Friday, November 16, 2007

Smith sorry for errors

Now I've heard everything! When a Chief Coroner can't tell the difference between knife slashing or the bites and ripping that a dog would make, doesn't make any sense to me...and why now?

Surely knife stabbings and a mouth full of teeth would make two totally different types of wounds.

How is it now that after all this time, suddenly a Pit bull is now the culprit? How handy now that they have received a bad reputation, so let's change this charge to, 'the dog did it!' Well, I for one am not buying it.

You can make your own conclusions from reading this article in the Kingston Wig-Standard.

Let's hope this doesn't become an epidemic that gangsters and murders can easily say, 'It was the Pit bull.'

Smith sorry for errors
Posted By Rob Tripp Whig

The doctor whose faulty con-clusions helped put a Kingston woman behind bars for nearly two years says he's "truly sorry" for his "honest" mistakes.

At the opening yesterday of public hearings in a provincial inquiry, Dr. Charles Smith acknowledged publicly for the first time that he made errors during two decades of child-death investigations.

"As this inquiry commences and before any testimony is heard, Dr. Smith wishes to publicly acknowledge to the commission that in the 20 years that he performed autopsies at the direction of the Office of the Chief Coroner, he made a number of mistakes for which he is truly sorry," lawyer Niels Ortved said on behalf of Smith. "Dr. Smith sincerely regrets these mistakes and apologizes to all who may have been affected by his errors."

Smith, who performed more than 1,000 autopsies on contract for the province, testified during a 1999 child death case in Toronto that he had never made a mistake.

Now his errors are at the root of what could be Canada's largest wrongful-conviction scandal. It has torn apart the lives of dozens of people accused of murdering children.

Louise Reynolds is among them.

She was living in a Rosemund Crescent townhouse in Kingston in 1997 when she was charged with murdering her seven-year-old daughter, Sharon.

Late on the evening of June 12, Sharon's horribly mutilated body was found in the basement of the family home.

Smith performed the autopsy on Sharon, concluding she was stabbed to death. Police arrested Reynolds.

When other experts later determined that a pit bull terrier mauled the little girl, the charge was withdrawn, but not before Reynolds had spent 22 months behind bars.

In 2005, another expert reviewed the case and labelled Smith's conclusion a "serious misdiagnosis."

The Reynolds case is one of 20 that are at the heart of the public inquiry. It was called after a review of 45 cases where Smith, once considered a top expert on suspicious child deaths, was involved as a consultant or as the pathologist who conducted the autopsy.

Reviewers found errors in 20 of the 45 cases, including a dozen where there were convictions. One person was found not criminally responsible.

"Dr. Smith wishes to emphasize that any such mistakes were made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations in which he was involved," the doctor said in his statement.

Smith said he did his best with the knowledge and expertise he had at the time.

"In retrospect, he understands that in some of the 20 cases which form the basis of this inquiry, his work, while to the best of his ability at the time, was simply not good enough in certain instances," his lawyer said.

Smith said he did his best to "approach each case in the same objective manner."

Judge Stephen Goudge, who heads the inquiry, must provide the Ontario government with recommendations to restore public confidence in the system and prevent future errors.

"The examination of individual cases is important only as it helps identify systemic failings that must be addressed if public confidence in pediatric forensic pathology is to be restored and enhanced," Goudge said in his opening remarks.

Commission lawyers explained that they have already interviewed 48 witnesses and reviewed hundreds of thousands of pages of material.

Smith said, in his statement, that pediatric forensic pathology is an "inexact science" that is constantly evolving.

"Unquestionably, what may have represented a consensus of professional opinion in the 1980s and 1990s may very well be viewed differently in 2007," he said.

He also told the inquiry that his experience points to an obvious problem with death investigations, an "informational disconnect" between coroners and pathologists.

"If we wish to ensure that the conclusions concerning death investigations are as accurate as possible, and the court is obtaining the optimal opinion evidence, the various arms of an investigation - the police, the coroner, the pathologist and the Crown prosecutor - must be integrated in a more co-ordinated fashion," Smith suggests.

Smith is expected to testify at the inquiry in late January, although he is still locked in a dispute with the commission, arguing he should be questioned first by his own lawyers.

If he's granted the right, he won't have to submit to an interview by commission staff before his public appearance. He has so far refused to submit to an interview.

Reynolds told the Whig-Standard, in an interview earlier this year, that she has no interest in appearing at the inquiry or addressing Smith.

"Our system is a joke to say the least," she said. "It puts innocent people in jail and lets the guilty go free."

The former chief coroner for Ontario, Dr. Barry McLellan, and Dr. Michael Pollanen, the province's chief forensic pathologist, were the first witnesses yesterday.

They spent the day explaining how the Chief Coroner's Office operates and how death investigations are handled.

I have to say as I investigated more on this case, it became even more horrifying than even first though. You will too as you read through more press releases.

Charles Smith and child deaths

This week, Dr. Charles Smith said he was sorry. Sorry for the "number of mistakes" he made in 20 child-death cases in which he was either the pathologist doing the autopsy or held the role of expert consultant. Sorry, presumably, that people went to jail as a result of his errors and that families were torn apart.

Oh, and sorry enough to have his lawyer stand in for him to deliver the message of apology at the opening of a public inquiry focused on his actions. Smith himself won't appear until January.

Along with his apology, the doctor also stressed that his mistakes were "made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations" in which they were made. He acted, according to his lawyer, to the best of his ability, trying to be objective and fair with each case he considered.

If this is so, it can only add to public alarm, for Charles Smith was once considered one of Canada's pre-eminent pediatric forensic experts. Yet he utterly botched several cases, including that of Kingstonian Louise Reynolds, who was accused, chiefly on the strength of Smith's conclusions, of murdering her daughter. He believed the little girl had been stabbed dozens of times, but other experts later concluded the child was mauled by a pit bull, a fate gruesome enough without the added obscenity of a misdiagnosis.

So if Smith couldn't get it right, what does this say about the overall system of dealing with suspicious deaths in general and child deaths in particular?

That's part of what Justice Stephen Goudge is supposed to determine in his inquiry. In fact, it's to take up most of his focus. The probe isn't meant to re-examine Smith's errors other than to see if they point to systemic failings.

Smith's team has been quick to emphasize this focus. Amid the mea culpas this week was a statement by the discredited doctor that there is an "informational disconnect" in the investigative system between coroners, pathologists, police and Crown attorneys. Starting, apparently, with Smith's inability to draw more accurate conclusions than he did.

Yesterday, the inquiry heard that Smith asked the chief coroner in 2001 to excuse him from performing autopsies - and that this did not happen. He mostly did not participate in "criminally suspicious" cases after that time, according to testimony from a former Ontario chief coroner. But he did handle one such case, which was later reviewed.

Why was Smith handling any cases when he himself felt he should not? Will this be judged part of the "disconnect" and "systemic" problems Justice Goudge must confront?

If poor information and communication is really a major problem, the probe will perhaps uncover other egregious examples of forensic pathology run amok, involving other doctors. Let us hope it does not. Let us hope that Smith was truly an anomaly.

