A Flawed Theory and Problematic Bias
Werner Vogt, 85, was killed by a pack of dogs in southwestern Missouri in late 2015.
UPDATE 01/18/18: The owners of a pack of dogs that killed an elderly man have been charged with felony second-degree manslaughter. The dogs viciously attacked 85-year old Werner Vogt on November 12, 2015 as he rode his bicycle in a rural area southeast of Rogersville. Vogt died of his injuries a few weeks later. For months, local authorities mistakenly believed he was attacked by a wild animal, specifically, a wild cat, even though Vogt told them he was attacked by three dogs.
The persistent "wild animal" theory held by the Christian County sheriff delayed obtaining DNA from the suspected dogs -- three boxers who were running loose when the attack occurred -- for six months. By that time, the owner of the dogs, Joseph Brink, had given two of his boxers away. Deputies managed to hunt down both dogs and obtain DNA samples. The results showed a "perfect match" for one of the boxers; the other three could not be ruled out as being involved.
In October 2017, a Christian County grand jury indicted Joseph Brink and his wife, Lindsay Brink, on second-degree manslaughter. "Joseph and Lindsay Brink were aware of the aggressive disposition of the dogs and failed to maintain adequate control of the dogs by allowing them to run at large," the indictment states. In August 2017, the Brinks agreed to a $300,000 settlement after Vogt's son, Vernon Vogt, filed a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against the Rogersville couple.
03/14/17: Mauling Death Finally Solved
Christian County, MO - On November 12, 2015 an elderly man was riding his bicycle in the Anchor Hill Ranch subdivision, a rural area southeast of Rogersville in Christian County, when he was viciously attacked by a pack of dogs. Werner Vogt, 85-years old, died of his severe injuries while hospitalized on December 4. At that time, local authorities mistakenly believed he was attacked by a wild animal, specifically, a wild cat, even though Vogt told them he was attacked by three dogs.
On March 12, 2017 the Springfield News-Leader published two articles detailing parts of the investigation into Vogt's mauling death after filing a Sunshine Law request in February seeking the sheriff's investigative report. The News-Leader articles, in part, help explain the persistent "wild animal" theory held by local authorities, despite the fact that canines kill an American about every 11 days in the U.S., a rate about 14 times more frequently than bears and cougars combined.
"I could speculate that it could be a bear or a mountain lion … Like I said, I have a hard time believing it was dogs." - Sheriff Brad Cole, November 13, 2015
From the get-go, Sheriff Cole declined to believe the attackers were dogs. No DNA samples from dogs were taken until months after the attack. When they were finally collected -- primarily in May 2016 -- and the results became known, they matched a group of boxers owned by Joseph Brink who lives near the attack site. A Christian County sheriff's deputy interviewed Brink on the day of the attack. Brink told the deputy that three of his boxers were loose at the time of the attack.
No DNA samples were taken from Brink's dogs at that time. By the time they are, six months later, Brink had gotten rid of two of his boxers. The moral of this story is that local officials "lucked out royally" by locating the two boxers that Brink had given away. One of which had a "perfect match" to the saliva found on Vogt's clothing. The other moral is the unwillingness for local officials, at least initially, to believe that canines can and do inflict massive, gaping and horrific injuries.
Fatal dog attacks are generally rare, however in some U.S. counties they are not rare and occur year-after-year like clockwork. The situation of a rural county experiencing a fatal dog attack for the first time is a difficult one -- there is a lack of experience and protocol. However, after the death of Vogt, one sees a "persistent" belief by authorities that a wild animal was to blame, because a dog simply could not be. Therefore hours and hours of precious investigation time was wasted.
Our email correspondence with Sheriff Bob Cole shows that nearly three months after the attack, he still believed a wild cat was the culprit.
Though the News-Leader paints a more rose-colored version of the investigation, the fact is a deputy examined the dogs that killed Vogt on the day of the attack, but failed to gather DNA at that time. Only months later -- likely after a forensics lab rejected the "wild animal" theory -- did they fully consider that dogs could be the culprit.1 We are thrilled that their investigation eventually prevailed. We hope other jurisdictions do not make this same erroneous presumption.
