Friday, February 1, 2013

Avoiding the identification of dogs. What could go wrong?

This post has been on my mind for a very long time, it is very political, and it is hard for me to write about because it touches my heart.  This is about the short life and tragic death of Ayen Chol.  She lived and died half a world away but the details of her mauling death are repeated with every mauling death.  This case is well documented because the citizens of Australia were justifiably horrified.  The story of Ayen's death includes laws broken, lies told, and laws rewritten.

Ayen Chol

Ayen was four years old, a child of immigrants from South Sudan.  Ayen lived with her mother, siblings, and other family members in a neat brick home in a clean and pleasant neighborhood in Melbourne Australia. In a very few words the  Canberra Times tells the story.
"Mrs Anchito said her cousin, who owned the house, was walking a family friend out of the front of the home when they were confronted by the dog, which attacked them.
They turned to run inside and the dog followed them, turning on the children.
As Mrs Anchito tried to pull the dog off the five-year-old girl who was being attacked, it turned on Ayen, who was clinging to her mother's leg.
Ayen suffered massive injuries and could not be revived.
Daniel Atem, a family spoksman,  said the dog had torn Ayen from her mother's leg.
"It [the dog] pulled the child from the mum ... the daughter died, the dog left the child and then the owner of the dog came after that and took the dog out," Mr Atem said."

Yes, it was reported that Lazor Josevski was present but he made no attempt to assist the child or her mother.  He simply called his dog's name and took his dog home.

The Herald Sun has more details.   
She was very scared and she was screaming," Ms Ancaito said in a statement tendered at the inquest.The dog then grabbed Ayen by the face and neck and pulled her away from her mother."When the dog first grabbed my daughter I heard her scream once and I never heard her scream again," Ms Ancaito said.The dog shook Ayen from side to side and dragged her backwards into the kitchen.Ms Ancaito hit the dog and tried to pull it away, but it would not let go of Ayen."With all the blood and the injuries I knew my daughter was dead," she said."

Death of Ayen Chol after being mauled by a neighbours dog....... Ayen Chol's mother Jacklin Ancaito (centre) leaves  the Sunshine Court today.
Jackline Anchito, Ayen's mother on her way to court.    
Rex, the dog that killed Ayen was a restricted breed, by law he should have been registered, neutered, and contained.  Rex was harbored by Lazor Josevski but owned by Lazor's son Nick, who was overseas at the time of the attack.  Josevski had been warned by his veterinarian that Rex was a pit bull but he failed to register the dog.  The only dog on record at Josevski's address was a long dead German Shepherd.

Lazor Josevski and Nick Josevski, owners of the dog.
Lazor and Nick Josevski on their way to court.
 The Courier-Mail gives Nick Josevski's statement.
 "Nick Josevski told the Victorian Coroners Court he was "a little concerned" when he read newspaper reports about attacks by pitbulls, but believed his dog was placid.
Mr Josevski had previously told the inquest he knew nothing about pitbulls and did not know that was the breed of own dog.
After being granted a certificate allowing him to testify without his evidence being used against him in future court proceedings, Mr Josevski admitted on Tuesday he had misled the inquest.   (I believe the correct legal term here is perjury)
He said he had been told by a vet that his dog may be a pitbull.
Mr Josevski said he had read in the newspaper about attacks by pitbulls.
"I suppose I was a little concerned, but Rex was placid, so I had no concern really," he said."
Lets go over this statement one more time. Nick Josevski admitted that he had lied about his dog in his testimony.  After assurances that his testimony would not be used against him Nick Josevski admitted that he "had misled" the inquest.  He was told by a veterinarian that he owned a pit bull, a restricted dog, but he did not follow the law that governed ownership of restricted dogs because he  " BELIEVED THAT HIS DOG WAS PLACID," "SO I HAD NO CONCERN REALLY."  Well isn't that nice.  

The inquest in the Victorian Coroners Court looked into what lessons could be learned from Ayen's death, and what could be done to prevent future attacks.The coroner made recommendations on policies to protect the public from future attacks.  One of these suggestions was to require veterinarians to report violations of the Dangerous Dogs Act.  What was the response of the veterinary medicine community?  "We can't identify pit bulls and we have no legal responsibility to do so."   

This is the response of the veterinarian who had seen Josevski's dog on multiple occasions. "Questions have been asked about why vet Michael Beattie visited the dog six times and did not report to authorities that the dog was in breach of the law, because it was unregistered and not desexed.
Dr Beattie said he had no obligation to report the dog.  "I have certainly never been informed of any legal obligation," he told the inquest.  Asked if he had a moral obligation, he replied that he was not sure how to answer."  But others, including the Australian Veterinary Association, say the proposal is unworkable."

 The reason the proposal might be "unworkable"? Because nobody can identify a pit bull.  But wait... it appears that sometimes veterinarians CAN identify a pit bull.   Dr. Beattie could identify a pit bull and informed Nick Josevski that he had one.  

After the death of Ayen Chol, Rex was taken to the Melbourne University's Werribee Veterinary Hospital.  Below is a statement from Dr. Jane Dunnett.  It appears she DOES have the ability to identify a pit bull in the privacy of her own medical clinic and the creative ability to find excuses for the attack. Lets hear what Dr. Jane Dunnett has to say.

