% were pit bulls. There was one confiscation, a pit bull. Of the total 34 cases reviewed, 27 (79%) were pit bulls or pit bull-mixes. A total of 9 dogs were euthanized: 7 pit bulls, 1 American bulldog and 1 German shepherd-chow mix. In 3 of those cases, the dog was either adopted or fostered prior to being euthanized.
Part I: Worst Cases Euthanized Only After Foster or Adoption (3)
Adoption listing May 26, 2015
Nicolas has had a rough beginning in this world. But it hasn’t kept this sweet boy down. He loves humans and is happy just laying on the couch or lounging on your bed. He recently has been in foster care and his parents report that he is a lovebug. He loves to ride in the car, walks great on a leash and plays with toys all the time. Nicholas is kid friendly and would be happy with a dog-savvy cat in his home. He would like to be the only K9 baby in the house. Stop by and meet this sweet boy today.
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American bulldog - Age 4-years old - Male - 95 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 4.5 months
Summary: Intake as stray May 13, 2015. Evaluated May 20, 2015 and again Sep 9, 2015 by MA as okay with kids 8-years old and up, okay with dog-savvy cat, okay with dogs, advertised as "kid friendly," but as wanting to be "the only K9" in a home. The dog returned to foster Sep 9, 2015. There he attacked a passing dog on the street on Sep 15, 2015, after which manager APPROVED this dog for adoption on Sep 23, 2015. While the foster was at the counter filling out the adoption paperwork, Nicholas suddenly fixated (stared at) and growled at the foster's daughter -- a girl he knew well and had gotten along with in the foster period. Instead of immediately increasing distance by removing this threatening 95 lb dog, MA told the child to stand up from the chair she was sitting on. Nicholas lunged at the girl's face and was only prevented from removing that face from the child's skull by MA throwing her arm up between the dog's jaws and the girl's face. The foster was nevertheless allowed to take this dog home with her. Only after this attempted mauling in MA's personal presence, did MA and manager decide this dog should be euthanized. The foster did this on Sep 28, 2015. Concerned about live release rates, the shelter lists this euthanization as "died in foster" care.
Adoption listing June 3, 2015
Looking for a ray of sunshine? Well look no further than Rainbow. Her smile says it all and you won’t be disappointed. She loves her humans so if you are up to cuddles, walks, or playing, she will be overjoyed. Rainbow is a young dog who could use some training. Signing her up for an obedience class would be a great way to learn new things and develop a bond. Rainbow is kid friendly, dog-social, and fine with a dog-savvy cat. Come meet the happiest girl on earth today! I WILL BE AT THE SONOMA COUNTY FAIR ON FRIDAY AUGUST 7TH, COME SEE THERE! (IF I DON’T GET ADOPTED ON THE 7TH, I WILL BE THERE ON AUGUST 8TH AS WELL.)
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Pit bull mix - Age 2-years old, 4 months - Female - 60 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 6 months
Summary: Intake as stray March 9, 2015. Evaluated by MA as friendly, okay with dogs and cats, kids teens and older. Adopted March 24, 2015, returned the next day because other family members didn't want a pit bull in the home. Adopted April 4, 2015, returned one month later because she was biting at the adopter's son. MA calls adopter, they agree it's just "mouthy," not aggression. Still advertised as "kid friendly." Staff reports persistent, repeated kennel aggression, including towards a member of the public. Manager is informed of this July 18, 2015. MA responds by saying this pit bull is friendly to herself, so it must be okay. Adopted July 28, 2015, returned the same day because of biting at an adult family friend. Adopted Aug 13, 2015, bit someone in a park on Aug 15 (adopter blames the victim for having thin skin that bruises easily), then on Aug 19, Rainbow tried to kill the family cat -- returned to shelter Aug 20, 2015. It is noted in a Sep 1, 2015 memo that Petaluma Pet Pals and The Tiny Pit Bull wanted to take this dog, but Rainbow was apparently euthanized on Sep 10, 2015.
