Gus The Pit Bull: Can A Dog That's Attacked REALLY Reform? - January 8, 2015 UPDATE!
We’ve come a long way from old beliefs regarding canine aggression through the years. Most people now understand that bad dog behavior comes from poorly or inadequately trained dogs. Aggression is not in-born or destined just because a dog happens to be a certain breed. In fact, there are countless campaigns on behalf of so called “bully breeds” spreading just this message - ads shared across social networks, coalitions spreading awareness, there’s even a Nation Pit Bull Awareness DAY now.
Things get tricky however, because as much like to champion equality saying “all dogs are the same”, the genetic history of certain dogs does predispose them in a way that means they’ll need more work to keep their protective instincts under control than another dog might. For example, even though both are fully capable of being wonderful, safe, and loving pets, Pit Bulls are going to need more work than Golden Retrievers. Without any bias, that’s just the fact of the matter. While we might like to pretend this doesn’t exist, to do so would be irresponsible.
Still, when we hear a story about a Pit Bull attack, it stinks. “Owners either need to rise to the challenge of raising these dogs correctly or leave that job to someone else!” we think. When we know it’s not really their fault, our sense of injustice rightly flares hearing a dog might lose its life. I mean, do they deserve to die for their owner’s failure?? But then again, what else can be done at that point?
Even given extensive training, could it ever be safe to let a dog that has attacked back in a home?
Would you take a dog with this history into your home?
As much as we might like the idea of a second chance for a dog we know wasn’t really given a fair chance to begin with, is the chance of a repeat incident honestly worth the risk?
Apparently, at least TV’s the “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan seems to think so.
Gus The Pit Bull
Over a year after Gus the Pit Bull was first admitted into Montgomery County animal shelter awaiting final judgment, he’s been slated for release to the care of Cesar Millan on the terms of an out-of-court settlement. Gus had been living as a foster dog last February when, as volunteer home owner Amber Rickles told reporters, his kennel door accidentally closed on his toe and a 20 minute struggle ensued. He tore into her arm, bit into her left breast, and attacked another dog before it was over.
The photos of the injuries are shocking and incontrovertible. They truly could have been fatal without prompt medical care. However, the situation leading up to the attack has been questioned - namely by Jennifer Romano, former student of Cesar Millan, and owner of MaggiesHouse Rescue which placed Gus with Rickles to begin with.
It’s Romano, supported by the Lexus Project (a non-profit which provide free legal support for dogs on death row, not affiliated with the cars), who was responsible for Gus’s release just minutes before judgment was to be issued. Claiming Gus was actually being abused and reacted out of fear, Romano rallied a team of animal-rights groups and supporters to save Gus from euthanasia and the Lexus Project agreed to take his case.
Romano’s account on her facebook fan page “Save Sweet Gus.”
“I have the proof of the attack on Gus. The forcing of him into the kennel and even after I told her he cannot be forced into a kennel - the next day this is what she did. His foot then got caught, and she kicked him to get him in the kennel. She admitted this all in Gus’ hearing in front of her lawyer, and a judge, me, my board of directors, and animal control of Montgomery county in feb. She then said that he bit her arm, after the bite she then tasered him, reached for her taser and his legs went limp as did his whole body. Then she said she then called other people to punch him and that is what they did. I, as Gus’ owner, and President/Owner of MaggiesHouse Rescue had to sit there and endure the abuse that was put upon my Gus.”
Another person commenting on the “Save Sweet Gus” fan page claiming to have been part of the jury hearing his case mostly reiterated Romano’s claim that Rickles had confessed to abuse. However, some details in her telling were suspiciously different. As this woman told it, his foot was already injured when it became caught again and he bit before he was kicked.
Simple mistake? Willful disregard for facts? I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but it certainly doesn't look good.