This quote comes from the Courier-Mail
 "After the attack, the dog was taken to Melbourne University's Werribee Veterinary Hospital.
One of the vets at the hospital, Dr Jane Dunnett, said the dog was difficult to sedate and became angry when fitted with a muzzle.
She said the attack likely occurred because the dog felt challenged by an unfamiliar environment.
Dr Dunnett said from evidence she heard from another of the dog's owners, Lazor Josevski, it appeared the animal was kept in a backyard with little human contact.
She said it was likely the dog was not used to the different environment when it escaped.
"It became aroused, it felt challenged and for whatever reason decided to attack," she said.
"Any dog has the ability to attack ... any dog will attack when it gets aroused to a certain point."
Dr Dunnett agreed she told a council officer the dog was 90 per cent pitbull."
Yes, Dr. Dunnett identified Rex as 90% pit bull.

This quote comes from Susan Maastricht and please pay special attention to the final line in this quote.
The association's Victorian president Susan Maastricht says it is simply too hard for vets to determine what is and isn't a restricted breed dog.
"There is a problem in so much as the notion that we would be able to say categorically that it is a pitbull terrier," she told AAP.
"There is a pretty significant amount of evidence that dogs get called all sorts of things based on physical appearance."
There are fears dog owners won't go to vets if they think they'll be dobbed in to authorities, and then there are the safety concerns.
She says in New Zealand, where there is compulsory reporting of animal mistreatment, vets have been threatened."
 As in the United States, veterinarians claim that they are unable to identify pit bulls.  Why not?  Possibly because the Australian Veterinary Medical Association operates on the same business model as the American Veterinary Medical Association,  "money talks."  An additional motive is noted here, safety concerns, vets have been threatened for identification of pit bulls.  In an effort to protect their own safety the veterinarians turn their backs on the safety of children. 

This is the oath that Veterinarians take in the United States.  

Veterinarian's Oath

Comment on this policy
Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.
I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

Veterinarians promise to use their knowledge to benefit society by protecting animal health and welfare but not to actually protect the public. 

The AVMA is a willing and able partner in any effort to block any breed specific legislation. The American Veterinary Association has its own pre written letter to make it easy for veterinarians to lobby against any proposed breed specific legislation.  The AVMA site also furnishes information on breed specific prohibited or restricted ordinances, note that the information was taken from a breed specific advocacy web page, understand-a-bull.  The AVMA is using THIS as a reputable source of information?  I digress, back to the AVMA advocacy for pit bull dogs.  Reviewing research material on the AVMA website one will find this special report on breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks.  The statistical tables are eye opening and I copy a paragraph that caught my eye.  A short explanation, DBRF stands for Dog Bite Related Fatality but DBRF is so much less threatening...

"Despite these limitations and concerns, the data
indicate that Rottweilers and pit bull-type dogs
accounted for 67% of human DBRF in the United States
between 1997 and 1998. It is extremely unlikely that
they accounted for anywhere near 60% of dogs in the
United States during that same period and, thus, there
appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities."

Yes, there does appear to be a breed specific problem with fatalities and the AVMA and the Austrailian Veterinary sweep this under the rug.

 At the time of the attack the only penalty for Josevski's failure to register and contain his pit bull was a simple fine.  A child is dead and a simple fine was the only justice for the Chol family.   Since this sad and senseless death the laws have changed.  In Australia the owner of a dog that kills a human may now  be sentenced to ten years in prison.  In the case of a severe attack that does not result in death the dog owner may be sentenced to five years in prison.

Prison terms for owners of pit bulls that kill or severely injure humans in the United States are becoming fairly common.  This is not a complete list, just a quick google search.
James Casey Swanson was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the mauling death of his tenant Ronnie Waldo.
Diane Cockrell was sentenced to 3 1/2 to 15 years for the mauling deaths of Cheryl Harper and James Gierlach.
Derrick Lee was sentenced to 4 years in prison and 2 years of probation for the death of Jimmie Mae McConnell.
Crystal Watson got 7 years in prison for the death of 7 year old Tanner Monk.
Billy Earl Marbury pled guilty to manslaughter in the death of Barbara Pilkington.  He was sentenced to 15 years in prison without parole.
Travis Dean Cunningham got a total of 11 1/2 years in prison for the mauling of Huong Le.
Hume Hamilton was sentenced to 3 years in prison on animal cruelty charges when the fatal mauling of a cat was caught on surveillance video.

I will end this post with the honest thoughts of courageous Australian Veterinarian Dr. Graeme Smith, posted on his website, The Lost Dog's Home. Please keep Ayen Chol in mind when you read Dr. Smith's words.  Rex, a dog with no history of violence killed a child the very first time he escaped from the Josevski home.

Dr Smith argues that avoiding the identification of dogs and their behaviours by their breed means the legislation in place can be such that allows these Pit Bulls “one free bite.” This “one free bite” can have fatal consequences. He says that MP Bill Shorten’s description of Pit Bulls as “sharks on legs” is unfortunately apt in many ways, and he welcomes Mr Shorten’s calls for tougher national standards to police dangerous animals.
“It is very hard to give Pit Bulls the benefit of the doubt,” Dr Smith says.