Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fatal Attack, Boger City, NC

First off, let me give a quick shout out to Brent Toellner at the KC Dog Blog. Brent’s blog is a breath of fresh air in the world of dog legislation and fighting the unsubstantiated junk that passes for mainstream reportage of dog issues, especially those orbiting around Planet Pit Bull Hysteria. To get a balanced view of a wonderful breed visit with Brent.

Now on to the first case. This case is not unusual; in fact, I am going over this case to introduce you, the readers, to a textbook example of the typical fatal attack. This one has it all; trailers, chains, a history of escalating aggression, unneutered dogs, no public education, no response by local authorities to the early signs, and a child caught in the middle.

In reality, Karson Gilroy never had a chance. A lovely two year old boy, he had two great dogs in his family that taught him dogs were wonderful pals. His uncle next door owned a German shepherd who was tolerant and gentle with little Karson. Karson could tug, pull, and clamber all over the Shepherd. No problems, no issues, nothing but a gentle loving relationship.

Karson had his own dog too. Thirteen months old, his Boxer pup was exuberant but gentle, a good, stable family dog. Remember that-a family dog.

Three trailers away the story was different. The man there owned two Shepherd mixes. Both males, father and son. Both dogs were kept outside twenty four-seven. Both dogs kept on chains. Both dogs intact.

The chained Shepherds were known well by the neighbors. They had broken free of their chains several times. During their tours of the area they had reportedly chased several people, fought with a number of dogs, killed at least one cat and allegedly killed as many as two dogs.

The younger of the two dogs was poorly socialized, to say the least. Fearful, the owner described him as skittish and spooky. The younger dog was also the more agile escape artist. The owner said that the dog had learned to shuck out of the standard buckle collar, so he placed the dog in a choke collar. On a chain. And since the dogs barked at any passers-by they could see through the woods in front of the home, he tied them out in the woods behind the home, almost a hundred feet back into the woods. With no fence or barrier to keep other dogs – or children – from wandering up to them.

Karson typically stayed with his Grandparents while his own folks were at work. His aunt and uncle live next door, and Karson was a regular visitor, playing and watching TV with his cousins. One fine North Carolina afternoon Karson and his cousins were watching TV together while Karson’s aunt went into the other room to finish a few chores. When she returned to the living room a few minutes later, Karson had let himself out the door to go play in the yard. Karson’s aunt immediately began to search for the boy, and the search quickly turned frantic. Neighbors and police were called, and within thirty minutes of Karson’s flight the area was swarming with help. The yard and house were double checked and deputies began combing the woods.

A short time later Karson was found by a deputy, tangled up in the chain of the younger dog, mauled and bleeding. Karson was rushed to the hospital, but died a short time later.

So what can we take from this as lessons learned? The first issue here is the function of the dogs and their place in the family and community.

Karen Delise, author of Fatal Dog Attacks and The Pit Bull Placebo ( uses a pair of terms that I also use, gladly crediting her for their development. She makes the distinction between a family dog and a resident dog. A family dog is just what it sounds like; a dog that is an intrinsic part of a human family. This dog hangs out with the kids, rides in the car, eats under the table, sleeps in someone’s bed, sneaks shoes out of the closet, and saves Timmy from the well. This is the dog that most of us who are dog people have under our foot as we read or write blogs.

A resident dog, on the other hand, is what we see far too often. The dogs are tossed in the back yard, or worse tied or chained out, and never integrate with the family. They are usually poorly socialized, have little to no training, have food tossed to them pretty regularly, may see a Vet once every year or so, and are only peripherally part of any human-canine social grouping. Perhaps the owners meant for them to be family dogs, but time got away from them. Or they were supposed to be the “kids’ dog” and the kids lost interest. Maybe they had behavioral problems that led to their exile – or maybe their exile has caused the bad behavior. Either way, they have become a sad reflection of what they could be.

And they, the resident dogs, are by far the largest group of dogs involved in fatal human attacks.