Rickles’ Account of the Day
To summarize, Rickles says Gus was timid from the time he was first dropped off, and started becoming aggressive toward the other dogs, barking and lunging at them when he saw them, shortly thereafter. Though Rickles tried working with Gus following Cesar’s advice regarding aggressive dogs, he wasn’t responding to the training and she finally decided she didn’t feel safe having him in the house, so she tried calling Romano and asking her to pick him up. According to Rickles, Romano asked to have a couple days to find a new place for him and, alarmingly, didn’t seem surprised to hear about his aggressive behavior. (Also, contrary to what Romano had stated, Rickles claims she was never told not to crate Gus during this or any conversation.) Also according to Rickles, despite repeated attempts to contact her, Romano hadn’t returned any texts or phones calls before the day of the attack 3 days later which she describes in full detail here:
“On Thursday, February 7th, around 7:40am, I went to get Gus from outside and bring him inside to put him in his kennel. While he was loading up, one of his left front toes… got squeezed by the kennel door. I reached down with my left hand to help him get his toe out. After getting his toe out he bit onto my left wrist and would not release it.
I kicked him in hopes of getting him off my wrist. He let go only to jump up for my neck. Since I jerked my head back, he ended up latching onto my left breast. His two front feet were on my stomach as he shook vigorously trying to pull me down. With him still attached to me, I somehow got him backed up into my laundry area that connects to the house from the garage. During this struggle he ripped off that part of the jacket and I quickly shut him in the laundry area.
I then became fearful that my four year old son might open the door if he heard the commotion and thought it was mommy trying to get in. I decided to get a leash to try and catch him as he came out the door. Before I could get to a leash, he busted through the doors and turned to attack a dog that was in a kennel, “Stryker”. He latched onto the dog’s nose through the kennel door and was trying to pull him through. I grabbed my taser from the laundry area to get him off of the dog.
The moment he released Stryker, he turned around and latched onto my right arm, violently shaking and trying to pull my arm off. I felt my arm break. I tried tasing him again to get him to let go of me, but he would not release.
The only thoughts going through my head were that I needed to stay on my feet because if I fell he would kill me, and to stay as quiet as possible so that my son would not wander in wondering what was happening. I let him thrash and pull on my broken arm without fighting him. I made my arm “dead” hoping he would think he killed the "prey” and let go but it didn’t work.
During this struggle, I happened to look up out the window and see my neighbors across the street. I realized my only option for survival was to drag him still attached vigorously thrashing me out of my garage where I could yell for help. My neighbors heard me screaming, and they ran and jumped my fence to find him attacking me. All three of the men proceeded to punch him repeatedly in the head to get him to release me. The dog was not responding to this so one of the men ended up sticking his own hand around the dogs mouth so that Gus would bite his own cheeks.
Once Gus released my arm, the men pulled me away and into the front yard. This whole event was approximately 20 horrifying minutes. 911 was called by one of the men. I went inside to get my son and my phone. I came back outside and collapsed. I called my husband to come home and directed the other guys to call my mom and sister.”
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s Rickles account of Romano’s reaction after the fact. According to her, she got no response from Romano - despite calls on the way to the hospital and after her recovery - until she finally sent her a photo of her injury.
“She called back immediately, and her words were (and I quote) “Where is Gus?”… I was in the hospital 7 days and had 3 surgeries. Jenny never contacted me onceto check on me while I was there. In the end, the two broken bones in my right arm received one plate and four pins to fix the bone, and approximately 50 stitches to close the wound. Left arm received multiple punctures resulting in 8 stitches, and my left breast required 6 stitches to close.
Let me also add that when I was in the hospital, I was trying to contact Jenny to pick up Lady from my house… I never heard from Jenny about Lady. If she, and the others, were so concerned that I abused dogs why didn’t she rush over to get Lady?Also I want to point out that not once did Jenny ask what happened, or why Gus attacked me. NOT ONCE! She had no idea what happened until the day of court, which was held at the end of February.