(Previously named "Butkus") Adoption Listing Sep 14, 2015
Are you looking for Mr. Right? Hi, I am Amos and I am senior boy without a home. I want someone who will love me forever and will accept me for me. I want to do fun activities and I love going for walks. I love other dogs, and I am kid friendly but no kitties in my home, please. I am all around perfect. I would love to go to a training class to learn new things and create a strong bond with you. I am waiting to create an amazingly happy life together and a promising future with my new family. Come check me out today.
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German shepherd-chow mix - Age about 10-year olds - Male - 102 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 4 months
Summary: Intake July 15, 2015 as stray. Owner found, signs him over to shelter. (The dog was initially adopted out by the Nevada Humane Society in 2008. Its previous owner said the dog had a history of being a "runner and escaped often, digging out of their large fenced yard." The dog escaped 5-years ago and the previous owners were never able to find him again.) Evaluated by MA Aug 3, 2015 as friendly, mild interest in cats, okay with other dogs and kids age ten and up. Adopted Aug 15, 2015, returned Aug 18 due to severe cat aggression, not re-directable. MA re-evaluates, still finds that Amos is perfectly okay with a "dog-savvy cat" -- but advertised as "no kitties in my home." Adopted again Oct 9, 2015. Returned Nov 3, 2015 with report that he is obsessed with finding and killing cats. Constantly trying to escape to hunt for cats. Climbed a six-foot fence to go on a killing spree with adopter's in-laws' cats (killed several). Constantly tried to get at adopters' rabbits, chased chickens, stalked their cats. Door dashing to go on a cat hunt. Over a week later, management agrees to euthanize only after this return because of the cat-killing spree. Dog euthanized on Nov 13, 2015.
Part II: Worst Cases Nevertheless Adopted or Transferred (5)
Adoption listing July 19, 2014
Hi my first name is Heschel. Fun is my middle name and I am ready for lots of fun with you in my new home! I am a great size at 53 pounds and a great age at a year and a half. I love other dogs and would probably do okay with cats. I love new challenges. I like to play and show you all the tricks that I can do. I am attentive at obedience requests, I sit, stay, wait, and lie down. I know the agility course and I’m a great car buddy. I like to play soccer and I can entertain myself with toys. I am comfortable being in a crate, which will help me be successful with my housetraining needs, too. I need a special person to rescue me from shelter life and share lots of time with me. Are you my special someone?
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Pit bull - Age 2-years old and 9-months - Male - 53 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 9 months
Summary: Intake as stray July 3, 2014. Evaluated July 11, 2014 as friendly, lunges around on leash and bites it, okay with dogs and cats. July 30, 2014 official bite report is added to file -- it is assumed the manager would have seen this. Returned by first adopter within two weeks for hurting his chihuahua ("too rough play"), then returned several times by fosters. Many notes about over-arousal, jumping up and biting at staff (hands, clothes and HAIR! -- which means he's jumping up to head level and practicing the typical pit bull skull/scalp degloving move), arousal only intensifies if the dog is corrected. Manager notified of staff member's concerns Jan 16, 2015. On Feb 6, 2015 another memo (not official report) of a second bite incident with another volunteer. Adopted again as dog and cat friendly and "lots of fun" on April 2, 2015. On Dec 16, 2015 the dog's adopter reports he wants to rehome the dog because it's bitten two people. No notes after this.
Adoption listing Feb 25, 2015
Hello, my name is Jolene. I am a spunky two year old girl who absolutely loves people! I am filled with glee when I go on walks, I already know "sit." and I am working on basic manners. I am extremely treat-motivated, which helps with training. I have a show-stopping face with a happy, energetic tail, and I will win you over with my positive attitude. I am dog-friendly and I can live with kids and a dog-savvy cat. I am ready for a family who has tons of love to share. Come check me out at the shelter today.