So back to this case: two resident dogs chained and unsupervised. The least socialized of the two not only chained, but also on a choke collar, set up to panic if the collar tightened. No provisions to keep unwary toddlers from stumbling into the dogs’ area. A toddler who loved his own dogs and didn’t believe that other dogs were any different. And an accidental slip of attention that led to a toddler becoming a victim in what should have been a safe environment.

Tragic? Absolutely. Predictable? Certainly. Avoidable? Without question. The dogs’ fault? Not hardly. And just the setup that Karen and I find far too often.

COMING UP SOON (and WAAAY quicker than last time- I promise!) A list of the fatalities to date in 2007, a look at the attack in Middleburg, Florida, and a discussion of canine aggression and PTSD in traumatized dogs!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Legislative Efforts

One of the many things I do is work towards the establishment of sane, rational dog legislation, and try to oppose laws and ordinances that just won't work. While working on my newest posting I wrote the following letter to the Palm Beach (FL) Council regarding a bad set of animal ordinance changes they are considering. If this letter can help anyone else, feel free to steal it as you wish, or contact me and I will try and help in your particular case.


Ladies and Gentlemen of the Palm Beach Council:

You have before you a daunting task. You are trying your best to raise the quality of life for all of the residents of Palm Beach, increase the safety of those citizens, and still balance the needs and desires of the pet-owning segment of that same population. You are under pressure to do something, take some action, respond to the perceived needs of that community. The status quo is not working, and your constituents have noticed.

Yet you feel as if you have limited tools at your disposal. The traditional response to animal problems is to increase licensing fees, punish owners with onerous and conflicting legislation, hammer the 'evil breeders', whomever they might be, and finally ban...something.

If I might digress a moment, the mental health industry defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. That label accurately describes traditional animal legislation and response. And it still isn't working.

I would ask the Palm Beach Council to consider somthing radical. Try a new method that hasn't failed miserable all across the county.

There is a city that sounds like a fantasy. With a population of 1.2 million people, they have an amazing pet environment. Their Animal Services Division is completely self supporting, and Animal Services give the local Humane Society a quarter million dollars support a year. They have a 95% licensing compliance. Their bite rates are consistently dropping, despite constant population growth. They have no breed specific legislation. They have no mandatory spay/neuter. They have no breeder regulation legislation. They have a constant waiting list for adoptions of the few animals that come available. And in that city of 1.2 million people, they only euthanized a total of 238 dogs last year. Period.

Where is this? Calgary, Alberta. How have they done it? They have secured the buy in of their citizens and achieved massive cooperation by providing several things, most importantly by making animal licensing a valuable commodity, backed by an aggressive and dedicated education effort.

The program is more detailed that we have room here for, but let me touch on some of the issues.

Licensing has value. All proceeds from animal licensing and fines go directly to Animal Services to use for the animals. None of those funds go to the City's General Fund. Owners feel that their fees are being applied properly, where they need to be. Licensing fees are reasonable-$52.00 yearly for unaltered animals, with a discount to $31.00 yearly if your animal is altered. No reclamation fees; if your animal is licensed and picked up loose it gets a free ride home. They understand that animals get loose from time to time, but if the animal is licensed it is taken home directly. 80% of all animals picked up on the street are returned home, never to even arrive at the shelter. The owners of any animals that are regular pickups are targeted for intensive education efforts, backed by the ability to provide substantial fines ($250.00 per incident) if the owner fails to respond to the remediation and assistance. Spay and neuter proceedures are discounted for animals that are licensed, as are some veterinary care costs.

Education is stressed. Animal Services workers do not see themselves as 'dogcatchers' but as responsible animal ownership educators. Education ranges from classes and formal programs to intervention at the street level. Pre-adoption counseling is required, and counseling is mandated during the citation process for those owners who run afoul of the ordinances. No one just pays a ticket and walks away. Bite prevention and safety is taught in schools, focusing on children since kids are the primary victims of dog bite injury.

