ANIMAL WATCH--The Los Angeles Animal Services Commission on March 28 upheld GM Brenda Barnette's decision that a 4-year-old Dogo Argentino (large Pit Bull-type dog, photo above) which escaped from a yard and brutally mauled a passing jogger in a Northridge community should be declared a 'dangerous dog.'
The victim testified that medical charges to his insurance company already exceed $190,000, and he is still receiving treatment.
Dogo Argentinos are visually similar to Pit Bulls, but taller and densely muscular. Their average weight is from 80 to 120 pounds. They are distinguished by always being white in color.
Commissioner Roger Wolfson commented early in the discussion that photos of the victim's severe injuries reminded him of the disturbing testimony and description by a jogger who was attacked by a Pit Bull in the Hollywood area in 2017. Among other serious wounds in that incident, one of his testicles was bitten off by the dog. (See: Pit Bull Victim Clings to Life--Who's to Blame for Dangerous Dog Attacks.)
Wolfson later reminded the dog owner that owning a dog of this size and strength is like owning a high-powered gun. It must be confined and locked up so that 'accidents' causing injuries like this do not happen. He also stated that the larger the dog, the more damage it can do and the level of responsibility is heightened.
IS A DOGO ARGENTINO A PIT BULL?
The term 'Pit Bull' is used for breed-types used for fighting in enclosed 'pits'. It is a dog--usually weighing from 40 to 60 pounds--of varied color and appearance with certain physical "bulldog" characteristics.
The Dogo Argentino is a densely muscular dog originally bred from fighting lineage. It is distinguished by always being white, and average weight is from 80 to 120 pounds. The ears are often closely cropped but the tail should not be docked, according to breed standards.
It was developed in Argentina primarily for big-game hunting, including wild boars (catch dog). The Dogo Argentino was first bred in 1928, from the Cordoba Fighting Dog now an extinct breed. These dogs were kept alone and used only in dog fighting because its ferocious temperament caused it not only to kill its own siblings, pack-mates and breeding-mates during copulation (all of which led to its extinction) but also sometimes turn on its owner.
According to breed historians, the Dogo Argentino is the result of crossbreeding the Cordoba Fighting Dog with Alamo Espanol, Mastiff, Bull Terrier, Bulldog and Bull Terrier and possibly Great Danes and Boxers. The resulting temperament includes being very fierce, strong, vigorous, and relentless, with very high stamina.
Dogos were mainly used as war dogs because they were fierce and aggressive, and they were later used as cattle dogs that could fight and kill pumas and other predators. The AKC registers them as Miscellaneous class, which designates breeds working towards full AKC recognition. (Although Dogos are ALWAYS white. the AKC accepts one dark-color ring on the skull or around one eye, if it covers no more than 10% of the head.)
According to internet ads for Dogo Argentino puppies, the current price ranges from $1,500 - $5,000.
The temperament of the modern Dogo Argentino is described from loyal and loving to stubborn and pain tolerant. This--combined with the breed's natural intelligence and domineering tendencies--indicate that this dog is not suitable for inexperienced homes and owners. Dogos make a strong distinction between familiar people and strangers. An unsteady temperament is listed as “a serious fault," and breed experts say that a Dogo Argentino that has bitten or attacked a human should never be used for breeding.
"The Dogo Argentino is banned or has ownership restrictions in Australia, the Cayman Islands, Denmark, Fiji, Iceland, New Zealand, Singapore, Turkey, and Ukraine. In the United Kingdom, under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, it is illegal to own a Dogo Argentino without lawful authority," according to Wikipedia.org.
LOS ANGELES (NORTHRIDGE) ATTACK
The names of the dog owners and victim do not appear in the following summary to protect their privacy. This tragic incident occurred on Amestoy Avenue in the up-scale, picturesque San Fernando Valley area of Northridge, also known as "Sherwood Forest." The lengthy testimony is being summarized; however, the entire Commission audio is available here.
At the March 28 meeting, the L.A. Animal Services Commissioners acted as an appeal board for consideration of the dog owners'/appellants (a father and son) request to overturn the General Manager's concurrence in the L.A. Animal Services' hearing officers' decision to declare their 4-1/2-year-old Dogo Argentino a "dangerous dog" after a savage attack on a jogger outside the owner's property. They considered all records which had been submitted at the hearing but did not accept new evidence. The announcement was made that the recommendation being considered is that the dog be euthanized due to the extreme severity of injuries to the victim.
President Larry Gross announced that the Dogo Argentino had escaped his yard and attacked. Both the dog owners and their attorney and the victim were present to testify.
Dog Owners' Testimony
The appellants stated that they have owned the Dogo Argentino since it was a puppy and the dog is now about 4-1/2 years old. The dog is not neutered and has never been licensed by the City, although it has all current vaccinations, including rabies, and is registered with the AKC. This is the first reported attack by the dog, which they claim escaped through two open gates--one at his dog run and one at the front of the property. The owners claimed the dog is loving with his family and plays with his children.
He also stated, in response to an inquiry by Commissioner Sandoval, that he did not want to neuter it because he "believes it is not good for the dog." He added that, because it is a rare, purebred dog, he intended to breed it.
The dog owners were represented by counsel but also spoke themselves. Their attorney stated that this dog has no prior reports of bites/attacks and that the incident being considered was provoked because the victim would practice karate moves--kicking and punching--in the street in front of the house to agitate the dog. The attorney stated that the owners were willing to enroll the dog in training, muzzle it in public, or comply with whatever precautions or restrictions might be imposed by the Board. The attorney also stated that the owners' multi-million-dollar insurance policy would cover the expenses of the victim.
