Friday, August 5, 2011

The rest of the story...

...of a 'dangerous dog' and its victims

It was almost a year ago that a Washington Park pit bull (or pit bull mix) named 'Honey' attacked three women in the course of an afternoon, sending two of the victims to the emergency room.  'Honey' had escaped from her yard, attacked without provocation, and was eventually picked up by animal control officers. In due course she was declared a "dangerous animal" by the Director of the Seattle Animal Shelter, and it was ordered that she either be removed from Seattle or euthanized.

That appeared to be the end of the story until this spring, when we started seeing 'Honey' (or a dog that looked very much like her) being walked around the neighborhood (on leash) and playing at one of the waterfront road ends (off leash).  That's when we discovered that as a result of an appeals hearing in February, 'Honey' had been ruled not dangerous by the examiner.  According to press reports, the law on dangerous animals set a very high of a standard for what constituted dangerous behavior. In the opinion of the examiner, the injuries suffered by 'Honey's' victims was insufficient to warrant the "dangerous dog" designation.  

What was not reported, however, was the fact that none of Honey's victims was notified of the hearing or asked to testify about her injuries.  'Honey's' owner, meanwhile, hired an expert lawyer to represent him and to plead for the "dangerous animal" designation to be overturned.  An administrative hearing is not the same as a legal trial; and with regard to Seattle's dangerous animal ordinance, the victims are not a party to the case.  At the hearing, it is the City versus the dog owner, with the City Attorney's office arguing that a "dangerous animal" designation of the Seattle Animal Shelter Director should be sustained.  The City lost the case, and the victims are naturally upset that their testimony was not solicited by the City as a part of the hearing.

According to one of the victims, who is herself an attorney, the fact that she was not notified of the hearing is not surprising, but the outcome of the hearing is appalling: "Was the decision reasonable? Hell no!"  Furthermore, she says that although the City gave 'Honey's' owner the names and addresses of the victims as part of the pre-hearing process (and the victims were so notified), the owner has made no attempt to contact her regarding restitution or even to make an apology.  "This is extremely bad form," she told us. "This is a community and I am a neighbor."  She says she expected more.

Another of 'Honey's' victims says she is appalled at the process, the outcome, and the lack of justice for the victims.  She says that she continues to have unhealed nerve damage as a result of the dog attack.  She questions the examiner's decision since it appears that the extent of her injuries was not taken into consideration.  The City ordinance states that "'severe injury' means "any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery."  'Honey's' victim, who is a nurse, states that her wound required multiple sutures and took months to heal. That seems to fit the definition, and "severe injury" under the ordinance is sufficient to uphold a "dangerous animal" designation.

According to Colleen Lynn, who founded the non-profit organization, the victims are often left out of the proceedings when it comes to deciding dog-bite cases.  She notes also that the City's hearing examiner in the 'Honey' case has a background primarily in land-use issues.  The examiner, Sue Tanner, apparently determined that the term "lacerations" in the existing City ordinance means "multiple" injuries.  One injury, no matter how many sutures it required, apparently was not sufficient.  One of the victims, at least, also had multiple puncture wounds from 'Honey's' teeth, though in the examiner's opinion this did not add up to "lacerations," as defined by the law.  It's not clear whether any previous examiner had ever made such a narrow interpretation of the long-existing ordinance; but probably not, since the official reaction to Tanner's decision was direct and decisive.

The outcome of the 'Honey' case and another serious pit bull injury case that Tanner recently decided in a similar manner prompted the City Council to take action to change the dangerous animal ordinance to make the law more inclusive concerning what is a "severe injury." As a result of a change to the ordinance enacted in June, the law now states that "severe injury" includes one or more broken bones; or one or more disfiguring lacerations, avulsions, cuts or puncture wounds, requiring medical attention including but not limited to one or more sutures, steri strips or staples; or permanent nerve damage.

It's a victory, perhaps, for those who will be severely bitten by dogs in the future, but it comes too late for 'Honey's' victims, since the law could not be made retroactive.  One of the victims told us, however, that civil action is still a possibility and that she has retained an attorney to represent her.  This is a story we will continue to follow.

...of a door-to-door scammer and the gullible

When we reported last month that a Madison Park resident had been duped out of some money by a personable black man with an at-first-blush-plausible story about being locked out of Scoop du Jour (where he supposedly worked), the modus operandi and the description of the perpetrator rang bells with several of our readers.  We got this from a Washington Park resident the following day:

"I live on 38th Ave. East and one day around 5 p.m. I was in a hurry and rushing out with my teenager and this man encountered my son first and asked if were Seattle Tennis Club members?  I was then coming out the door and looked at him wondering why he was asking this.  He looked up at me and said not to worry "that he was just a gay black guy" that got locked out of his car at lunch and didn't have enough money to pay for the locksmith.  He said he worked at the Seattle Tennis club as a janitor.  Since I was in a hurry I told my son to give him $5 and then he said he needed another $20. I looked at him and asked him who his boss was at the club and he proceeded to give me a name of someone I knew.  I had doubts, but I was in a hurry and he sounded very convincing.  O.K., so now I feel very silly for giving him money.  I called the club that night and they said they had no one with that description that worked there.  So I am surprised he's still up to his ploy!!"

It turns out that this "I need a locksmith" story is apparently part of a long-practiced and often-successful routine by this particular con artist, who is notorious for using the ruse to get money out of people all over town.  We immediately heard from a reader in Leschi who let us know that the perpetrator has become all too familiar in the Central Area and has been extensively covered by neighboring blog Central District News.  Indeed, we found multiple stories there of people being taken by "Patrick" and later admitting to a certain sheepish feeling about their gullibility (not to mention anger about being conned).