Pathologist Regrets Errors in Evidence

TORONTO (AP) — A Canadian pathologist whose expert testimony led to wrongful convictions for several people accused of killing small children, including one man who spent a decade in jail, said Monday that he was "truly sorry" for his mistakes.

A public inquiry into the work of Dr. Charles Smith, once considered the country's leading pediatric pathologist, was read a statement in which he apologized for errors in analyzing 20 cases of child deaths. Twelve led to convictions, some of which have been thrown out by courts.
Smith did not appear as the government-appointed commission opened its inquiry, and his statement was read by his lawyer, Niels Ortved.

"Dr. Smith wishes to publicly acknowledge ... that in the 20 years that he performed autopsies at the direction of the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario, he made a number of mistakes for which he is truly sorry," Ortved said.

"In retrospect, he understands that in some 20 cases which form the basis of this inquiry, his work, while to the best of his ability at the time, was simply not good enough in certain circumstances."

Smith has not been charged with any crimes, and is not expected to testify before the inquiry until January. He stopped performing autopsies in 2001 after several cases in which he was involved fell apart amid questions about the quality of his work.

The commission has no authority to punish Smith or evaluate past convictions. It is reviewing Ontario's pediatric forensic system and will recommend changes in order to restore public confidence amid accusations that Smith repeatedly made errors that tore families apart.

Though Smith acknowledged he made mistakes, he claimed the errors were "made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations in which he was involved."

The probe was ordered by Ontario's provincial government seven months ago after an investigation of 45 child deaths involving autopsies or expert testimony from Smith found the pathologist made questionable findings in 20 cases dating back to 1991.

In one case, Smith's testimony played a key role in the conviction of a man who spent 12 years in jail for sexually assaulting and strangling his 4-year-old niece. Evidence later surfaced that showed the girl died of natural causes, and William Mullins-Johnson was exonerated last month.
Mullins-Johnson told CBC television that Smith's actions destroyed his life and that he hoped the pathologist will face criminal conviction.

In another case, a mother was charged with murder after Smith testified at a pretrial hearing that her daughter died of multiple stab wounds. A later autopsy found the girl was mauled by a pit bull. The mother, Louise Reynolds, spent two years in jail awaiting trial before she was exonerated.

Smith's testimony also led to the conviction of a mother who spent a year in prison for the 1996 death of her infant son. Sherry Sherrett is appealing her conviction for infanticide after another pathologist determined the boy died of natural causes. After Sherrett was charged, the province put one of her other children up for adoption.

Just last week, Canada's Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a couple convicted in the death of their infant son because Smith's testimony was discredited by new evidence from two other doctors.

Smith inquiry reveals details of 10 new cases

Discredited pathologist Dr. Charles Smith made questionable findings
Nov 14, 2007
Theresa Boyle staff reporter

Extensive details of 10 new cases in which discredited child pathologist Dr. Charles Smith made questionable findings were unveiled at a public inquiry yesterday.

Justice Stephen Goudge, who is heading the Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario, issued a publication ban on the names of some of the victims while others were replaced by pseudonyms.

Lawyers for individuals covered by the ban said the move was necessary to protect their clients from further hardship.

But the case files, some more than 100 pages long, reveal the details of the deaths of the 10 children – most of them infants; one almost 4-years-old.

In all of the cases yesterday, criminal charges were laid against one or both of the parents based on Smith's findings after autopsies on the victims.

The inquiry has chosen to deal with 18 of the 20 cases in which there were found to be problems. The 18 case histories released yesterday – including the 10 previously undisclosed – filled two large binders.

During testimony yesterday, the inquiry heard that senior officials in the province's chief coroner's office decided four years ago that the brakes had to be put on Smith.

"Decision by all present – he can't continue medical-legal post-mortems or committee work," state notes taken by Al O'Marra, then chief legal counsel to the office of the coroner.

He was referring to Smith, who was present at that October 2003 meeting along with then-chief coroner Jim Young, deputy coroner Jim Cairns, and acting chief coroner Barry McLellan.

The committee work referred to in O'Marra's notes were the Pediatric Death Review and Death Under Two committees. Smith sat on both.

O'Marra's notes were tabled yesterday as exhibits.

The province called for the inquiry after it was revealed that problems had been found in 20 child-death investigations in which Smith performed autopsies or rendered opinions. In 12 of those cases, individuals were convicted of crimes; in one, an individual was found not criminally responsible; and in seven, people were suspected or charged with crimes but not convicted.

O'Marra's notes from the high-level meeting indicate that Smith did not want to take responsibility for the problems.

"No insights into problems – deflects all criticism to failings of others," read the notes.

McLellan, who testified yesterday, revealed that there was some disagreement in the chief coroner's office on what to do about Smith. McLellan favoured a hard-line approach, but his boss at the time, Young, disagreed.

"We did not agree. ... Dr. Young was aware of my position. I certainly respected his position as chief coroner," McLellan said.

But when McLellan was promoted to the job of chief coroner in April 2004, he took immediate steps to remove Smith from the position of head of the Ontario Pediatric Forensic Unit, located at the Hospital for Sick Children.

"I met with Dr. Smith and I indicated that I felt he should not be continuing in that role," McLellan said.

The inquiry heard how Young had publicly stated that an internal review was necessary, after murder charges were dropped in the case of Louise Reynolds, who spent two years in jail for the death of her 7-year-old daughter. Smith had concluded the child was stabbed to death but a review by other pathologists determined she was mauled by a pit bull.

Commission counsel Linda Rothstein said evidence will be produced in the coming days showing that despite Young's call for an internal review at that time, the coroner "later determined that a review would not go ahead because of legal advice."

Smith himself had even asked his superiors to intervene after charges were withdrawn in the Reynolds case and in the case of a woman who had been charged with killing her 3-year-old stepson. Other pathologists had determined the boy died after a fall.

In a January 2001 letter to Young, Smith asked to be excused from the performance of medical-legal autopsies and that an external review be done of his work.

Concerns about Smith persisted as the number of questionable cases continued to mount, the inquiry heard.

"I personally had concerns about Dr. Smith's ongoing involvement with committees, with conducting autopsies and with being the director of the unit in the context of ongoing concerns about his work," said McLellan, who also noted that Smith had an ongoing problem with tardiness.

He said that in 2003, Cairns responded to the concerns by removing Smith from the committees that investigate child deaths.

"He was still at this time conducting autopsies on non-homicide and non-criminally suspicious cases and he was still director of the unit," McLellan noted, referring to the Hospital for Sick Children's forensic unit.

Smith's performance was eventually addressed by a forensic services advisory committee, which is expected to be further examined by the inquiry today.

The new cases

1. Baby F
Date: Born and died Nov. 28, 1996.

Case facts:
Baby F’s mother, a teenager, told police she had felt sick after coming home from school. After sitting on the toilet for 30 minutes, she saw a great deal of blood.
Under hypnosis, she recalled seeing a baby in the toilet covered in blood and water.
She put the baby, wrapped in a towel, in a plastic bag in her closet.
On July 6, 1998, she pleaded guilty to infanticide and was given a two-month “conditional sentence, to be served at home,” three years’ probation and 150 hours of community service.
A psychiatric assessment indicated that Baby F’s mother had been “consistent in denying that she knew about the pregnancy” and was suffering from “acute stress disorder.”