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Pit bull - Age 2-years old, 5 months - Female - 70 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 8 months
Summary: Intake as stray Feb 3, 2015. Showed serious aggressive flanking behavior towards ACO while being caught Feb 2, 2015. It took four ACOs to catch and restrain her the next day. Evaluated by MA as friendly, quiet, okay with dogs, cats and kids teens and older. Serious over-arousal -- hung self in kennel on collar; later tore her own cruciate ligament with her kennel jumping. Manager knows about this. Many notes of serious kennel aggression, over-arousal, severe threat behavior. Incident with circle of volunteers on floor with MA and Jolene, May 21, 2015. Staff member emails manager about it. MA continues to deny the dog is dangerous, lodges objection to staffer's comments. More notes about aggressive behavior. During walk-through with OSHA on Aug 28, 2015, dog seen "standing in the guillotine doorway curling her lips and growling," again emailed manager about aggressive behavior. On Sep 26, a memo that staffer is shocked Jolene is still on adoption floor. Advertised as child, dog and cat friendly, adopted on Oct 2, 2015.
Adoption listing April 17, 2015
I am looking for a new friend to share their life with me so we can make some new memories. My name is Sparky and I am looking for you. I have been described as: cute, fun, funny, beautiful, adorable, caring and loveable. I love outdoor activities, people and other dogs. I am a handsome boy who is a very mellow three year old. I am a simple boy. No frills. No drama. Low maintenance. I know my basic manners sit, stay and wait at doors. Signing me up for a training class would help us learn new things together. Come on down and meet me today. Ask for Sparky!
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Labrador-doberman mix - Age 3-years old - Male - 70lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 2 months
Intake March 5, 2015 as owner surrender. The owner reports okay with dogs and 13-year old son, not okay with cats; barks and is over-aroused/protective around strangers; destructive and escape behavior when left alone; never bitten anyone. Evaluated March 9 as quiet and friendly, enjoys handling, okay with cats (!) and dogs, okay with kids depending on introduction (big red flag here -- what child never has unexpected friends over?). On March 10, the veterinarian reports having to muzzle this dog to do the exam. On March 27, the first staff report is filed that the dog is showing serious aggression when his kennel is approached -- charging, barking, baring teeth. Two weeks later, on April 13, a double bite report is filed: unprovoked attack on two people in just minutes, attacks caught on video, after which this dog continued to growl and lunge at everyone in the area. This memo and report were followed-up the next day by an email to MA and phone contact with her. On April 17, this dog was advertised as "caring and loveable." The ACO who the dog tried to attack on April 13 objects to this and warns that he will be filing a hazard report. MA responds by saying she did a re-test (April 14) and that no matter what she did, she couldn't get this dog to show snapping or biting behavior. Her conclusion: He's nice to me, so everyone else must be making it up. The file shows that not all staff are comfortable with this. On April 25, a staff member files a memo confirming the ACO's account of the serial attack. Two days later, management looks at the video and decides to resort to gaslighting -- management implies that it's the ACO's own fault for startling the dog, and says the behavior might have been "just jumping up." The bitten, highly experienced ACO feels he has to repeat his first-hand account, files a memo on April 28 repeating that this was an ATTACK and the only thing that stopped a disaster was that the dog was leashed and the volunteer handler managed to hold onto the leash. By May 12, a full month after the incident, MA recruits the intern (second target of the serial attack) to tell her story. This volunteer reports that the attack was silent and without warning, but that she didn't really see what happened...and she hopes that Sparky gets adopted. On May 13, Petaluma Pet Rescue took Sparky. Coming soon to your neighborhood.
NOTE: It seems strange that an experienced ACO would need witness affirmation when he says a dog bit him. It seems even stranger that MA, who did not see the incident, actively recruits others -- including management (Brian Whipple) and a mere volunteer -- to contradict the experienced ACO. This is work floor bullying. Unfortunately, it's now common practice. ACOs and shelter staff who have been working for years, even decades, in public service at a shelter become work floor "deviants" when the new "live release above all" policy is introduced. They find themselves confronted by managers who implicitly put live release above public safety. They suddenly have to work with self-described "behavior experts" who are in fact nothing more than self-educated or club-educated dog trainers. They are often treated as inferior to these dog trainers, as well as to any untrained volunteer who walks in and happens to please the dog trainer. If they express concern about public safety, these ACOs are ganged-up on and gaslighted by "live release" believers, much as this one was. They can be threatened with loss of their jobs.