After court is when she and the others started accusing me of abusing Gus. The last communication I had with Jenny was a text she sent me reading, “Hi sweetie. I hope you are feeling better. I see you deposited the $300 I gave you for Gus and I will need that back.”… My husband sent her a response back explaining that I had no health insurance, and that we needed to concentrate on medical bills, not giving her back the $300 for the dog that mauled his wife.
He told her not to contact me again.
She said she deserved that money back because Gus didn’t stay the whole month.”
Despite her ordeal and despite her belief that rightly, Gus should euthanized and cannot be made safe for re-homing, Rickles finally agreed in an out-of-court settlement that he be given a chance under Cesar’s care. The civil case between Romano and Rickles is still pending.
Road to Recovery?
In answers to skeptics at the decision of the settlement, Assistant County Attorney Stuart Hughes told reporters "This is something that the Lexus Project kept insisting on - that this dog can get adequate rehab at this facility." As for the actual rehab program, the exact details of his rehab are unknown and Cesar Millan’s Foundation was not available for comment. However, we do know it will last just two weeks and cost between $85 and $100 each day which need to be raised before he can be admitted. In the end, it will be they who will decide whether Gus is suitable to re-home.
“They don't just accept any case,” said Romano,“Gus is a very special dog! I trained Cesar's way. I trained with him and under him. (Gus) can be re-trained. Hecan get a second chance at life.” Romano told reporters. She strongly believes Gus will be safe to re-home when the program is through and continues to rally support on Gus’ behalf through social media.
As for Rickles, while she may have agreed to the current course, it was definitely with reluctance. “I feel that euthanizing him is the right thing to do because he is mentally not right. The money that would be spent on his “sanctuary” would be better used on ADOPTABLE dogs needing medical attention. Or perhaps take that money to help the shelters and local rescues. =Unfortunately, in my opinion, not all can be saved. Some animals cannot be safely handled, and accidents happen. I believe an accident was waiting to happen with Gus. I am, in a way “ok”, (for lack of a better phrase) that he mauled me, and was not in a home that God forbid had kids or someone less skilled to handle his mauling. Dogs like Gus don’t choose how they react, they just react.”
What do YOU think?
I really like to reserve judgment and be aware of bias (and potential deceit) from both sides, but after carefully reviewing everything being said, I’m inclined to side with Rickles. While Gus may very well have had a history of abuse, I don’t believe she was a part of that. To me, it seems Romano is deluded if well-meaning at best, and at worst, may be lying about Rickles just to cover her own butt. While I’d love to be proven wrong and see Gus go on to live happily and incident-free with a loving family, it just doesn’t feel at all realistic to me.
I mean, how could you really guarantee a dog that would turn like that could ever be safe?
How could you live with the guilt if you should be proven wrong?
Some people have suggested Gus should simply be re-homed somewhere without children. To me, while this makes some little amount of sense in that a child would be at increased risk should he turn, I can't understand why anyone would feel it's okay to risk a life so long as it's an adult's. Step back from the idea of the nameless, faceless person #8,893,457,345 somewhere out there somewhere who might take on Gus. Rickles wasn't just an adult. She was a person with a name, and a history, and a story. She was a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, and yes, a mother. And she was very close to having been taken from all that, from all those people for which she fulfilled those very important life roles. The idea of a second chance for Gus is lovely, and generous, but ask yourself honestly - is there anyone you personally love, whose story you know that you would like to see him go home with?
Finally - to the idea that Gus just needed a more experienced handler, I'd like to point out that experience, while protective, offers no guarantee of safety. Think Steve Irwin. Think Grizzly Man Diaries. Rickles was experienced, but even an expert swimmer can drown. If this could happen to her, it could happen to anyone.
We can't let that happen.