21st Century America
Despite the rarity of fatal dog attacks, numerous medical studies and images of horrific dog attack injuries can be found online. On Sunday, after a single search for "characteristics of fatal pack attacks," we located a 2012 study that shows how law enforcement can make "erroneous conclusions about the source of the bites." The study examines how local authorities mistook a dog pack attack for a cougar attack: An unusual case of predation: dog pack or cougar attack?2
Unless characteristics of a wild animal attack are evident at the scene -- and apparently there were not in this case, which is why the Missouri Department of Conservation rejected analyzing the DNA until canines were ruled out -- the default assumption for investigators must be dogs. This is especially true when the victim is telling you dogs attacked him. A pack of dogs can rip out an entire human chest cavity and more. Pack attack predation is real, personal biases are flawed.
Below we examine the timeline after the November 12 attack by interspersing information published just after the attack and new information provided by the News-Leader.
Was it a Cougar or a Canine Pack Attack?
11/12/2015 Just after the attack, Vogt is conscious briefly and tells officials and family members that he was attacked by dogs while lying critically injured on the side of Northwoods Road.
11/13/2015 As early as November 13, Sheriff Brad Cole states that evidence is being examined in a lab. "We’ve taken, collected some of his clothing that he had on, which we are positive does have some kind of animal DNA on it and one with saliva that I’m sure when it gets to the lab, actually it’s already at the lab…" The Missouri Department of Conservation was the party initially assigned to analyze the DNA. This department only deals with wildlife, not domesticated dogs.
11/17/2015: Vogt regains consciousness after multiple surgeries and states that he was attacked by a pack of dogs. The sheriff's department states at this time they were taking Vogt's words seriously. "Medical personnel who were talking to our deputy at the time stated they didn't believe it was a dog … But at this point we are taking what this gentleman has told us as what happened, that it was a pack of dogs," - Lt. Jeff Lofton of the Christian County Sheriff's Department.
11/17/2015: The Missouri Department of Conservation sent the samples back to the sheriff's office asking that it first be cleared of being dog-related, Lt. Jeff Lofton explains. The sheriff's office then looked to the Fish and Wildlife Service, hoping they would test the samples. Meanwhile, Jake Patterson, Vogt's grandson, visits him in the hospital and tells KY3.com, "He's kinda rough on his eyesight, but he's not stupid. It wasn't a bear, it wasn't a mountain lion, it was three dogs."3
12/08/15: The News-Leader reports that Vogt died a few days earlier. His daughter-in-law Noel Vogt states, he "died three times that day" while being treated for his injuries. Sheriff Cole states that a "forensic review" of photographs of Vogt's numerous injuries is being conducted by a wildlife expert in Florida. "His injuries were pretty horrific. I've worked many dog bites in the last 23 years but I've not seen anything like this." Sheriff Cole was previously the county coroner as well.
12/08/15: The Missouri Department of Conservation softens its position, "If we've got some indication it was wildlife related, possibly we could do a DNA test." - Larry Yamnitz, MDC protection division chief. So, nearly one month after the vicious attack, there is no indication -- no evidence presented -- that a wild animal was involved. By the next day, December 9, the title of a local news article is, "Investigators: Mystery animal kills 85-year-old cyclist in Missouri."
12/13/15: In an interview with KY3.com, Vogt's family begs dog owners in the community to come forward. "If you suspect your dog is violent, then you need to come forward." -- Noel Vogt. At this time, one full one month after the attack, Sheriff Cole states, "We're actively seeking these dogs out." He also brushes off the dogs belonging to Brink, "There's been a couple of calls of concern for a couple dogs that belong to a resident in that area, but short of that, nothing else."4
12/15/15: Shawn Miles tells KSPR that while he and his son were bicycling in Anchor Hill Ranch close to where Vogt was attacked, they were chased by three dogs. "When I seen it on TV, I knew it. You put two and two together and you figure it out pretty quick,” Miles said. Miles fired at the three dogs with his 9 mm and the dogs left them alone. No description of the three dogs that chased Miles and his son (coloring, height or otherwise) were given in the KSPR article.5
01/20/16: DogsBite.org writes to Sheriff Brad Cole to see if any determination had been made by the expert in Florida about the type of animal that attacked Vogt. At this point, it has been over 5 weeks since the photographic information -- images of Vogt's severe injuries -- had been sent to a wildlife expert to conduct a "forensic review." Sheriff Cole responds to our email, "We are still awaiting the lab results from the DNA samples that were submitted to the University of Florida."