When dissident staff members refer to a "climate of fear," it's not only dangerous dogs they mean, but also this now rampant work floor bullying and psychological abuse.
(Previously named "Ruckus" previous to that "Pete") Adoption listing April 29, 2015
Looking for an exercise buddy? Well I am your man. I’m in search of someone who is up to go on adventures with me. I walk well on a leash and I’m currently learning some basic manners. I love to learn new things and I want to be part of your life. I am a fun, dog-social, and very loving boy. If you think we might be a good match, I’d like to hear from you…ask for Rufus. I am Western Farm Center’s Dog of the Week! With my adoption you will receive a voucher good for a free leash and collar, a bag of premium dog food, and a bag of premium treats. I am available for $25 plus dog license if applicable.
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Pit bull-mix - Age 2-years old, 10 months - 64 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 1 year
Summary: Intake Aug 21, 2014 as stray. Evaluated as friendly, okay with dogs if properly introduced, no cats. Adopted Sep 19, 2014. Returned March 4, 2015 by this adopter due to aggression problems -- attacked their small dog, attacked dogs at a park, growled at their 15-year old daughter, growled at the wife, does fine with the other pit bull in the home. MA re-evaluates Rufus on March 15, 2015, still finds him friendly, safe with other dogs ("especially calm, submissive females"), no cats, okay with kids 15-years and older. March 23, MA calls previous owner who states the growling at his wife might have caused her to have a "flash back" from a previous bite by a different dog (again sanitizing reasons for the owner surrender). Several reports of persistent, serious kennel aggression follow (jumping, charging, biting at gate and hands). Manager informed July 18, 2015. Nevertheless chosen as ideal demo dog for volunteer training course that included many kids under 18. Adopted as "fun, dog-social, and very loving boy" on Aug 22, 2015.
(Previously named "Rebel" previous to that "Quip") Adoption listing May 28, 2015
Rebel without a cause…well I am more Rebel without a home! I am a ten month old boy who is learning a lot at the shelter. I’m the sweetest, smartest and yes, the most handsome boy you’ll ever find. I know how to sit and wait at doors and I’m working on shake. I am highly treat-motivated so that makes teaching me new things a blast. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE toys, squeaky or any other toys! I can entertain myself all day long with those fun things, but I would love a forever companion to take me to training classes and on daily walks. I like other dogs and would do best with kids who are older though I’m nice to young kids too. I would love an active home to help me work off my puppy energy, and it would be best if there were no kitties in the home – too much fun to chase! If you are looking for a lots of fun, entertainment, and affection, then look no further than me.
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Pit bull - Age about 2-years old - Male - 58 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 5 months
Summary: Intake as owner surrender March 13, 2015, was an outside dog. Evaluated by MA as friendly, okay with dogs and teenagers, no cats. Nevertheless advertised as okay with younger children. Adopted June 19, 2015 returned June 25, 2015 due to "high energy," unpredictable food and location guarding, aggressive towards 8 year-old son, growled, bared teeth, then bit adopter when she tried to get him off the couch. Manager informed July 1, 2015, again July 13. Two fosters (adults) see high energy (ie, over-arousal), mouthiness, but no food or location guarding. Returned to shelter July 11, 2015. Staff reports extreme aggression towards them and other dogs. Re-evaluated by MA July 22, 2015 still found friendly, okay with dogs, older children, no cats. On the same day as the re-evaluation, MA calls the adopter who reported biting behavior and persuades person to withdraw that statement, a statement that two staff members witnessed on June 25, 2015. Sent to Petaluma Pet Pals rescue on Aug 5, 2015.
Adoption listing Oct 23, 2014
Hi, I’m Annie, I’m a friendly girl who needs training and a routine of daily activities. I did live with dogs in my past, but can be a little pushy while playing, and may need management when playing with other dogs. No kitties for me. Annie should go to a household with children ages teens and up since I do tend to guard my food.