June 11, 2014:
Apparently, not even Cesar could help Gus. A surveillance video showing Gus brutally attacking another dog in Mr. Milan's kennel was uploaded by the owner of the dog being attacked. Thanks, Martha for sharing this update with us: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4MMMMp8alI
October 23, 2014:
Six days after Ms. Romano decided to take Gus out of rehab and home with her, the clearly troubled Pit Bull attacked her boyfriend John and his "lady friend" Allison. Both her boyfriend and Allison required hospitalization, though Allison, who had no idea of the dog's history, was injured much more extensively. Similar to the injuries endured by Rickles, Allison suffered a broken arm and severe bite wound requiring surgery. After leaving the hospital, sources say she researched the case and decided to call animal control. Gus is now being held in a shelter awaiting trail. Once again the right to euthanize Gus is being sought. As for the formerly outspoken Ms. Romano, she has yet to comment except to say "No, I would not have stated he was ready for release..." The Lexus Project which had been her primary support was removed from the case.
(Thanks to Kiyote from twitter @Yotie72 for alerting me to the development in this case!)
More details from the mouths of both sides on the situation:
The Support Sweet Amber Facebook Fan Page:
1st Post: "This is the most recent update that we know of from my lawyers, the lawyers who contacted them and animal control law enforcement. What we put here is all we have been told. We will not expand or add to what we know. We will update as we get updates and are cleared to tell by lawyers.Gus (the dog who attacked Amber and who has been at the Dog Psychology Center in CA) was released to a foster home, deemed rehabilitated. (We do not have exact dates on any of this yet.) He then attacked a visitor of the foster much in the same manner he attacked Amber. We do not know the details on what caused the attack. We are just learning about all of this our self. That person suffered a broken arm and bite wound, we are told much like Amber. Gus is now being held at an animal control shelter awaiting a trial like he did here. We know that the shelter is seeking euthanasia as we did here."
2nd Post: "Let us just say. We assumed Gus was deemed "rehabilitated " because based on court documents from TX he was not to be released unless deemed rehabilitated. We have not read any documents at this time from the DPC. We will post what circumstances he was released once we here this from lawyers involved directly. We at this point just know he was released to a foster home..."
The Lexus Project Facebook Fan Page:
1st Post: "...We just found out that Gus, the pitbull we saved in Texas was taken from Cesar Milan's by Animal Control due to another incident. From what we have learned Gus was doing quite well at DPC when his owner removed him from Cesar's before he was ready and left him with a friend, who ignored the clear instructions he was given by the trainers at the DPC. (Don't allow him on the bed, don't feed him from the table, etc)..."
2nd Post "We appreciate hearing back from the DPC when we reached out to find out what happened with Gus: 'All we know at this point is that when Jenny R. boyfriend, John V. and Jenny decided to take Gus to John's house, we had no legal right to tell them they couldn't do so since Jenny is the legal owner. And within 6 days of John having Gus, John got bit by Gus and apparently had a lady friend over at the time by the name of Alison who was laying on the bed with Gus, and apparently also got bit; much worse then John. Both went to the hospital. John was released, went home and got Gus, and brought him back to the DPC. Alison stayed for surgery. John has stated he knows he wasn't supposed to have Gus on the bed, but felt things were going well until this happened of course and that he and his homeowner's insurance would take care of Alison and her medical bills and time off from work. She later returned home (which is in FL I believe), researched Maggie's House Rescue and Jenny and Gus, and discovered the prior case, and that's where this has all taken off - this is according to ACO. While John's home owner's insurance is handling the case, they of course are further investigating as well. Meanwhile, Alison attorneys did contact Animal Control and they came and seized Gus and he is in quarantine at an undisclosed location. At this point, they will only allow Jenny Romano or her representation to discuss anything further with them, and have eliminated us from the picture.' When asked if Gus was ready to be released: 'And no I would not have stated he was ready for release.'"
3rd Post: "He was sent to DPC because there wasn't any "body" he could go to with based on the aggression he showed and he is not other dog tolerant. This was THE only option for Gus. The owner worked out whatever arrangements she made with the facility. We are sad for Gus. We are sad for the people who were innocently hurt, but we are angry as hell that Gus was brought to someone who clearly could not It handle a dog like Gus or follow simple instructions. Someone who "knew better". Human error has failed Gus. Again."