Smith’s finding:
The baby girl appeared to be full-term and survived “for a period of time” following delivery.
Death was caused by asphyxia, attributed to infanticide.

Baby F’s mother was granted a pardon on Oct. 24 last year.

2. Tamara

Born Jan. 18, 1998; died Feb. 8, 1999.

Case facts:
Tamara had no contact with her father until September 1998, after which her mother testified he came over three or four times a week and helped look after Tamara and her two sisters.
The Children’s Aid Society was notified after Tamara was treated at Sick Kids’ hospital on Jan. 20, 1999, for a broken thigh.
Tamara and one of her sisters were left in the care of Tamara’s father the morning of Feb. 8, her mother said.
She called several times but he didn’t answer.
He told police she was in her playpen with a bottle and he fell asleep.
Tamara’s mother testified that when she came home, Tamara was lying on her back with a scrape on her forehead and a bruise on her cheek and not breathing.
A radiology report found “multiple fractures in various stages of healing ... highly suspicious for nonaccidental trauma.”
The father was charged with second-degree murder.

Smith’s finding:
Cause of death was given as “asphyxia associated with multiple traumatic injuries.”

Tamara’s father pleaded guilty to manslaughter Aug. 30, 2001; he was sentenced to 15 months time served and 361/2 years prison.

3. Katharina

Born March 20, 1992; found dead Sept. 15, 1995.

Case facts:
Katharina’s father, Lawrence Babineau, and mother, Gabriela Chaparro-Najar, married in 1993 when the baby was 11 months old. The family lived in Oshawa until June 1994, when the parents split up and the mother moved with Katharina to her sister’s home in Toronto. A custody battle began with Chaparro-Najar alleging that Babineau had abused the child and Babineau claiming she had threatened to kill Katharina rather than let him have custody. Babineau told police he feared she would flee with the child to her native Colombia. Police forced entry into the apartment. They found Katharina’s body in the bedroom and Chaparro-Najar climbing over the balcony. She was charged with murder.

Smith’s finding:
Death was caused by “asphyxia in a pattern of neck or chest compression,” consistent with having been suffocated with a pillow. The exact time of death, he said, was uncertain.

On Nov. 3, 1997, Katharina’s mother was found not criminally responsible. She was detained at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health until April 2001. She received an absolute discharge on Dec. 13, 2001.

4 .Taylor

Born April 16, 1996, in Thunder Bay; found dead July 31, 1996.

Case facts:
Taylor’s parents, Lanny and Laura, were charged with second-degree murder, criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide necessities of life. The couple had had an argument, after Taylor had been put to bed, and Laura left the apartment carrying her son from a previous relationship. Lanny followed her and the couple were seen arguing and crying before the three returned home. Lanny reported he fell asleep on the couch and was woken by Laura’s screams. An autopsy revealed several broken ribs and a brain injury. Cause of death was given as acute head injury. There was information that Larry had abused a child he had with another woman.

Smith’s finding:
Noting that the original radiologist’s report observed two or three fractures, Smith said a review of evidence indicated a total of 14 fractures and other possible injuries. He said the cause of death was consistent with “blunt trauma,” not shaking.

Lanny and Laura were discharged on all counts because “there was no evidence of motive, intent or exclusive opportunity to cause the injury that resulted in Taylor’s death.”

5. Tyrell

Born Feb. 1, 1994; died Jan. 23, 1998.

Case facts:
Tyrell’s father, Garth, was in jail for manslaughter and the whereabouts of his mother, Janette, unknown.
He lived with Garth’s former partner, Maureen, and her two children.
Medical reports said Maureen said Tyrell had been running around, jumped off a couch and fell, hitting his head. He was taken to hospital Jan. 19, 1998, after she couldn’t wake him.
He was transferred to the Hospital for Sick Children, where he died. Cause of death was recorded as “herniation of brain stem ..... consistent with a severe shaking episode.”
Maureen’s son told police she hit Tyrell “a lot.”
Maureen was charged with second-degree murder.

Smith’s finding:
Smith reportedly told police that the head injury was caused “by flat object — impact.” He testified that Tyrell did not show signs of “classic shaking” but couldn’t rule out the possibility. Smith noted a contusion or discolouration to the brain that was noted by another examiner, who disagreed with his opinion that “a household fall can result in death only when there is epidural hemorrhaging.”

Outcome: The charge against Maureen was withdrawn Jan. 22, 2001.

6. Dustin

Born Sept. 9, 1992; died Nov. 18, 1992.

Case facts:
Dustin lived in Belleville with his parents Mary and Richard.
After an argument, Mary spent the night at a friend’s home, leaving Dustin with Richard. When she returned, there was another violent quarrel and Richard left, taking Dustin and Mary’s daughter, who was not his biological child. Richard was later seen pushing a baby carriage. Dustin was in it, a witness said, “with foam (coming) out of his nose. He was white and his eyelids were blue.”
The witness told police Richard shook Dustin, but not violently.
A hospital radiologist reported injuries “strongly suggestive of a shaken baby.”
Cause of death was given as respiratory failure and a traumatic brain injury.

Smith’s finding:
Smith commented in his report that “In the absence of a credible explanation, this injury must be regarded as non-accidental in nature.”
In testimony, he said, “Though I would prefer the explanation that it was a shaking-type injury, I cannot rule out the possibility that, in fact, he was stuck by some blunt object.”

On April 21, 1995, Richard pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was jailed six months.

7. Gaurov

Born Feb. 11, 1992; died March 20, 1992.

Case facts:
On March 18, the mother of a 5-week-old boy called 911 and said he had stopped breathing. According to the father, he had been fed at 12:30 a.m. A half-hour later the father heard the baby cry and picked him up. He took several breaths, gasped, turned blue and went limp.
The father tried to resuscitate him. Emergency services and Gaurov’s aunt and uncle arrived. The aunt shook him a couple of times to try to revive him.
He was rushed to hospital with no heartbeat and not breathing. He was intubated and his heartbeat restored.
After tests, he was transferred to the Hospital for Sick Children. A CT scan found brain hemorrhaging consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
On March 20 baby Gaurov died.

Smith’s finding:
Smith listed cause of death as “head injury.”
In his autopsy report he stated the baby had acute epidural hemorrhaging of the spinal cord and acute subdural hemorrhaging.

Gaurov’s father was charged with second-degree murder on July 1, 1992. On Dec. 3, 1992, he pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death and was sentenced to 90 days.

8. Delaney

Born Dec. 20, 1992; died May 23, 1993.

Case facts:
Five-month-old Delaney lived with his mother, Olga Policarpo, in Woodstock, Ont.
On the day before his death his mother had invited her relatives to her house to pray for help for her 2-year-old niece, who had liver and heart problems.
Relatives later said they communicated with the Virgin Mary. Delaney was found dead the next day.
Policarpo was arrested and taken to hospital, where doctors assessed her as being in a psychotic state.

Smith’s finding:
The cause of death was listed as “asphyxia.”
Smith told police the baby’s death was caused by compression or blunt trauma injury and there was evidence of hemorrhaging in the upper chest and lower neck.
In a request for a skeletal survey of Delaney, he wrote: “Sudden death of baby while family was involved in cult-like activities.”