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Pit bull-mix - Age 3-years old - Female - 63 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 6 months
Summary: Intake Aug 18, 2014 as confiscation. Kept with three other pit bulls in back yard by 17-year old son of resident. First kennel evaluation describes approach to gate with serious predatory threat behavior. Re-evaluation Sep 27, 2014 finds her friendly in kennel, nervous with handling, serious food guarding, serious predatory aggression towards cat, pulls hard on leash and lunges around, friendly to other dogs. Re-test Oct 5, 2014 shows some reduction in food guarding. Oct 9, 2014 again serious food guarding in kennel. Advertised Oct 23 as friendly, but "pushy" with other dogs, okay only with children teens and older due to food guarding, no cats. Oct 25 a staffer reports aloofness then sudden over-arousal and jumping at people when Annie was out "on a visit." When this staff member tried to leash and calm Annie, Annie jumped up and bit staffer's arm, no broken skin but deep bruising. On Dec 5, 2014, staffer reports success in training not jumping, sees no mouthiness, does see body-crashing when playing (calls this dangerous for children). Jan 16, 2015, manager is informed by email that this dog seems dangerous. Two weeks later, MA states: "When I went into her kennel she rolled over for belly rubs."
This dog was adopted Feb 28, 2015 by people who own a tea cup chihuahua. Staffer notes that adopter was warned Annie could hurt the chihuahua with her rough play -- but no one bothered to protect the chihuahua by telling these people they couldn't have this particular pit bull.
This is a 63 lb dog that has numerous serious aggression issues (food guarding, intense cat predation, jumping and biting at people), deficient impulse control, and deficient bite inhibition, a dog that even the vet found a bit scary, and that will be hard to control on a leash as she pulls and lunges. This is a good example of live release rate trumping public safety.
(Previously named "Lorelei") Adoption listing May 13, 2015
Comical, curious Lu Lu. If you’re searching for a friend to make you laugh, look no further. Run, splash, catch, leap…life is one big party for her. Shh, don’t tell her she’s grown up, she’s still a bouncy puppy at heart. She wags her tail so hard her head wobbles and her feet dance, she is that happy to meet you. She adores older children and might enjoy the company of another large dog. No cats for this girl. She needs an experienced home that will continue her training to put her playful, inquisitive nature to good use. Three year old Lu Lu is good on a leash with a Sensation harness and seems housebroken. Looking for a companion for summer adventures? Lu Lu is your girl. Come meet her and prepare to be charmed!
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Pit bull - Age 4-years old - Female - 50 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 7 months
Summary: Intake Dec 19, 2014 as stray. Evaluated Dec 28, 2014 as friendly, okay with dogs, no cats (no mention of children). Reported Jan 16, 2015 to manager for aggressive behavior (growling, barking, biting at approach to kennel). Feb 5, 2015, MA says the dog was calm when she approached the kennel. MA evaluates this dog again on March 22, 2015, finds her friendly, jumpy in kennel, okay with kids 12 and up, okay with dogs, no cats. June 1, 2015, veterinarian reports high arousal, only partial exam possible. June 23, 2015, foster reports sudden over-arousal, leash biting, persistent mouthing at everything the dog could reach. MA calls this "attention seeking behavior, need to run," recommend adoption only where there's a large fenced yard. July 4, 2015, serious fence-fighting behavior reported. "Gold locks" to be put on kennel (which limits volunteers). Two weeks without notes, then manager Whipple okays euthanasia on July 18, 2015. On July 22, 2015 staff member added a July 18, memo. Reports the dog is nervous, high arousal, fence-fighting, and that director was informed again by email on this date.
Adoption listing Aug 25, 2015
Marshmallow is sugar-based; he is all fluff and no fillers. Mashmallow LOVES to be with his people. He loves going for walks, which is a good thing, because he needs a little more exercise in his life (he could lose a few pounds, but who couldn’t?) He is sweet as can be, has good manners, and is eager to learn. Marshmallow is dog-social and kid friendly and he could live with a dog-savvy cat. Want to add a little extra sweetness to your life? Come meet this big hunk today. Marshmallow is available for $25 plus dog license if applicable.