02/05/16: DogsBite.org writes to the sheriff's office again while preparing our annual U.S. dog bite fatality statistics. At this stage, no release date had been set -- we were awaiting confirmation that dogs were the culprits. Up until this point, we had included Vogt, because fatal attacks by bears and cougars are so rare. Sheriff Cole replies to our email that the attacker was "some type of large cat." And that, "Further testing is being completed to determine the species of cat."
Nearly 3 months after the attack, the sheriff's office was not in anyway operating on the assumption that dogs were involved in Vogt's death.
UNDATED: Though no date is provided in the News-Leader March 2017 report, it states that at some point during the investigation, Sgt. Michael Elliott followed up on a tip about a Great Pyrenees that had attacked and bitten a woman's daughter while she and another girl were riding their bikes. "Elliott tracked down the Great Pyrenees dogs and took DNA saliva samples from each," states the News-Leader. Elliott also collected DNA samples from the Vogt family dog.
05/2016: In May 2016, Elliott followed up on Bernie's initial report of meeting with Joseph Brink on the day of the attack. He asked permission to take DNA samples of his four boxers. This is when Elliott learns that Brink gave two of his dogs away after the attack. Brink tells Elliott, as he had Bernie, that three of his dogs were running loose at the time of the attack. Brink tells him, "he got rid of Chubs and Otto" after the attack, likely believing they were responsible, Elliott wrote.
06/2016: In June 2016, samples of all of DNA collected were shipped to a forensic lab in Florida. At some point later (date not stated in News-Leader article), Forensic DNA analyst Ginger Clark found a "perfect match" for Otto. Based on her DNA findings, Brink's three other boxers could not be ruled out as being involved. When contacted by the News-Leader on March 3, Clark said none of the other DNA samples from other dogs tested matched the saliva found on Vogt's clothing.
03/12/17: Nine months later, the News-Leader releases two articles detailing aspects of the Christian County Sheriff's Office investigation after filing a Sunshine Law request in mid-February seeking the sheriff's investigative report. The News-Leader report, in part, helps explain the persistent "wild animal" theory, despite the fact that canines kill an American about every 11 days in the U.S., a rate about 14 times more frequently than bears and mountain lions combined.
Bubba (formerly named Otto) -- whose DNA was a "perfect match" -- now lives at a home in rural Halfway with an unfenced yard. The new owner, Olen Asby, allows Bubba to run unleashed outside his home with the family's large outdoor dog. This is a recipe for another major disaster.
2We did review the whole study (which is behind a paywall). If you would like a copy, please just email us. We guarantee you that when you see the injury photographs in this study, you will presume a wild animal inflicted these horrific injuries. Herein lies the problematic bias and a lack of understanding dog pack attack predation.
3This article is no longer online. Drew Douglas, "Investigation into animal attack continues," KY3.com, November 18, 2015 (www.ky3.com)
4This article is no longer online. Drew Douglas, "Family seeks closure after animal attack kills 85-year-old," KY3.com, December 13, 2015 (www.ky3.com)
5This article is no longer online. Jonathan Wahl, "Christian County man chased by dogs thinks it might be connected to November animal attack," KSPR.com, December 15, 2015 (www.kspr.com)
08/23/16: 2016 Dog Bite Fatality: Elderly Man Killed by Dogs in Jacksonville, Florida
03/25/16: 2016 Dog Bite Fatality: Elderly Woman Dies After Pack Attack In Thurston County
07/24/15: 2015 Dog Bite Fatality: Pack of Dogs Kill Woman in Wagoner County, Oklahoma
Dog Pack Attack: Hunting Humans, by Avis, Simon P. M.D. F.R.C.P.C, The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, Volume 20(3), September 1999, pp 243-246.
Attacks by Packs of Dogs Involving Predation on Human Beings, by Borchelt PL, Lockwood R, Beck AM, and Voith VL, Public Health Reports, 98:57-66, 1983.