Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Expert opinion on French mastiff dog bite fatality in Illinois


Mastiff breeds, such as the Cane Corso and the Bull mastiff, have been implicated French mastiffin fatal dog attacks in the United States in recent years. And in well-known and very controversial incident involving another mastiff breed in 2001, several Presa canarios, including one named Bane, mauled to death Diane Whipple in what has become as known as the San Francisco Dog Mauling.

There are relatively few instances of fatal dog attacks involving other mastiff breeds, however. Thus it caught my attention when I read report about a French mastiff being implicated in a dog like to tell it in Illinois. Some might remember that the French mastiff came into the spotlight when it was used in the film “Turner and Hooch” starring Tom Hanks in the early 80s.

In this particular instance, a 44-year-old lady and a paramedic by occupation, was mauled to death by a 130 lb. male, French mastiff in Chicago in November, 2012.  Her body was discovered by her husband at the bottom of the basement stairs. There were two other household dogs present at the time of this fatal dog attack, a pit bull mix and a boxer, but these dogs were probably not involved in the incident. The French mastiff had only been in the home with the victim and her husband for about a week before the incident happened. The dog was adopted from a family member who, according to news reports, no longer wanted to keep the dog because of its size.  There were no indications that the dog was aggressive to the children in that family.


Was this incident foreseeable?  From my perspective as an animal behavior expert, without more detailed information about the circumstances surrounding the attack and the behavioral history of the dog, there is no way to accurately determined if the incident was forseeable. Nonetheless, I formed the impression that the couple were dog lovers, well-educated, accomplished, and had a good sense about how to handle large dogs.  It is likely that they  accepted this French mastiff into their home believing that he could be fully trusted, both with them and their other dogs. In fact, the victim had reportedly brought the dog to work a few days beforehand and there were no problems.  During his visit to work he probably interacted with her coworkers without incident. 

There are a number of reasons which may have prompted this tragic incident: for example, some idiosyncratic behavior by the victim may have prompted the dog to attack out of fear as a result of an unusual, previously formed negative association. It is also possible that the attack was medically induced, or perhaps after a week of living with the victim the dog started challenging her “dominance”.  And once the attack started, it’s likely that the victim, who was alone, was defenseless against a dog of this size.  In fact, In most fatal dog attacks, the victim was alone with no able-bodied person nearby to help fend-off the dog. aablackdoghead


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Dog bite expert, Richard Polsky, PhD welcomes inquiries from attorneys handling dog bite cases involving bull mastiffs.  Both plaintiff and defense, criminal and civil.

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