Policarpo was charged with second-degree murder.
While in hospital she told Susan Garton, a nurse at London Psychiatric Hospital, that the Lady of Guadeloupe “made me kill my baby.”
She was found not guilty of second-degree murder but was convicted of infanticide.

9. Amber

Born March 13, 1987; died July 30, 1988.

Case facts:
Amber was born in Timmins, Ont.
Her parents, Francis and Richard, left her in the care of S.M., a 12-year-old babysitter, on July 28, 1988.
During the day the toddler fell down five stairs, the sitter said. Paramedics found the baby with no visible injuries and breathing irregularly.
On July 30, 1988, she was pronounced brain dead. The cause of death was listed by the coroner as “cerebral edema due to head injury after an accidental fall.”
An autopsy was requested due to “a high level of suspicion of foul play.”

Smith’s finding:
Smith testified he believed Amber had been shaken to death. He told police there was no way the fall could have killed her.
The final autopsy report was signed on Nov. 28, 1988, but Smith only cited a “head injury.”

S.M. was charged with manslaughter on Dec. 15, 1988. She was acquitted on July 25, 1991. Smith testified Amber’s injuries “don’t fit those from a fall down stairs.”
The judge ruled shaking wasn’t established to his satisfaction. S.M.’s father laid a complaint against Smith at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which ruled Smith’s approach was acceptable.

10. Kenneth

Born May 18, 1991; died Oct. 12, 1993.

Case facts:
At the time of his death, the almost 2-1/2-year-old lived with his mother and stepfather, Rick, in Oshawa, Ont.
Kenneth’s mother was still in high school in Scarborough when the baby was born.
She came from “an abusive and dysfunctional family” and had problems with alcohol abuse and parenting.
Kenneth had been in Children’s Aid Society care four times.
He had repeated trips to the hospital for seizures, asthma, bumps, bruises and a broken leg.
On Oct. 9, after an afternoon nap, Kenneth’s mother woke to find him twisted in his sheets and blankets and unable to breathe. She got him out and called 911.
Paramedics found Kenneth without any vital signs. On Oct. 11 he was termed clinically dead.

Smith’s finding:
In his post-mortem report Smith said the cause of death was asphyxia. He testified his findings from the autopsy were consistent with suffocation with a soft object or a plastic bag.

Kenneth’s mother was convicted of second-degree murder in October 1995 and sentenced to life. While awaiting trial she gave birth to a son, which the CAS took away.

The known cases

Lianne Thibeault: Smith suggested Thibeault was responsible for the death of her 11-month-old son before another pathologist concluded the cause was undetermined.

Brenda Waudby: Because of Smith’s findings, that Waudby’s 21-month-old baby died of abdominal trauma that occurred hours, even days, before her death, Waudby was wrongfully charged. A babysitter later admitted beating the baby shortly before she died.

Anisa and Marco Trotta: After Smith’s pathology reports on the death of their baby were deemed unreliable, the couple, who already spent time in jail, were granted a new trial by the Supreme Court.

Louise Reynolds: After Smith concluded that her 7-year-old daughter’s injuries were consistent with stab wounds, Reynolds was charged with the death. It was later determined that her daughter was killed by a dog.

William Mullins-Johnson: Smith consulted on the case of Mullins-Johnson’s 4-year-old niece, determining she was strangled. After Mullins-Johnson spent 12 years in jail, Smith’s testimony was reviewed and he was acquitted last month.

Angela Veno and Anthony Kporwodu: Smith was criticized for “inexplicable tardiness” in filing reports after the couple was charged with killing their baby — charges later thrown out. Smith was cited for unwillingness to provide crucial evidence in other cases as well.

Sherry Sherrett: Based on Smith’s findings, Sherrett spent six months in jail for the death of her 4-month-old. Another pathologist later determined the baby died of natural causes.

Victims unmoved by Smith's apology
Nov 13, 2007
Theresa Boyle Staff Reporter

An apology by Dr. Charles Smith is "cold comfort" to those whose lives were turned upside down by his mistakes, says a lawyer representing a man jailed for murdering his son, largely based on the testimony of the discredited pathologist.

"While the apology is a nice initial first step, there's a huge amount of harm that's been done. ... Every mistake, every case blows apart families. You have the wrongly convicted, you have wrongly charged, you have family members who don't talk to each other, they don't heal, they don't come back together again," Michael Lomer told reporters yesterday, the first day of public hearings at the Inquiry into Forensic Pediatric Pathology in Ontario.

"I sort of suspect it's cold comfort late in the game," added the lawyer for Marco Trotta.

Last week, Trotta and his wife Anisa were granted a new trial by the Supreme Court of Canada because of questionable findings by Smith in the investigation of the 1993 death of son Paulo.

The apology was Smith's first public statement since an investigation by the provincial coroner's office five months ago indicated he erred in 20 cases. The commission will examine 18, of which eight are described elsewhere on this page.

A publication ban was issued on the other 10 that will be lifted as each case comes before the inquiry.

Trotta, 38, has served nine years of a life sentence after his conviction for second-degree murder and assault. He had pleaded not guilty.

His wife, Anisa, 33, completed a five-year sentence on convictions for criminal negligence and failing to provide the necessities of life. She was acquitted at their joint trial on a manslaughter charge.

Through his own lawyer yesterday, Smith apologized for making a "number of mistakes," but did not specify to which cases he was referring. "Dr. Smith sincerely regrets these mistakes and apologizes to all who may have been affected by his errors," Niels Ortved said in opening remarks to the inquiry.

Smith was not present and is not scheduled to testify until January.

Noting that his client "is truly sorry" for his mistakes, Ortved said there was no malice behind them. "At all times, Dr. Smith endeavoured to use whatever knowledge and expertise he possessed to render accurate pathologic opinions."

In 12 of the 20 Smith cases red-flagged by the province, parents and relatives were criminally convicted for the deaths of children. In one case, an individual was found not criminally responsible. And in the rest, parents and relatives were considered suspects and some were charged, but not convicted.

One person has since been acquitted after spending 12 years in jail, while some others are seeking vindication through the courts.

William Mullins-Johnson was wrongly convicted in 1994 of murdering his niece, Valin, 4, partly on the basis of Smith's testimony.

Asked what he thought of yesterday's apology, Mullins-Johnson replied: "Not much at all."
"I don't put much stock in it," Mullins-Johnson, who spent 12 years in prison, said in an interview last night. "First of all, he didn't have the guts to do it himself."

In terms of content, it also seemed deficient, he said. "To say he just made mistakes? C'mon. It seemed more like a forced apology than genuine," Mullins-Johnson said.

Maurice Gagnon had much the same reaction. His daughter, Lianne Thibeault, became a murder suspect in 1995 after Smith began probing the sudden death of her infant son, Nicolas. What Smith labelled as suspicious marks around the child's jaw line was actually normal post-mortem pooling of blood.

"For one thing, it wasn't Smith who apologized, it was the lawyers," Gagnon said in an interview from Sudbury, where he resides. "These lawyers representing Smith are also representing the (doctor's) insurance company that is going to get bombarded with lawsuits (from affected families)."