The "Save Sweet Gus" Facebook Fan Page:
Apparently no longer exists. Huh... and it was doing so well! 60,000 or close to that number of fans. Wonder why Romano would get rid of such a popular page...
January 8, 2015:
Thanks for the tip, Robin!
From the "Support Sweet Amber" fan page:
"So LA had their trial today. Gus was deemed vicious, again, and Jenny Romano was fined $2k. They have a final trial on January 29th to decide Gus's fate. He is still being held by LA County and will remain there until trial is over."
LA Court Tentative Ruling:
"The County of Los Angeles has filed a Petition to Determine if Dog is Vicious pursuant to Los Angeles County Code § 10.37.030. Following are the Court’s tentative views upon reviewing the petition only. The Court has not yet received evidence from respondents Jennifer Romano and John Vazzoler, or from the Dog Psychology Center, and the Court remains ready to change its views upon the receipt of additional persuasive evidence...Respondent Vazzoler, who lives in this County, took possession of Gus on September 17, 2014, at Romano’s request. It is unclear what Vazzoler knew about Gus’s history. Only six days later, Gus attacked Vazzoler and a friend, Alison Bitney, inside Vazzoler’s home...Based on the petition, Gus is a vicious dog under LACC § 10.37.030(B). Gus clearly acted aggressively to injure Vazzoler and Bitney. The issues are whether (1) he was provoked and (2) whether the injuries were severe.
According to the statements of Vazzoler and Bitney, Gus was not provoked when he injured them in the September 23, 2014, incident, as he committed the initial action of latching his mouth onto Vazzoler’s arm before either person acted aggressively toward him. While Vazzoler’s injuries were not minor, they do not appear to have been “severe” as defined by LACC § 10.37.040. His injuries were lacerations requiring a single stitch. Britney, however, suffered severe injury: a fractured ulna, a fractured radius, a tricep tear, an extensor muscle tear, puncture wounds, lacerations, and soft tissue damage. She needed pain medication and had surgery the following day. She reports only a 50% chance of sensation returning to her left hand, and she is undergoing physical therapy...
The County is seeking three remedies: (1) that Gus be destroyed per LACC § 10.37.140(A); (2) that both respondents be prohibited from owning or possessing a dog in California for three years per LACC § 10.37.140(G), and, accordingly, surrender any dogs they possess; and (3) that both respondents be ordered to pay a $2000 fine for two bases on which the viciousness determination was made above, per LACC § 10.37.140(F)...
From the petition alone, it is clear that the release of the dog would be such a significant threat. The statute, however, also permits the Court to order that a vicious dog not be destroyed if there are “conditions upon the ownership of the dog that protect the public health, safety, and welfare.” Based on the petition alone, the Court has insufficient indication that proper conditions can effectively be imposed...
Romano lives in Texas, and appears not to have had direct contact with Gus during the time that Gus has been in California. However, she allowed a vicious dog to be released to a person, Vazzoler, who apparently was unprepared to control it. This appears to be a sufficient basis to conclude that allowing Romano to possess a dog in California “would create a significant threat to the public health, safety, and welfare.” Food and Agriculture Code § 31646. Thus, absent additional evidence at the hearing, the Court would prevent Romano from owning or possessing a dog in California for three years, and to surrender any dog she possesses that is located in California...
Whether or not a fine is authorized for a custodian, for similar reasons to those stated in the section immediately above, the Court is inclined to impose a $2000 fine on respondent Romano but not upon respondent Vazzoler. Based on the petition alone, it is not clear that Vazzoler knowingly or negligently acted in any way that caused a violation of the county code. On the other hand, Romano appears to have allowed a dog that had been determined to be vicious and ordered destroyed in Texas into the custody of an individual who was not prepared to protect himself or others from harm. This warrants the $2000 fine upon Romano only."
Full tentative ruling HERE.