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Pit bull - Age 2-years old and 11 months - Male - 100 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time 3 months
Summary: Intake July 11, 2015 as stray. First kennel assessment on July 16, 2015 reports approach gate with threat behavior. Same behavior again July 24 and Aug 1, 2015. On Aug 11, staffer reports growling, raised hackles, when checking water, cleaning kennel. MA evaluates dog on Aug 14, 2015, finds him outgoing, friendly, fails food guarding test on first try so MA keeps it up until he passes, found okay with cats, dogs and kids. Advertised as "kid friendly." On Sep 3, 2015, a staff member walks past his kennel with her 2-year old daughter. When the child was about one foot from the dog, the dog fixated and stared at her, stiff body, barking. The staff member states in a memo, "I certainly feel that advertising him as "kid friendly" could be dangerous." About a week later, manager Brian Whipple, James Dress and dog trainer MA respond to this report by raising the "kid friendly" age to ten and up. This pit bull was adopted on Oct 16, 2015.
NOTE: When a dog fixes his stare, stiffens his body, begins to growl or bark, that is a serious indication of intent to attack. Let's hope Marshmallow went to a neighborhood where no one has a toddler-age child. Let's also hope no child ever tries to take something edible from this dog. A professional dog trainer can fairly easily train a dog not to guard food, but this does not mean the dog has immediately generalized this to all other adults or to children.
Adoption listing June 13, 2016
Sissy's family had to move and could not take her with them. She lived her whole life outside with little or no exposure or socialization to the world around her, so while she's been with us she's learning a lot & has come far! Sissy now knows how to walk nicely on a leash, how to sit, wait, lay down & shake on cue! She is so loving, gentle and sweet! Sissy likes other dogs, seems a little too interested in cats to live with one and should have a home with children teen & older. Sissy is available for $25 plus dog license if applicable.
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Catahoula-pit bull mix - Age 4-years old - Female - Weight unknown
Total shelter intake/foster time 4 months
Intake as owner surrender February 18, 2016. Evaluated by MA Feb 24 as okay with teens and older, friendly with dogs but no cats. Play style as "bouncy." Memos from staff members about Sissy's aggressive behavior begin March 18, "alarm barking" and charging kennel door, hackles up, eyes dilated and "tail straight up." On March 28, MA moved Sissy to a kennel with less traffic and stimulation. On Apr 1, a staffer notes the alarm barking has changed to "wanting to attack me." A May 4 memo states, "Despite numerous memos to management regarding Sissy's aggressive behavior she remains available for adoption." By June 13, there were 16 memos documenting the dog's aggressive behavior. On June 15, staffer interacts with person promoting the dog for adoption on Facebook and reminds person, "I've seen the posts on Facebook and it never talks about the aggressive behavior [person] just witnessed." By June 22, there are 18 memos detailing the dog's aggressive behavior and five memos indicating extreme fear reactions at other (unpredictable) moments, leading up to a June 22 memo stating, "Unclear as to why this dog would be desirable. Unclear as to why this dog is an 'adoptable' animal." The dog is adopted June 30 under the circumstances of being "baby sat" while its "new owners are on vacation."
Given this dog's history (isolated in someone's yard from her puppy days) and the combination of both extreme fear and extreme aggression, this case is a good example of disregarding both public safety and the well-being of the dog. Dogs with extreme fear issues have to be placed carefully if their life isn't to become one of extended misery, since few people really know how to help a dog with extreme socialization and fear issues. A dog with fear and extreme aggression issues is not only at risk as far as its well-being goes -- it's also dangerous to keep, the more so if it's a large dog. Sissy just might end up not hurting anyone, but her chances of also being happy in life haven't been sufficiently guarded.
(Previously named "Gizmo") Adoption listing by Aug 2016
Arnie is certainly one very special boy. When he first arrived at the shelter in late November, Arnie was not sure about his surroundings; he was experiencing kennel stress and some leash frustration. With a lot of work, a lot of love and a lot of kindness, Arnie has come so far! Today, he walks well on a leash and knows his basic cues like sit, lay down and wait at the door or gate. Arnie would make a truly wonderful companion. Arnie loves playgroups with other dogs and have we mentioned how much he enjoys rides in the car? Arnie joins us on our group pack walks and is the rock star of our group!