One of the cases involved Brenda Waudby, who was charged with the 1997 murder of her 21-month-old daughter. Smith worked on the investigation and his opinion contributed to the charge being laid. But two years later, the charge was withdrawn after five experts took issues with his findings. The child's 14-year-old babysitter was subsequently convicted of manslaughter.

Waudby was the only individual touched by Smith's errors to show up on the first day of hearings. She declined to talk to reporters.

Justice Stephen Goudge, who heads the inquiry, pointed out that it is not a civil or criminal trial, but intended to help formulate recommendations to improve the system.

Among the cases to be examined by the inquiry:

Sharon Reynolds, 7, of Kingston. Her mother, Louise, was charged with killing the girl in 1997 and spent almost two years behind bars. Smith had concluded the child had been stabbed to death, but the charges were withdrawn after other pathologists determined she had been attacked by a pit bull.

Joshua Sherrett-Robinson, 4 months, of Trenton, found dead in his playpen in 1996. His mother, Sherry Sherrett, was charged with infanticide and spent six months behind bars. Another pathologist found Joshua died of natural causes. After Sherrett was charged, another child was taken from her.

Athena Kporwodu, 3 months, of Toronto, who died in 1998 after sustaining 35 rib fractures, a torn liver and bruises to the head. Her parents, Anthony Kporwodu and Angela Veno, were charged with the child's death. But the Ontario Court of Appeal threw out charges in 2005 on grounds of excessive delay.

Tyrell, 3, of Toronto, who died in 1998. His stepmother, Maureen, was charged with murder based on Smith's opinion. But the charge was stayed on eve of trial in 2001 after three pathologists concluded the injury was likely caused by falling.

Once-noted Canadian pathologist acknowledges mistakes in several child death cases
The Associated Press
Published: November 12, 2007

TORONTO: A Canadian pathologist whose expert testimony led to wrongful convictions for several people accused of killing small children, including one man who spent a decade in jail, said that he was "truly sorry" for his mistakes.

A public inquiry into the work of Dr. Charles Smith, once considered the country's leading pediatric pathologist, was read a statement in which he apologized for errors in analyzing 20 cases of child deaths. Twelve led to convictions, some of which have been thrown out by courts.
Smith did not appear Monday as the government-appointed commission opened its inquiry aimed at revamping pediatric forensics standards in light of Smith's alleged mistakes, and his statement was read by his lawyer, Niels Ortved.

"Dr. Smith wishes to publicly acknowledge ... that in the 20 years that he performed autopsies at the direction of the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario, he made a number of mistakes for which he is truly sorry," Ortved told the panel of medical, scientific and legal experts.

"In retrospect, he understands that in some 20 cases which form the basis of this inquiry, his work — while to the best of his ability at the time — was simply not good enough in certain circumstances," the statement read.

Smith has not been charged with any crimes, and is not expected to testify before the inquiry until January.

Though Smith acknowledged he made mistakes, he claimed the errors were "made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations in which he was involved."

Smith stopped performing autopsies in 2001 after several cases in which he was involved fell apart amid questions about the quality of his work. This helped lead to the provincial investigation that ultimately paved the way for the public inquiry.

In one case, Smith's testimony played a key role in the conviction of a man who spent 12 years in jail for sexually assaulting and strangling his 4-year-old niece. Evidence later surfaced that showed the girl died of natural causes and William Mullins-Johnson was exonerated last month.
Mullins-Johnson told CBC TV he hoped the inquiry would eventually lead to a criminal conviction for Smith. He said it destroyed his life.

In another case, his testimony helped put a woman in prison for two years for her daughter's 1997 death. Smith said the girl died of multiple stab wounds but a later autopsy found the girl had been mauled by a pit bull. The woman, Louise Reynolds, has since been exonerated.

Smith's testimony also led to the conviction of a mother who spent a year in prison for the 1996 death of her infant son.

Sherry Sherrett has since appealed her conviction for infanticide after another pathologist determined her son died of natural causes. After Sherrett was charged, the province put one of her other children up for adoption.

Canada's Supreme Court last week also ordered a new trial for a couple convicted in the death of their infant son because Smith's testimony was discredited by new evidence from two other doctors.

The father, Marco Trotta, has served nine years of his life sentence for murder and was released on bail last May, and his wife Annisa has completed her five-year sentence.

Michael Lower, a lawyer for the couple, said Smith's apology was a "nice first step" but it does not undo the harm caused by those errors.

"Every mistake blows apart families. You have the wrongfully convicted, the wrongfully charged. You have family members that don't talk to each other," Lomer said.

Smith's inquiry is expected to take about three months.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pit bull left at humane society remains unclaimed

This is sad when this happens and puts the Humane Society in a spot not knowing the dogs past or history.

Rather than handing the dog over and having to pay a fee to release the Bullie to the HS, so many owners just drop them off and that's where the problems start.

As with any adoption, they have to know if the dog is good with children, other animals, their medical history and much more information to find the dog the proper family and visa versa.

When I used to be into rescuing, I found out everythig from the type of food it ate right to what were it's favorite types of toys.

I'm happy to see they are making an effort by publishing this article to find the owner so the dog does not have to be put down or trying to find an alternative solution.

This article is in the St. Catherines Standard.

Pit bull left at humane society remains unclaimed
Posted By By Standard Staff

She’s still a mystery.

Staff at the Lincoln County Humane Society haven’t gotten any leads on the pit bull dumped in an outdoor dog pen at the shelter Thursday, said Kevin Strooband, humane society executive director.

The pooch, dubbed Gracie, appeared out of nowhere over the noon hour and shelter staff have been trying to piece together her past in order to save her life.

Legislation in Ontario banning the breed stipulates dogs born after the 2005 law took effect must be euthanized.

Without knowing Gracie’s age, the shelter can’t proceed to put her up for adoption.

Her owners have until Wednesday to claim her. After that, it’s up to the humane society what to do with her.

Meanwhile, Strooband said, he has been contacted by a woman visiting the area from British Columbia who has offered to help find the dog a home there.

“We’re looking at some options to re-home the dog if it doesn’t get claimed,” Strooband said.

Anyone with any information about Gracie is asked to call the humane society at 905-682-0767

Saturday, November 03, 2007

1999 New York Journal story

I received this old New York Journal story from someone on Facebook and decided to add it to my blog.

While Brian Anderson sites that Pit bulls drove his family out of Bronx, he should have been saying that intiminating gang members and crack heads that trained their dogs to be vicious drove them out of Bronx.

When he speaks of vicious dogs terrifying the elderly and young mothers with their children, again he calls them Pit bulls or Pit bull crosses.

It's 2007 now and still most of the general public are unaware of what a Pit bull looks like.

We realized that here in Ontario once Michael Bryant publicly announced on TV that if the public saw a Pit bull that wasn't leashed or muzzled to call the authorities.

It became outragously NASTY as people screamed at Jack Russel Terrier owners and other breeds not even simular to those of the Pit bull breeds, "THOSE DOG'S ARE SUPPOSE TO BE MUZZLED!"

Between Michael Bryant and the Media, hostility broke out as innocent people were being harassed by vandictive people that believed they had the right to scream at others, but it was the scare tactics of the media that brought on these outbursts.

A rash of vicious dog attacks suddenly sprang on the news and newspapers nearly daily and it was always a Pit bull involved.

