Trying to save fighting dogs five years after the Michael Vick case
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2012:
MANILA, COLUMBUS, Ohio– Incidents on opposite sides of the
world have rekindled debate over the wisdom of expending humane
resources to try to rehome dogs of known violent history and behavior.
Within the space of 10 days:
* The Philippine Animal Welfare Society took temporary
custody of 266 pit bulls who were seized on March 30, 2012 from a
dogfighting ring in San Pablo, Laguna, the Philippines.
* Three small children and an 18-year-old woman in different
parts of the U.S. suffered disfiguring injuries inflicted by recently
rehomed pit bulls.
* The Humane Society of Delaware County, Ohio, was hit by
what may be the first class action lawsuit seeking to compel an
animal shelter or rescue organization to reign in policies and
practices meant to save the lives of dangerous dogs, before anyone
is more seriously injured than the three initial plaintiffs. The
lawsuit is structured to incorporate additional plaintiffs who may
have been hurt by dogs from HSDC.
The confluence of incidents came almost exactly five years
after the seizure of 51 pit bulls in a raid on the then-home of
football player Michael Vick in Surrey County, Virginia stimulated
unprecedented effort to rescue and rehabilitate fighting dogs, led
by the American SPCA, the American Humane Association, and the Best
Friends Animal Society, which still has 21 of the Vick pit bulls.
The former Vick property is now the national headquarters of the
anti-dog chaining organization Dogs Deserve Better.
The five years since the Vick raid have seen 39% of all of
the U.S. and Canadian pit bull attacks of the past 30 years that have
resulted in human death or disfigurement, including 42% of the
“In the case of the Laguna pit bulls,” Philippine Animal
Welfare Society executive director Anna Cabrera e-mailed to ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “there is a real danger that these poor dogs may end up with
possible backyard breeders or individuals who may recycle them back
to the fighting ring. Eighty to 100 of the Laguna pit bulls are
actually among the same pit bulls” who were seized in Indang, Cavite
province, on December 2, 2011 in the largest previous Philippine
Following each raid, PAWS was called to provide care to the
impounded dogs, but arrived from Manila two days after the December
2011 raid only to discover that the local government veterinary
office had already “adopted out” most of the dogs to whoever came and
asked for one.
“Our staff work very closely with the police and accompanied
them after a tip-off on what they thought was a raid to uncover
illegal dog meat traders. Instead, to their horror, they found a
massive undercover dog-fighting operation,” Animal Kingdom
Foundation chief executive Charles Wartenburg told Leon Watson of the
Daily Mail, from Wartenburg’s home in Edenbridge, Kent, England.
“There are 244 American pit bull terriers,” among 256 dogs
in all, “who appear to have been bred purely for fighting,”
Wartenburg continued, citing information relayed to him from the
17-member AKF Philippine staff. “They are so ferocious that they are
kept in separate cages. Otherwise they would attempt to kill the
other dogs. There are even screens so they cannot see the other dogs
and attempt to break out and attack them. The dogs are so dangerous
our people cannot handle them without fear of serious injury. If we
took them to our animal shelter they would just attack other dogs. I
think all 244 will have to be put down,” Wartenburg said, “but the
next problem is how do you sedate them without being attacked?”
Six South Koreans and 17 Filipinos were alleged to have
conducted frequent dogfights which were broadcast via web links to
gambling dens in South Korea.
Of the 244 pit bulls who were initially seized, PAWS was
able to transport 73 to the PAWS shelter, which “had to close for
almost a month,” Cabrera said, “as we worked round-the-clock to
nurse the dogs back to health.” The 73 pit bulls from the Indang
raid were eventually transferred to the Island Rescue Organization,
of Cebu, founded in 2010 by attorney Nena Hernandez, a year after
she claims to have cofounded Fresno Bully Rescue, of Fresno,
California. Hernandez still had 61 of the Indang pit bulls as of
April 22, 2012, according to Alya B. Honsan of the Philippine Daily
Released on bail, the six South Koreans quickly bought back
from the “adopters” many of the pit bulls who were seized in the
Cavite raid, and with two more South Koreans, got right back into
the televised dogfighting business.
The Philippine Criminal Investi-gation & Detection Group
raided the new site after a two-week surveillance, spokesperson
Renante Galang told media. Arrested, along with four Filipino
security guards, were Lee Gwi Woo, 21; Jeong Yeon Hwal, 31; Noh
Min Chul, 44; Lee Kyung Won, 31; Kim Young Hwan, 29; Hyun Ho
Han, 45; Hong Jeong Oh, 43; and Kim Do Kyung, 41.
“If convicted of illegal gambling, they face a maximum of 12
years in prison. The charge of animal cruelty carries a penalty of
up to two years, but no one has served time in the Philippines for
the crime,” summarized Oliver Teves of Associated Press.