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Pit bull - Age 2-years old - Male - 57 lbs
Total shelter intake/foster time Nov 25, 2015 to present (10 months so far)
Summary: Intake Nov 25, 2015 as stray. Evaluated Dec 9, 2015 as friendly, predatory towards cats, okay with dogs, "bouncy popping" play style (ie, over-aroused), children teens and older. Many reports of escalating leash-aggression, kennel aggression, attempts to bite staff the dog knows well. March 17, 2016, supervising ACO Kevin Davis emails staffer (cc Whipple) that he received emails about staffer's concerns, passed them on up the chain of command, now washes his hands of all responsibility. No response from Whipple. Extensive memos (over a dozen) about how difficult the training is going -- dog is chronically over-aroused and biting at the leash (escalating to biting human arm if corrected). In the end, Solliquin is prescribed. There are no behavioral memos after June 19, 2016 and no vet notes after July 22, 2016 when a Solliquin refill was requested.3
NOTE: On August 7, 2016 Arnie was one of the "Featured Adoptable Dogs" on the Sonoma County Animal Services website: "Arnie was laying in the warm sunshine and when we approached his tail just naturally began to wag...he couldn't even see us and his tail was wagging like that...We said his name and this very sweet boy lifted his head up to greet us and our hearts nearly exploded ~ those eyes, those ears, that sweet smile! ..."
Call-To-Action: Request the Uncensored Behavioral and Medical Files Prior to Adopting a Dog from Any Shelter
In the case of Sonoma County, there is no policy requiring the disclosure to the adopter of previous concerns. However, any potential adopter can ask. Regardless of what policy is in place, you have the right to request all behavior memos, medical memos and bite records for a dog prior to adoption. We strongly encourage the public to do so. What runs rampant in the Sonoma files is the "diminishing" of previous aggression and bites; bites often turn into "just mouthiness."
If for some reason the shelter hesitates at your request, or worse, refuses it, do not walk out of the facility, RUN. There is nothing more telling than deliberately withholding a dog's behavior and medical history from a potential adopter. Use the summaries written by Semyonova to help you understand shelter terminology like "bouncy." Download one of the actual case files so that you can review first hand. Always heed the "length of time" at the shelter and number of returns too.
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 aggression4
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)
It is critically important to understand that "disclosure" is not the same as "full disclosure." In order to gain full disclosure, you need to see the complete case file. While the intentions of many adoption facilitators are good, and their work certainly is difficult, the holy grail of "live release rate" and charged emotions often defeats sensibilities. Your family or pet could end up paying the cost. Requesting these records will be much easier than "returning" a shelter dog due to aggression.
One of the excruciating parts in reviewing the 34 files is when owners, adopters or fosters felt guilty returning or relinquishing the dog to the shelter. Some felt guilty enough to restate their surrendering statement, when elbowed to, in order to diminish or eliminate the aggressive acts (he just "wasn't the right fit," stated one). This belittling often leaves the next adopter with a heartache, or worse, a mauled or killed family or neighborhood pet or a serious dog bite injury to a person.
1During our examination of these 34 case files, the leadership at Sonoma County Animal Services included the following: John Skeel, Director of Sonoma County Animal Services; Brian Whipple, Operations Manger at Sonoma County Animal Services; James Dress, Community Engagement Manager at Sonoma County Animal Services; Kevin Davis, Supervising Field Officer at Sonoma County Animal Services; Debbie Christian, Volunteer Coordinator at Sonoma County Animal Services; and the contracting behavior consultant, Megan Alexander. 2A dog-savvy cat is a cat that is unafraid of dogs. Quite likely now, after the last attack, the Sonoma County animal shelter's "retired" temperament testing cat, named Kuma, is not so "dog-savvy." 3Sonoma County fulfilled our FOIA request on August 3, 2016. 4Preferably a trainer who is not a fan of any breed in particular. The idea is to eliminate bias.