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Experts: Dogs checked for aggression might still attack

HUNTLEY – A recent attack by a pit bull mix adopted from a local animal shelter shows that bringing a dog home to the family, no matter how well-intentioned on both sides, doesn’t always have a happy ending.

“All dogs will bite given the right combinations of circumstances,” said Gail Buchwald of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Glen and Nancy Moss of Elgin bought Carson on April 1 and renamed him Smithers. Three days later, the dog mauled a neighbor’s basset hound before attacking Nancy’s leg as she tried to separate the dogs.

The basset hound required about $1,100 in veterinary costs; Nancy Moss was hospitalized for two days. Her husband said that because the dog twisted when he was biting down, it created tears that stitches could not fix.

The Mosses said that because they have insurance, they’ve paid about $500 or $600 in medical bills.

Glen Moss said they had been on their deck getting ready for an evening walk when the neighbor was walking his basset hound. Smithers was on a leash when he yanked free, and the basset hound, which was at least 100 feet away, did nothing to provoke the attack.

“Something snapped in the dog,” Glen Moss said. “This was flat-out rage.”

The Mosses are criticizing Huntley Animal House Shelter, where they adopted Smithers, calling for better screening of the animals before they are adopted out.

“What they should have done is screened the dog better for aggression,” Glen Moss said.

It wasn’t the couple’s first experience as dog owners, nor their first time owning a pit bull. They previously adopted Monty, who also was part pit bull, from another shelter and had him for about seven years before he died of cancer.

Huntley Animal House’s founder, Lesley Irwin, said that they work hard to ensure that the animals they adopt are safe. The incident was a fluke, she said with her voice cracking, adding that the dog has since been euthanized.

Smithers, then called Carson, had been taken to training classes at Petco, where he was with other dogs and did well, Irwin said. He expressed dominance, such as initiating play, but no one could have foreseen the attack, she said.

“This wasn’t some horribly aggressive dog we adopted out and didn’t tell [the Mosses] anything,” Irwin said. “We are so careful.”

Buchwald from the ASPCA, who has no connection to this incident, said there is no way to 100 percent guarantee that a dog will not bite, but there are important questions to ask when adopting.

She recommends asking about what assessments have been done on the dog to help determine its response under certain types of circumstances. Ask what kind of assessment was done, if it is scientifically validated, who performed the test, what their credentials were, and when the testing was last performed.

There is a stigma when it comes to certain breeds – particularly pit bulls – and therein lies the value of doing assessments, she said.

“Breed-based generalizations are not going to provide much value,” Buchwald said. “Every negative experience with an adopted dog means one less adoption, so when that negative experience happens, it behooves us to assure that shelters are doing everything in our power so that these animals are in safe environments.”

So do that good deed and adopt, Buchwald said.

“But do it in an informed and educated way so that you know it’s a good match for you,” she said.

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