Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Murder charges filed against owner of pit bulls in California dog bite fatality

Dog packs roaming in remote areas pose a serious dog bite threat to people and other animals in communities adjacent to these areas. This is well known by animal control agencies, and the danger has been documented by animal behaviorists in the scientific literature. Nonetheless, it seems that animal control agencies are at a loss for solutions to the problem.

A case in point is the May 8, 2013, fatal dog attack by a pack of dogs on 63-year-old Pamela Devitt in Littlerock, California. Devitt received about 200 puncture wounds and was mauled to death by four pit bull terriers during a morning walk. A passing motorist witnessed the incident and called 911.  Police arrived at the scene and found Devitt on the ground and saw at least one dog circling her.  Police chased the dog, firing shots at it, but the dog evaded capture.  In the hours following the incident,  the dogs involved in the incident could not be found, and locals were advised to avoid the area.  County Supervisor Mike Antonovich announced a $25,000 award for information leading to their capture. Later that day, eight pit bull’s believed to be involved in the incident were found in the home of the alleged owner, Alan Jackson. Four of the dogs had blood on them which matched the blood from Devitt, as confirmed by DNA testing.  The Los Angeles Times reported that these same dogs have attacked humans and other animals, such as horses and flocks of emus, prior to the mauling of Devitt.

Jackson now faces murder charges. In a previous dog bite fatality case in California, murder charges were filed against attorney Marjorie Knoller as a result of her massive Preso Canario dogs mauling to death Diane Whipple in an apartment hallway in San Francisco in 2001. Knoller was convicted of second-degree murder.

Littlerock is located about 15 miles from Palmdale in Southern California’s “high desert”. Housing communities, consisting of small, single-family tract homes have been rapidly created in this part of Southern California known as the Antelope Valley. Excluding the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, the population of  Antelope Valley is about 300,000. Much of the area is rural. Unlit two-lane roads, surrounded by vast sections of desert, connect the various communities. Temperatures in the summer rarely fall below 100°.  Convenience stores are found sporadically through the area. The area is conducive to roaming packs of dogs, many of which are probably hungry. Roadside dumping of dogs frequently happens, and these dumped dogs are likely to form packs. It is uncertain if these packs are temporary associations or permanent groups, however.

Los Angeles County Animal Control is aware of the stray dog problem in Antelope Valley. In recent years, several serious, well-publicized dog attacks have occurred, including dog bite fatalities. Parents are wary of children playing unsupervised outdoors. Residents carry weapons, such as golf clubs, pepper spray and occasionally guns, to protect themselves from encounters with stray dogs.  This long-standing problem in Antelope Valley is likely to continue as long as irresponsible people continue to abandon their dogs. When abandoned, in an environment like this, a dog’s best chance for survival is to group together with other dogs, and when these groups become hungry they are likely to attack other animal and humans.


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