Springfield attorney Claude M. Kicklighter may not be a pit bull of a lawyer but his client certainly is. Kicklighter’s new client is Kno, a pit bull facing euthanasia after attacking a five year old boy. Judge William E. Woodrum Jr. has enlisted Kicklighter pro bono to represent the dog. In layman’s term, that means it will be all bark and no bones for Kicklighter.
Kno attacked Wesley Frye, 5, while Wesley was playing with a friend inside a neighbor’s home. One of the dog’s owners, Julie Long, stopped the attack, but Wesley had to undergo two surgeries. The dog was declared dangerous by the state and the owners surrendered ownership. The dog’s other owner, Larry A. Long Jr., was told that he could request a hearing to challenge the dog’s classification.
He did not request a hearing and the county moved to euthanize. I am a bit surprise by the appointment of counsel since this is often done without a hearing, let alone representation. Moreover, absent a case of mistaken identity, Kno meets the legal definition of a vicious animal in the attack. Indeed, some jurisdictions have laws categorically barring pit bulls or, more commonly, declaring them to be vicious or dangerous animals. The latter approach triggers common law strict liability for any bites.
The Longs certain have reason to worry if Kno had a previously history of vicious behavior. The common law “one free bite rule” is a misnomer. A bite is not needed if the dog has displayed vicious tendencies by charging neighbors or destroying property.
One of the most infamous cases involved two lawyers. Lawyers Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel were successfully prosecuted after their huge “Presa Canario” dogs mauled and killed neighbor, Diane Whipple, in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building in January 2001. Whipple was bitten 77 times and the dogs nearly severed her vertebrae.
Jurors found Marjorie Knoller’s husband, Robert Noel, guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and found Knoller guilty of second-degree murder.
The common law rule also applies to wild animals. Defining some animals as wild can be done with reference to statutes or the lack of animus revertendi (the habit of return). The most common category in the United States is the possession of wolves or part-wolf animals as pets.
The decision not to contest the classification might come at a legal cost. While the Longs could still argue that there was no basis for considering Kno a dangerous animal before the attack, a plaintiffs’ lawyer could try to get into evidence the determination by the court. It would be the subject of a pre-trial motion and could be kept out of trial. However, what if the court based its decision not simply on the attack but the dog’s behavior before the attack?
Either way, the Longs could be looking at liability under either a strict liability or negligence theory.
22 thoughts on “A Pit Bull’s Pit Bull: Court Appoints Attorney To Represent Dog On Death Row”
Four years ago my brother volunteered at one of New York City’s “animal shelters” as a dog walker. At that time the shelter system here was so short staffed that many of the dogs were not being walked. The largest number of dogs in this system, by breed, is the Pit Bull. They are typically found on the street having been discarded by amateur trainers who, after trying to “train them”, deem the dogs to be not vicious enough to be winners in illegal dog fights. Many of these street dogs are partially feral and often display visible scars from their “training”. Some of the weaker or kinder ones have neck scars from having been tethered to a pole and used to bait the more aggressive ones. For these dogs the “shelter” is actually “death row” as they can only be kept for adoption for a short time before the ever moving stream of incoming dogs requires more space.
While my brother was walking a small hungry female Pit Bull she picked up a plastic bottle cap from the street and began chewing on it. Not wanting the dog to swallow it he reached into her mouth to take it out. In the course of her chewing she “bit” his finger which produced a lot of blood. The staff had to report this as a dog bite which pretty much doomed the dog to the euthanasia fast track. Her only reprieve was that there needed to be a waiting period to see if she had rabies. During this time my brother stepped up to the plate and declared that since the incident was his fault he accepted full responsibility and intended to rescue the dog. Due to the history of the “bite”, this required special paperwork with the city which had to be filed and approved.
With the appropriate paperwork in hand, at the end of the waiting period he took the somewhat feral dog home and named her Brooklyn after the borough in which she was found. After about 6 months of experimenting with diet and frequent visits to the veterinarian, digestive issues that the dog probably developed on the street or in the “shelter” were worked out and the dog became a happy and healthy companion. The bond between my brother and this dog is now a wonder to behold. Brooklyn has turned out to be one of the sweetest, most affectionate dogs I have ever known. In my experience the problems with Pit Bulls derive almost exclusively from abuse by humans, either through breeding or “training”. One strange side effect of this however is that the breeders needed a dog who would not attack them but only other dogs when fighting. Paradoxically this has resulted in a breed that are perhaps the most loyal and affectionate dogs to humans that I have ever seen.
All dogs require some degree of training to be a good pet and most people are clueless as to this need and how to fulfill it. Depending on the circumstances of their prior life Pit Bulls, on a case by case basis, may need more training than most other breeds. Often times this is to overcome the fear that they may have for other dogs, a fear which most people see as aggression. If you are willing to work with them however, the places you will discover within your own humanity will be picked up by your dog and turned into trust at which point you will find yourself with one amazing pet.
You can have a Pug in the apartment if you want.
Do you want to bake bread? Do you want to adopt convicts?
Wait until they get loose.
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