The evening just prior to the day of the muzzling and law coming into effect, I had taken Shasta to the store with her Gentle Leader on.

People were making a real fuss with her and she was loving all the attention.

Just as I was heading back home a few stores down, a woman saw me and Shasta from the back and literally screamed at me, "THAT DOG SHOULD BE SHOT! WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY!"

I didn't bother to look back at her to let her know, for one, I'm a grandmother of two, and there's nothing vicious about my dog.

I had it easier than a lot of Bullie owners.

She's five years old now and have only had 3 to 4 really nasty remarks ever said to us over the years.

I found this discription in this article about the Pit Bull that came from the Bull Doggee along with any other agressive dog to make up the breed, Pit bull. Then bred again to become the American Staffordshire Terrier.

I'm not an authority by any means, but Anderson actually wrote this article with resourses that in 1999 may have made sense to many people.

All I know is I'm NOT a thug, crack head or gangster and my APBT was never trained for aggression, nor would I want her to be.

We are having fairly much the same arguement today as they did back in 1999, so why then don't they do something about the PEOPLE who want an aggressive dog to do their dirty work and abuse them into doing so, do something about the people?

Just as in todays society, it's not about the dogs. It's about the people that are destroying breeds of dogs and their reputation.

Spring 1999
New York Journal

Scared of Pit Bulls? You’d Better Be!
Brian C. Anderson

Pit bulls drove my family from the Bronx.

My pregnant wife and I had moved to Bedford Park, off Mosholu Parkway, late in 1997.

Though the neighborhood had rough edges, we got used to it, at least for a while.

After our son was born, however—and as spring blossomed, and we ventured outside more often—we found ourselves growing ever more frightened of dangerous dogs.

Pit-bull owners had converted the little park in front of our apartment building into a dog-training ground, where they goaded their animals into attacking one another or taught them to hang from tree branches to strengthen their jaws and their tenacity.

Not surprisingly, when the dogs were running wild, the neighborhood's young mothers gathered up their children and fled.

Seniors cowered together on a few benches.

Like the mothers, owners of small dogs waited until the park was pit-bull-free before taking them for a walk.

The park had been lost as a public space, impoverishing the neighborhood.

The dogs had taken over more than the park.

Walking down 204th Street or past the gone- to-seed low-income housing abutting the Metro-North Botanical Garden stop, we regularly ran a gauntlet of thugs flaunting spike-collared pit bulls, bespeaking a world of anarchy and dread.

As a friend and I walked home one spring night, we saw three stocking-capped toughs slouched against a chain-link fence, barely restraining a thick- necked, snarling pit bull.

My heart raced, until I noticed two young cops walking in our direction, just beyond the bad dudes.

My relief was short-lived.

"It's a full moon, and dogs go crazy in the fooool moon," one of the thugs howled wildly, as he let the pit bull lunge to the end of his leash at the cops.

A confrontation seemed imminent, but the two officers nervously crossed the street to avoid it.

"I guess we know who won that battle," my friend glumly noted, and we crossed the street, too.

After a rash of unsettling incidents—including a tornado of eight unleashed pit bulls swirling across the park and the savage mangling of our neighbor's small mutt by another loose pit bull—we decided this was no place for a baby, and we left.

We had learned that intimidating dogs can impair a neighborhood's quality of life and give the sense that no one is in charge every bit as much as drug dealing, prostitution, or aggressive panhandling.

Though dog advocates would dispute it, our fear was justified.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, dogs bite 4 million to 5 million Americans every year.

Few attacks are fatal (25 in 1996), but serious injuries—everything from a gash in the arm requiring a few stitches to severed hands and fractured skulls—continue to rise and now stand at more than 750,000 annually, up nearly 40 percent from 1986.

Dog bites are one of the top causes of non-fatal injuries in the nation.

Children are the most frequent victims, accounting for 60 percent of the dog bites and 20 of the 25 dog-bite fatalities in 1996.

Dog attacks are now the No. 1 reason that children wind up in hospital emergency rooms.

Incredibly, nearly half of all American kids have been bitten by the age of 12.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that more than $100 million gets spent yearly treating dog bites in the nation's emergency rooms, and U.S. insurance companies paid out $250 million in dog-bite liability claims in 1996.

Pit bulls and pit-bull crosses (not always easy to distinguish) have caused more than a third of the nation's dog-bite fatalities since 1979 and a comparable proportion of serious injuries.

The rising number of attacks, and the unease pit bulls and other dangerous dogs cause in public spaces, have spurred many municipalities to crack down with legislation ranging from muzzle laws to bans on pit bulls and certain other breeds.

New York City, with a million dogs, conforms to these national trends.

In 1997, the Department of Health reported 7,075 dog bites in the city and some 1,000 complaints about frightening dogs.

Gotham police and other authorities had to round up 892 biting dogs in 1997, 200 more than the year before.

Of these, 294—33 percent—were pit bulls or pit-bull mixes, though they make up only an estimated 15 percent of the city's dogs.

Recent pit-bull attacks in New York City have hit the headlines.

In one horrific incident a little over a year ago, four unleashed pit bulls swept, barking and growling, through Richmond Hill, tearing at anyone in their path, as screaming passersby took cover on top of cars or fled indoors.

Two of the enraged animals rampaged through a supermarket on 135th Street before police shot them to death.

Powerful tranquilizer darts downed the other two dogs.

Three people were seriously injured in the frenzy.

Other recent attacks were no less violent.

In late 1996, three pit bulls mauled an 85-year-old Bronx man to death.

In 1997, two pit bulls severely injured a 12-year-old Brooklyn girl, and other attacks left a seven-year-old Queens boy with a bone-deep wound to his leg, and an 11- year-old Queens boy with a shredded arm.

Pit bulls can inflict such terrible damage because their massive skulls and powerful jaws give them almost super-canine biting power.

Pit-bull-inflicted injuries in New York City will almost certainly spike up because of a senseless new federal law ending a 60-year official ban on animals in housing projects.

The New York City Housing Authority long looked the other way as project residents took in pets.

But two years ago, after tenants barraged a newly installed quality-of-life hotline with dog-related complaints, ranging from organized dog fighting to pit-bull attacks on other pets, the authority launched a campaign against vicious animals in public housing.

Intimidating dogs had many residents, especially seniors, living in a "state of fear and terror," as authority spokesman Hilly Gross put it.

Though ambiguous wording in the federal legislation may allow the authority to retain some restrictions, the new law invites disaster by permitting lots of pit bulls within biting distance of lots of children and old folks.

Pit bulls are also wreaking havoc on the city's public property.

As Manhattan Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe observes, "Some pit-bull owners train their animals to fight by having them lock their jaws on rubber swings in children's playgrounds, which very quickly destroys the swings."

The cost to taxpayers: $250,000 annually.

"Perhaps more ominously," Benepe adds, "these owners have started to use young trees to train the pit bulls."

Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, aware of the property damage and sensitive to complaints from "terrorized" parents, joggers, and senior citizens about roving canines in city parks, now is enforcing the city's leash law, requiring owners to keep their dogs leashed between 9 AM and 9 PM, unless they are using one of the city's dog runs.