The victim, a very slender male who appeared to be in his early-to-mid 50's, stated, "All I did was jog by their house." He explained that the woman across the street has multiple aggressive dogs who bark when he passes, and he has seen the Dogo Argentino become aggressive toward other dogs when they passed the property.
He said, "I stopped jogging with my own two dogs and I run in the middle of the street to avoid agitating the Dogo Argentino and her [the neighbor's] dogs."
He explained that he has always avoided being on the street when the elder of the two owners is walking the dog and would change his course immediately. On the day of the attack he said he did not hear or see either the dog or the owner before the attack and that he was approximately 100 yards past the property when the dog hit him from behind, knocking him to the ground and biting him viciously. He stated, "The dog "almost took me out."
"I was lying on the ground on my back and screaming for help when the old man came and pulled the dog off of me. I then went home to tell my wife and call 911, and I was taken to the hospital," he told the Commission.
He said the attorney's claim that he had provoked the dog was totally untrue and that they would not have known about his expertise in martial arts if he had not mentioned it during the hearing as a possible reason he had been able to survive. He added, "Would I be foolish enough to deliberately provoke this dog?”
The victim stated that he is a dog lover, has two dogs, and has fostered and adopted shelter dogs. In response to Commissioner Wolfson's question as to whether he is in agreement about the dog being euthanized, he said that he really does not want to see that happen, if the dog is removed far from this area, and if it can be absolutely guaranteed that the dog will never be able to harm anyone else again. He added that if this had happened to a child or baby, the victim would not have survived.
The Commissioners discussed the "extreme severity" of the victim's wounds seen in the photos after the attack. They agreed that the risk of another victim being maimed or killed must be their primary concern. Commissioner Wolfson commented that the Commission's responsibility is for the city's potential liability and for public safety. The five Commissioners voted unanimously to uphold the General Manager's decision.
TWO OTHER DOGO ARGENTINO ATTACKS (2018)-- ONE FATAL
On June 14, 2018, a Northern California KCRA-3 News headline read ‘Chilling screaming’: Neighbor witnesses dog attack on Fairfield woman.'--The report stated, "Fairfield police say a Dogo Argentine dog weighing 100 pounds mauled its owner this morning. The 29-year-old woman was flown to the Bay Area where she’s in critical condition. Police shot the dog after it charged at them." It was not until the third shot that the dog stopped its attempt to attack the officers.
Then, on June 21, 2018, The Washington Post reported, ’Maryland Woman Dies After Being Mauled by Her Fiance's Dog. --"Police confirm the Huntingtown dog attack victim has died. Jenna Sutphin, 28, was savagely attacked by a Dogo Argentino about 7:15 am this morning. She was airlifted to a hospital in critical condition with bite injuries to the back of her head and neck. Earlier today, it was reported that her family was "preparing for the worst."
Sutphin and her fiancé, Jason Hammer, who is a Prince George's County Correctional Center K-9 handler, breed and sell Dogo Argentinos, according to the report.
DOGSBITE.ORG ATTACK/FATALITY STATISTICS (2018)
Statistics on dog-bite fatalities (2018), according to media reports and public records:
Dog-bite fatalities in the U.S. in 2018 totaled 26, with 72% caused by Pit Bulls.
Dogo Argentinos were responsible for 6%, or two (2) human deaths.
Family dogs inflicted 72% (26) of dog bite fatalities in 2018.
Fifteen (15) or 42% of the total fatality victims were children. Of the adult victims killed, those 50-years and older accounted for 71% (15).
Statistics on Criminal Charges (2018) -
In 2018, only 6% (2) of fatal dog attacks resulted in meaningful criminal charges, down from the 13-year average of 21%. Both criminal cases involved pit bulls.
California incurred 3 deaths from dog maulings, but no criminal charges.
TIME TO RETHINK DOG OWNERSHIP
Commissioner Wolfson's comment about owning a large and powerful dog being similar to gun ownership should not be overlooked. This Dogo Argentino requires (under current law) no more legal responsibility for containment than a Chihuahua. Yet, most serious attacks occur because a large and powerful dog has escaped from its yard or could not be controlled by its owner.
L.A. Animal Services has made little serious effort to hire qualified Animal Control Officers and has very poor licensing statistics, has removed "kennel" requirements and is discussing raising or removing dog limits per property.
GM Brenda Barnette stated at the last meeting she hopes to remedy the licensing deficit by sending out canvassers (to homes) from the "Targeted Hire" program, which will employ the following (according to the Mayor's Executive Order No. 15): "the unsheltered [homeless]; people with criminal records including those with a history of incarceration; veterans; and disconnected youth at risk of unfortunate outcomes."
This is not a joke! Is it time to get serious about human and animal safety and require--like car ownership--that dog owners provide proof of insurance to cover bites, attacks or accidents at the time of licensing a dog of any breed or size. That may not stop all the attacks, but it would begin to shape an attitude of responsibility and leave fewer innocent victims with ruined lives and injured/scarred bodies. Dog ownership is not a right--it is a serious responsibility!
The Commission has already heard eight (8) Dangerous Dog cases this year. This is only the few owners who take the time and/or can afford to potentially file a court case to keep their dog that has injured or killed already. The decision usually is that the dog must merely be removed from the city or go to a "rescue." We regularly read about these "rescued" dangerous animals that again attack and maim adopters or the public.
The statistics are alarming. The real stories, as at the March 28 Commission meeting, are terrifying. Isn't it time to change our attitude from excusing the actions of irresponsible or incapable pet owners to requiring that we all have the same duty for public safety as a gun owner or an automobile driver in our city?
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.)