“On the evening of March 30, 2012,” e-mailed Cabrera, “the
Philippine Animal Welfare Society received an urgent call from the
Criminal Investigation & Detection Group. The CIDG requested our
assistance in care of the dogs and in documenting their condition.
They also asked if PAWS would take in the dogs, or oversee their
disposal, because they would be pulling out by April 7, thus making
the area insecure.”
PAWS found the 266 dogs “chained to the ground,” beside
steel drums that “could be barely called a shelter from the heat and
rain. Many dogs were severely injured, extremely dehydrated, and
were visibly suffering, so it was medically and humanely necessary
to put these critically-ill and suffering dogs to sleep,” Cabrera
said. Seventeen dogs were euthanized during PAWS’ first day at the
site. Another dog “was found dead beside a drum,” Cabrera said.
PAWS euthanized 16 more dogs on April 3, while warning the
Philippine rescue community that because the PAWS shelter was already
full to capacity, the remaining Laguna pit bulls could not be
brought back to the shelter, as the Indang pit bulls had been.
Island Rescue Organization and the Manila no-kill group
Compassion and Responsibility for Animals on April 4 offered to take
the survivors. PAWS on April 7 “formally turned over the
responsibility for the dogs to these two organizations,” Cabrera
said. Two hundred sixteen of the Laguna pit bulls remained alive at
the seizure site two weeks later, Honasan of the Philippine Daily
Inquirer reported. Media statements, Facebook postings, and
e-mails have variously indicated that IRO and CARA hope to adopt out
the pit bulls, place them in foster care, or build a sanctuary for
Cabrera estimated that providing initial veterinary care to
the dogs cost about $17,775, while feeding them will cost a minimum
of $375 per day, possibly as much as $600, depending on how many of
the emaciated dogs need a special diet.
“Consider,” Cabrera wrote in a PAWS position statement about
the case, “alongside the pit bulls of Laguna, the plight of the
neglected, abandoned stray dogs already in the streets and in
pounds. An average of 200 dogs at a minimum are euthanized in city
and provincial pounds every month. Some of these dogs don’t even
need expensive medical treatment and intensive behavioral
rehabilitation to be adopted out to loving homes. Some of them are
terminated violently and cruelly, as some cities and provinces in
the Philippines still do, by killing via vehicle exhaust fumes.”
Vick case legacy
The Best Friends Animal Society eventually placed many of the
dogs seized in the Michael Vick raid in homes. But many of those
dogs were puppies when impounded, who were never actually fought or
trained to fight. Vick contributed $1 million toward the dogs’ care
and rehabilitation as part of the court settlement of the charges
The Humane Society of Missouri received much less help with
378 pit bulls who were seized on July 8, 2009 in raids on alleged
dogfighting operations in five states. Puppies born to the
impounded pit bulls soon raised the count to 407 dogs in custody.
Later reports mentioned “more than 500,” of whom 237 were rehomed
within six months.
The City of Los Angeles Animal Services department appears to
rehome more pit bulls than any other agency in the world, with much
help from the Best Friends Animal Society and many other fostering
and adoption partners, but the Los Angeles numbers have plateaued,
even with escalated effort to save pit bulls, and even though most
impounded pit bulls are not of fighting background.
In fiscal year 2007-2008, the City of Los Angeles impounded
5,725 pit bulls, 21% of total dog intake, and killed 2,774, 43% of
total dog killing. In 2011-2012, , the City of Los Angeles
impounded 7,130 pit bulls, 20% of total dog intake, and killed
3785, 41% of total dog killing.
Observes Dogsbite.org founder Colleen Lynn, “The
overwhelming problem at nearly all U.S. open admission shelters is an
overpopulation of unwanted pit bulls of uncertain background. The
pressure is on for shelters to substantially reduce euthanasia,
which cannot be done without putting potentially dangerous pit bulls
back into communities.”
Rescued pits attack
Disfiguring and fatal attacks by former shelter dogs were
once so rare that ANIMAL PEOPLE recorded none between 1988-1989,
when rehomed wolf hybrids killed two children, and 2000, when a
shelter pit bull mauled a six-year-old.
On March 31, 2012, however, “A pit bull rescue dog
attacked a 6-year-old girl from Rochester Hills,” reported Detroit
Free Press staff writer Elisha Anderson. “The dog bit the girl in
the face and thigh, according to the Oakland County Sheriff’s
Office. The girl was conscious and breathing, but bleeding severely
when emergency crews arrived, police said.”
Just 48 hours later, reported Ryan Hutchins of the Newark
Star-Ledger, an 18-year-old woman suffered severe arm injuries when
attacked in her bedroom by her own dog, identified as “a pit bull
rescue.” She “fought her way outside,” with the dog still
attacking, wrote Hutchins. Off-duty police detective Raul Delaprida
came to her aid, shooting the pit bull when the dog turned on him.
On April 5, 2012 a pit bull ran from the home of Penn
Township, Pennsylvania resident Wendy Tshudy and repeatedly attacked
a seven-year-old boy, causing multiple injuries to his left ear,
shoulder, and arm.