The new campaign, targeting Central and Riverside Parks, issues $100 fines for first offenders and doubles the penalty, up to $1,000, for each subsequent offense.

So far, despite howls from some pet owners, spot checks show the percentage of unleashed dogs down dramatically, as owners have gotten the message.

Mail to the Parks Department has run three-to-one in favor of strict enforcement.

Stern's initiative follows closely on the heels of the Giuliani administration's proposed new dangerous-dog legislation, announced earlier this year.

The mayor's proposal jacks up fines for owning a vicious dog, makes it easier for the city to label a dog dangerous, and requires pit-bull owners to purchase $100,000 in liability insurance before they can get a dog license.

Predictably, the proposal has enraged dog owners.

According to New York City Health Commissioner Neal Cohen, the city needs the new law because of its high number of dog-inflicted injuries.

The existing dangerous-dog law, on the books since 1991, has been ineffective in practice, because it requires the Department of Health, which adjudicates dog-bite cases, to prove that a dog wasn't "provoked" before it can label the animal dangerous and require it to be muzzled or impounded.

As Cohen observes, "It is almost impossible to define what a particular dog subjectively perceives as a `provocation.' "

The law also requires lengthy hearings before the city can take action.

As then-Corporation Counsel Paul Crotty complained after a pit- bull attack in 1997 killed a Queens man, "It's a dopey law that puts the emphasis on protection of due-process rights of dogs . . . rather than on the protection of people."

But those priorities are just what dog advocates want.

Lisa Weisberg, vice president of government affairs of the ASPCA, testified against the new law, arguing that its "proposed elimination of a hearing process to fairly and adequately determine whether or not a dog is truly dangerous is extremely disturbing and deprives a dog owner of his/her due process."

In fact, dog advocates often embrace a strangely askew, doggy-centric view of the world.

Gordon Carvill, president of the American Dog Owners Association, is a case in point.

When I described to him the fear my wife and other young mothers in our Bronx neighborhood had about using the public park when pit bulls were on the loose, he defended the dogs.

"Some people are afraid of any kind of dog—you know that," he admonished.

"Dogs know when someone is afraid, and they're apt to be more aggressive."

So the mothers are the problem.

Carvill seconds Weisberg's objection that the city's proposal threatens the due-process protections of pet owners.

But the law's biggest defect, he says, is that it singles out a specific breed, in its requirement that pit-bull owners buy liability insurance.

(The city's desire to regulate pit bulls is in seeming conflict with a 1997 state law, similar to those 11 other states have passed, that bars breed-specific local legislation.)

For Carvill, all dogs are created equal; different breeds don't have different hereditary characteristics.

"There is no dog born in this world with a predisposition to aggression," he firmly states.

But he's wrong, and dead wrong if we're talking about pit bulls.

All men may be created equal, but not all dogs.

Says Katherine Houpt, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell and author of Domestic Animal Behavior: "Different breeds have genetic predispositions to certain kinds of behavior, though that can be influenced by how they are raised.

The pit bull is an innately aggressive breed, often owned by someone who wants an aggressive dog, so they're going to encourage it."

Pit bulls have been bred specifically to be aggressive.

They're descended from the now- extinct old English "bulldogge," a big, tenacious breed used in the brutal early- nineteenth-century sport of bull baiting, in which rowdy spectators watched dogs tear apart an enraged bull.

Victorian reformers, concerned about the coarsening effect bull baiting had on its devotees, banned it by the early 1830s, but enterprising bull baiters merely migrated to an equally bloody sport: organized dog fighting.

As Carl Semencic, author of several informative books on guard dogs, and a big pit-bull fan, describes it, the bulldogge owners made a striking discovery: "a cross between the bulldogge and any of the game [i.e., brave and tenacious] and relatively powerful terriers of the day produced a game, powerful, agile, and smaller, more capable opponent in the dog pits."

These bull-and-terrier crosses became renowned for fighting prowess and soon were the only dogs used in organized dog fighting in England and later in the United States.

To preserve the bull-and-terrier's pugnacious traits, the dogs were bred only to dogs of the same cross.

Thus was born the pit-bull terrier, "the most capable fighting dog known to modern man," Semencic enthuses.

Though breeders, realizing the pit bull was an attractive dog when it wasn't scrapping, bred a less feisty version—the American Staffordshire terrier ("Pete" of the old Our Gang comedy series is a well-known representative)—the pit-bull terrier is first and last a fighting dog.

Its breeding history separates it from other tough dogs like Doberman pinschers and rottweilers, which have been bred to guard their masters and their property.

Pit bulls are genetically wired to kill other dogs.

The pit bull's unusual breeding history has produced some bizarre behavioral traits, de- scribed by The Economist's science editor in an article published a few years ago, at the peak of a heated British controversy over dangerous dogs that saw the pit bull banned in England.

First, the pit bull is quicker to anger than most dogs, probably due to the breed's unusually high level of the neurotransmitter L-tyrosine.

Second, pit bulls are frighteningly tenacious; their attacks frequently last for 15 minutes or longer, and nothing—hoses, violent blows or kicks—can easily stop them.

That's because of the third behavioral anomaly: the breed's remarkable insensitivity to pain.

Most dogs beaten in a fight will submit the next time they see the victor.

Not a defeated pit bull, who will tear into his onetime vanquisher.

This, too, has to do with brain chemistry.

The body releases endorphins as a natural painkiller.

Pit bulls seem extra-sensitive to endorphins and may generate higher levels of the chemical than other dogs.

Endorphins are also addictive: "The dogs may be junkies, seeking pain so they can get the endorphin buzz they crave," The Economist suggests.

Finally, most dogs warn you before they attack, growling or barking to tell you how angry they are—"so they don't have to fight," ASPCA advisor and animal geneticist Stephen Zawistowski stresses.

Not the pit bull, which attacks without warning.

Most dogs, too, will bow to signal that they want to frolic.

Again, not the pit bull, which may follow an apparently playful bow with a lethal assault.

In short, contrary to the writings of Vicki Hearne, a well-known essayist on animals who—in a bizarre but emotionally charged confusion—equates breed-specific laws against pit bulls as a kind of "racist propaganda," the pit bull is a breed apart.

Pit-bull expert Semencic makes a more sophisticated argument as to why pit bulls shouldn't be singled out for regulation.

Pit bulls, he says, were bred not to be aggressive to people.

"A pit bull that attacked humans would have been useless to dog fighters," he contends; "the dogs needed to be handled by strangers in the middle of a fight."

Any dog that went after a handler was immediately "culled"—that is, put to death.

But Semencic's argument assumes that the culling of man-aggressive dogs is still going on—which it isn't.

As Robin Kovary, a New York-based dog breeder and pit-bull fancier, acknowledges, "Once the word got out, 20 years ago or so, to youths who wanted a tough dog to show off with, the breed passed into less than responsible hands—kids who wanted the dogs to be as aggressive as they could be."

Geneticist Zawistowski gives the upshot: "Irresponsible breeders have let the dogs' block against being aggressive to people disappear. They've created a kind of pit bull with what I call `undifferentiated aggression.' "

A Milwaukee man learned this the hard way in January, when he tried to break up a fight between his two pit bulls and had one forearm ripped off and the other so badly mauled that doctors later had to amputate it.