This soft-spoken scammer often says that he's a new neighbor and that he's locked out of his house.  Sometimes he even forgets that he's already targeted a certain residence and comes back with the same story (which doesn't work quite as well the second time around, apparently).  The guy (or a copycat scammer) has also been written about on both the Roosevelt Neighborhood blog and the Green Lake blog.

Now that we think of it, we must have been victims of this very scammer a couple of years ago in the  parking lot of the Safeway on Madison Street.  In that case, however, he had a very convincing story. It seems that he had borrowed his cousin's car but had locked himself out of it and needed to get a locksmith....

...of a spec house and a sad ending

When we reported last month that the neighborhood's most expensive speculative house had gone pending, we knew a bit more about the situation than we disclosed.  Because KING-TV made the story public last month, we feel comfortable in reporting a tragic side note to this potential house sale.  One of the three developers of this property, located in Washington Park on 34th Avenue E., was Wayne Boswell, founder and president of The Stratford Group, a real estate investment company.  With his real estate empire collapsing and bankruptcy looming, Boswell shot and killed himself in the garage of his Seattle condo on April 1.  The failure to sell his Washington Park spec house (which has been on the market for well over two years) was certainly not high among the reasons Boswell decided to end it all.  It now seems evident that Boswell had been mismanaging the funds entrusted to his company on behalf of investors in a vain attempt to remain solvent.  For those interested in the details, the KING-TV story is available here.

...of a lost bird and his new cat 'friend'

We queried our readers last month on this subject: "Anyone missing a parakeet?" No one responded, so finders keepers.  Madison Park residents Karen and Dick Lehman, who also put up "Lost Bird" posters at the hardware store and the vet's, have created a new home for the little green and yellow bird which suddenly appeared in their garden. And they've named him 'Hobo'.

They may need to get a bigger cage, according to Karen, since the family cat, 'Louis Prima', keeps moving the cage around with his paw. 'Hobo' may soon be getting a new cage-mate to keep him company (of the bird variety, that is).

[Photo of dangerous pit bull, at top, is not a picture of 'Honey', who has been declared not dangerous.  Photo of 'Hobo' courtesy of Karen and Dick Lehman.]


  1. It is clear that this vicious dog needs to be put down as soon as possible. If the City of Seattle won't deal with this, why don't a group of get together and do what is necessary to protect our neighborhood? I don't believe in violent solutions, but am wondering what the best solution is given that this vicious dog is still in our neighborhood and off lease! THAT is appalling.

  2. Since the owners know the names of the victims, why haven't we disclosed the name and address of the owner of this dangerous dog who is back in the neighborhood and goes UNLEASHED on a public beach?

  3. So I am confused. Is the dog back in the neighborhood, or isn't it and isn't drilling down on something like that before writing a "story" a fundamental of journalism?

    Bryan, your (continuing) shoddy work on this story has now led to the vigilante crowd stepping into the fray. Why don't you either do your job as reporter thoroughly, or don't do it all?

    First, to inflame people's emotions, you have included (again) a generic picture of a snarling dog that isn't even the dog in question, IF it has returned to the area.

    Remember, when you first "broke" this story last year, well after it happened, you CHOSE not to make the dog's address public because the owner asked you not to. Your defense at that time was that the story had happened in the past and the dog was gone and was no longer a threat, so life could go on as if a blog posting had not even been required.

    So now, the dog has maybe been back and running loose at times in the neighborhood for a couple of months. Rather than reporting it when it happened and when you knew all the facts, you wait some random period of time and report that something MIGHT have happened. When you also reported on the City's decision back in June, had you seen the dog back in the neighborhood yet?

    Aren't the basics of journalism: who (I know, but I am not telling, at least until I feel like it), what (maybe a viscious dog, but not the dog whose picture leads off my story), where (I know but I am not telling. Hint though, it's somewhere in Madison Park and at one of about eight street-end beaches), when (starting this spring, which was quite awhile ago). Why? Because the laws in place allowed it. In fairness, you actually did a fine job on reporting the "why." For the second time since June, for some reason.

    Put yourself in your readers' shoes (another basic of journalism). You have reported that there MIGHT be a potentially viscious dog on the streets of Madison Park, at times unleashed. You have included maybe one (out of about a dozen photos used) of the ACTUAL dog. You have already said you know many more facts than you are sharing with the public, almost as if to taunt us at this point. Bryan, either there is a story here, and you your should report the ENTIRE story (no maybe or mights), or else not report any of it. Your credibility should be more important to you (another fundamental of journalism).

  4. Kudos to Richard and Karen. That lost little bird landed in just the right yard.

    I tot I saw a puddy tat.....

  5. With regard to criticisms of the pit bull story: There is a good reason for my not disclosing the name of the dog's owner, and readers will just have to trust me on that. Also, as far as journalistic fundamentals are concerned, this is a story about the process the City used to determine whether a specific dog is "dangerous" and, when that process failed in the opinion of our elected officials, how that process was changed. I believe that the story has been covered appropriately.

  6. It's the city's burden to prove that the dog is a "dangerous animal" - the city should've called the victims as witnesses to prove their case, not the respondent.

    Also, I believe that I've met this dog and her owner while walking my dog (who is considerably smaller in statuture) and she was very sweet and friendly to both myself and my dog. Perhaps the story should focus more on the owner's inability to maintain control of the dog by keeping her on a leash or on private property.

    Lastly, I question the use of the first picture of the dog. It looks like a "stock" photo and is highly prejudicial.


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