Reported Intelligencer Journal/ Lancaster New Era staff
writer Ryan Robinson, “Tshudy adopted the dog from the Humane League
of Lancaster County on February 11, 2012, according to Mary
Wallick, director of marketing at the Humane League. The dog’s
original owner surrendered the dog to the Humane League five days
before Tshudy adopted him, Wallick said. Kennel technicians
conducted a seven-step assessment to determine if he could safely be
put up for adoption. The test involves assessing the dog’s stare and
sensitivity, as well as how the animal acts when excited and
stimulated and squeezed in certain pressure areas, Wallick said.
Observing the dog’s behavior around food, toys and another dog also
is part of the test. The dog passed, but there is never a 100
percent guarantee an animal won’t hurt someone, Wallick said.”
The same day Ryland Moody, 3, of Baxter County, Arkansas,
was airlifted to Little Rock in critical condition after he was
mauled by a pit bull adopted in early March 2012 from the Northeast
Arkansas Humane Society. NEAHS executive director Margaret Shepherd
told the Baxter County Sheriff’s Department and KAIT reporter Keith
Boles that the boy’s mother, Amber Moody, had checked a box on her
adoption application saying that she had no small children in her
But even if there are no small children in a home, a dog who
is not safe around small children may notice a child–as did Tshudy’s
adopted pit bull.
Two reportedly recently adopted dogs who were not pit bulls
killed infants in early 2012.
On February 16, 2012 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, a husky
with a broken leg killed Howard Nicholson, two days old, after his
mother, Brandy Furlong, 21, left him in a baby carrier on the
floor while she used the bathroom. Furlong and Brill Nicholson, 26,
reportedly adopted the husky from a rescue in nearby Murrysville two
and a half weeks earlier. They already had three pit bulls,
reported Mary Robb Jackson of KDKA radio.
Impounded after the killing, the husky was re-adopted five
days later by William Uhring, of Churchill, but was re-impounded
and became subject of a prolonged appeal of a euthanasia order.
Uhring and expert witness James W. Crosby suggested that, in
Crosby’s words, “one or more dogs mistook this child for a squeaking
toy,” hinting that one of the pit bulls inflicted the fatal head
injuries. Furlong meanwhile was charged with harboring a dangerous
Near Summerville, South Carolina, a dog identified as a
recently adopted Labrador/golden retriever mix on April 20, 2012
dismembered and disemboweled two-month-old Aiden McGrew. The victim
was left in a baby swing while his father and a three-year-old
sibling slept in another room. McGrew’s mother, Chantel McGrew,
had reportedly taken a seven-year-old sibling to a medical
Follow-up coverage brought into question whether the dog had
actually come from a recognized rescue or shelter.
Lewis Center, Ohio residents James Allen, Amy Werling, and
Werling’s 13-year-old daughter on April 9, 2012 filed suit against
the Humane Society of Delaware County as lead plaintiffs in a case
brought on behalf of as many as 25 “John Doe Plaintiffs” yet to be
identified. Allen, the Werlings, et al “are individuals who have
unknowingly adopted or fostered dangerous or vicious dogs from HSDC
or its agents, have been attacked by dangerous or vicious dogs
adopted or fostered out, or kenneled or placed in the public, by
HSDC or its agents.”
The lawsuit names as co-defendants Michael and Judith Prasse
of Lewis Center and unnamed other Humane Society of Delaware County
staff and volunteers.
The lawsuit alleges that HSDC “ignored warnings and kenneled
at least two dogs known to be dangerous and/or vicious in the home of
Michael and Judith Prasse,” while Michael Prasse was president of
the HSDC board of directors, from February 2010 to May 2011.
Michael Prasse had become involved with HSDC as a volunteer in 2007.
“In effect,” the lawsuit charges, “the Prasse home became
an annex of the HSDC for animals recommended for euthanasia due to
their dangerous or vicious nature, whom the HSDC refused to
Plaintiff Allen and his dog were in May 2010 attacked by a
German shepherd mix who was fostered in the Prasse home, the lawsuit
says. Plaintiff Amy Werling and her dog were attacked by the same
dog in October 2010, the lawsuit continues.
The lawsuit describes more than a year of conflict in
2008-2010 between former HSDC board member Laurie Schulze, DVM, and
other board members over Schulze’s recommendations that several dogs
of biting history who failed behavioral screening should be
euthanized. Former HSDC veterinarian Jill Hayes, who agreed with
Schulze, resigned in May 2009. Using the Safety Assessment for
Evaluating Rehoming (SAFER) test developed by the American SPCA,
Hayes and two other members of the HSDC behavior council had warned
that only six of the 26 dogs then in custody were safe for adoption.
“Humane Society of Delaware County officials said that the
shelter was now under new management and has adopted different
philosophies and implemented stronger protocols,” reported Tanisha
Mallett of 10TV.com.