A strong leash law is supported by City provided dog parks and off leash recreation areas, all of which are only available to licensed pets. Humane and sensible confinement methods are stressed, taught, and enforced. Animal cruelty statutes and ordinances are strongly enforced, and local magistrates are supportive, making such enforcement meaningful, and the City realizes the importance of such inforcement, supporting it strongly.

This has not been an overnight trip for Calgary. It has taken fourteen years to reach the current state of events. But it is an achievable goal. The legislation coming before you is an opportunity to take the first steps.

INSTEAD of seeking legislation that regulates breed, focus on legislation that regulates the only thing that will make a difference-human behavior. Place responsibility where it belongs, on the owners of dangerous and aggressive animals. SUPPORT the enforcement of existing animal cruelty statutes.

INSTEAD of passing legislation that places an onerous burden on those who are generally responsible but have occasional errors, educate them, and encourage them to participate in the solution by buying in to reasonable licensing for their pets. SUPPORT the community by giving real value for pet licensing. Make pet owners want to participate. Give them something of value, like pet return, educational services, and a sense that their license fees actually go towards helping the animals.

INSTEAD of pushing away those who are on the edge of compliance by threatening them with issues such as mandatory spay and neuter, bring them into the fold by provideing incentives for voluntary compliance. SUPPORT compliance by not only educating them on the wisdom and health of voluntary spay/neuter, but give them real world incentives for cooperation, such as reduced licensing fees for voluntarily altered animals, discounts for local vet care for having licensed and altered animals, and perhaps other city sponsored value such as free participation in dog parks, etc.

INSTEAD of alienating responsible pet fanciers, making them stumbling blocks to your efforts, include them and reward their responsibile actions. SUPPORT active dog sport competitors with intact animals by granting the same licensing fees as those with altered animals as long as the dogs are being actively campaigned. Provide sane and reasonable exceptions to higher licensing for those who have animals that have a quantifiable value to their breeds and communities. Responsible fanciers are not only voters, but can be a city's best allies in the fight against irresponsible breeding, behavior and threats to public safety.

Please consider the above suggestions. The whole purpose of pet related legislation is to enhance the safety of the public, pet owning and otherwise, and to increase the quality of life for all, animal and human, in your community. To restate what I said before, why keep doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result? Step forward and start the process of achieving a different, better result.

If I may help in any way please feel free to contact me. My phone is 904-476-7655. Please feel free to view my website at

Thank you.

James W. Crosby

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A First Look.

Let me introduce myself and this blog for a minute.
I am Jim Crosby of Jacksonville, Florida, and I investigate fatal dog attacks around North America. I have carved a bit of an unusual niche for myself, in that I have combined the training and experience of a police career with my dog training and behavior experience to really look at canine aggression, particularly fatal dog attacks, in detail. My investigations are typically done on-scene; I travel to the site, investigate the incident, interview any witnesses or surviving victims, speak to family and friends, and try and get a picture of the dog(s) and their environment. I then, when possible, actually handle and evaluate the dog(s) that have killed people.
This combination results, I believe, in a collection of data never before attempted, a collection that far exceeds the investigations of the past. Previously, most investigations were by "experts" sitting at a desk reading someone else's reports. Those "investigations" ignored the setting, ignored the dynamics of the interactions between people and dogs, and completely missed the depth of information the dog can give. Information gathered remotely through reading Police and Animal Control reports is, at best, filtered throught the eyes of the initial reporter. Details are lost, and assumptions (sometimes erroneous) are allowed to spread. Information gleaned from reading press and media reports is often simply wrong, altered to make the story more saleable, to sell advertising space, and to generate ratings.
This blog will present the information as I find it. I will give as many details as possible, protecting the dignity of the victim and family, and working within the constraints that sometimes arise when dealing with open criminal or civil cases.
Please continue to stop by and read these posting. I will do my best to keep them informative, factual, and current.
Thanks for your interest.

Jim Crosby