Yet Kovary is at least partially right when she says, "It's the two-legged beast, not the four-legged one, we have to worry about."

One needs nature and nurture to create a truly nasty dog.

Raised responsibly, the pit bull's good side can come to the fore.

"Pit bulls can be playful, intelligent, athletic, loyal, and useful in sports," Kovary explains.

But pit bulls have become enmeshed in the brutality of underclass culture, magnifying the breed's predisposition to aggression.

"In the wrong hands," Kovary warns, "pit bulls can be bad news."

Abundant evidence of owner irresponsibility is on display at the Center for Animal Care and Control (CACC), a nonprofit shelter that opened in late 1994 in the heart of Spanish Harlem, to take over New York City animal control from the ASPCA.

Pit bulls are its biggest problem.

More than 60,000 animals, half of them dogs, entered the shelter last year.

According to CACC official Kyle Burkhart, "more than 50 percent of the dogs are pit bulls or pit-bull mixes—a huge percentage."

That works out to 40 or so pit bulls a day, most of which have to be put down because of their aggressiveness.

Waiting in the CACC's lobby, I got a firsthand look at the pit bull as a standard-issue accessory to underclass life: toughs in baggy pants and stocking caps paraded in and out continuously, negotiating to get their impounded dogs back or to adopt new ones.

Three distinct classes of irresponsible—or, more accurately, abusive—owners are the source of the CACC's flood of pit bulls.

First are the drug dealers, who use pit bulls, or pit-bull crosses, as particularly vicious sentinels.

New York City cops had to shoot 83 dogs to death in 1997, most of them pit bulls guarding drug stashes.

Burkhart showed me a few such sentinels in the center's dangerous-dog ward.

Lunging against their metal cages, these pit bulls were the most ferocious animals I'd ever seen: pure animal fury.

"This one would bite my head off if he had the chance," Burkhart said of one Schwarzenegger-muscled dog, brought in from a police raid on a crack house.

Intimidated, I kept as far from the cages as I could.

"Some of the pit bulls coming in will actually have their vocal cords removed in order to surprise someone lurking around a crack house," Burkhart noted.

Dog-fighting rings also fill the CACC with abused animals.

"Sometimes a raid on a dog- fighting ring brings us 20 or 30 pit bulls at a time," Burkhart tells me.

The rings, moving clandestinely throughout the state, stage battles between pit bulls, sometimes to the death, as cheering spectators wager on the outcome.

The dogs the CACC receives from the raids will often be missing ears or will bear deep scars from their battles.

Manhattan Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe isn't surprised at the savagery: "We regularly find dead pit bulls in the parks; on one occasion, we found eight pit-bull carcasses dumped in Riverside Park. They'd been killed fighting other dogs."

It's an unsavory crowd that participates, whether as trainer or spectator, in the blood sport, says ASPCA humane-law-enforcement officer George Watford.

"The trainers preparing a pit bull for a fight throw a rope over a branch with a bag tied at the end; inside the bag will be a live cat," Watford explains.

"You'll see a dog hanging from the bag, and it'll be a cat he's killing inside it, giving the pit bull the taste for blood."

The spectators are just as bad, Watford says: "When we raid a ring, not only will there be shotgun-armed lookouts, but we'll search people and find drugs and weapons, and we'll always find people wanted for rape, murder, robbery charges."

Finally, the CACC gets pit bulls owned by teenagers and gang members—"young punks," Watford calls them—who raise the dogs to intimidate.

"It's a macho thing," Watford says.

"These punks will get into the typical park scenario, a `my dog is tougher than your dog' thing, in which they let the dogs fight."

I recalled a Bronx mother screaming at two teen lowlifes fighting pit bulls in the park in front of our apartment building.

The teens, sporting military fatigues and shaved heads, ignored her and went on with their barbarous fun.

Typically, these teens lose interest in their brutalized—and usually unneutered—dogs and let them loose, swamping the city with stray pit bulls.

What should New York City do about its dangerous dogs?

One possibility: ban the pit bull, as England has done.

Unfortunately, thanks to the 1997 state law nixing breed- specific legislation, such a ban would entail a difficult battle for state permission.

And if the city bans the pit bull, what's to stop thugs from shifting to other breeds that can be made into weapons, such as the Canary dog or the Dogo Argentino?

Outlawing them all would be an extremely divisive policy.

What about the city's idea of forcing pit-bull owners to buy pricey insurance policies?

It makes little sense.

Given that a paltry 10 percent of the city's dogs have licenses, only the law-abiding minority of pit-bull owners—not the louts who terrorize park-goers—are likely to comply with the new requirement, assuming it can get past the state objection to breed- specific laws.

Moreover, those who wanted to comply would have a hard time finding an insurer.

Though homeowners' policies generally cover dogs, few insurance firms will issue one to someone with a dangerous animal.

Much sounder are the city's proposals to eliminate "provocation" as a defense for a dangerous dog's behavior and to pare away legal protections for dangerous dogs.

As Cornell's Katherine Houpt underscores, "If a dog has bitten someone, we should consider it dangerous until proven otherwise.

Who cares if a child has poked it with a pencil?"

The city's best course would be to require the owners of all dogs weighing more than 40 pounds to keep them muzzled in public, as Germany does with potentially aggressive breeds.

A muzzle law is not unduly harsh to the dogs.

As for its impact on owners: sure, it might diminish the thrill a tough gets as he parades his pit bull down a crowded sidewalk and nervous pedestrians give him a wide berth.

And that would be all to the good.

As Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton discovered when they prosecuted nuisance crimes like public urination or public drinking and helped restore civic order, Gotham can do a lot of good simply by enforcing laws already on the books, as Parks Commissioner Stern is doing with the leash law.

New York makes little effort, for example, to ensure that its dogs are licensed, though the law requires it.

The Canadian city of Calgary, which had a problem with dangerous dogs in the eighties, halved aggressive incidents through strict licensing enforcement: it let officials keep computerized records of complaints against individual dogs and impound them or require them to wear a muzzle if they posed a clear threat to the public.

Eighty percent of Calgary's 100,000 dogs now have licenses; 90 percent of New York's 1 million dogs don't.

The city should step up licensing enforcement.

These measures would strike a prudent balance between the enjoyments of pet owners and the city's responsibility to protect its citizens and keep its public spaces from going to the dogs.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Jazz, Blues and BSL

Please cross-post

This promises to be a memorable evening!

We have some great auction items.

Some good music and interesting guests.....This coming Saturday -- the DLCC in Nova Scotia will be hosting a fundraiser called Jazz, Blues and BSL !!!

Jazz, Blues and B.S.L.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

7:00pm - 11:00pm

Fred Hair Salon and WHET Café

2606 Agricola Street

Halifax, NS

Admission: $30.00, which includes complimentary hors d'oeuvres.

CashBar & Silent Auction

Listen to the original music of Erin Costelo( and the flamenco stylings of guitarist Mark Whalen, a senior Music student at Dal.

A chance to relax, meet some new people while supporting the Dog Legislation Council of Canada.

Help the DLCC in promoting responsible pet ownership and join the fight against BSL!

- to all your downeast friends
- should be a great evening
- Erin has agreed to do a 50 minute set for us!

Cathy Prothro