Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dangerous testimony in Monroe County Michigan

At their best, behavior evaluations (some call temperament tests) - especially those used on canine victims of cruelty - are meant to tease out a few basic behaviors in dogs in order to give responders enough information to plan next steps including a search for appropriate placement options for each individual. Disposition recommendations are typically broken down into four main categories, including placement into: A) a shelter adoption program B) a foster care home for continued observation and possible adoption placement C) sanctuary for extreme behavior issues or D) euthanasia for a dog that is clearly suffering from medical distress or that is considered unredeemably dangerous.

At their worst, behavior evaluations can be used as a formality to hopscotch dogs straight to D.

The worst seems to have happened in Monroe County Michigan recently, where certified animal behaviorist Katherine Houpt VMD PhD condemned a young and seemingly social pit bull named Dusty for reasons that are hard to grasp. In her testimony, the dog presents a public safety threat and "lack(s) any useful purpose." A rescue group's fight to save Dusty has been bolstered by a video tape of the evaluation now making its rounds via Youtube (see below).

As longtime evaluators of cruelty victims including dogs just like Dusty, we were rather horrified by Dr. Houpt's recommendations after watching the video. Outside of the fact that the dog presented beautifully in the video, experienced evaluators in animal welfare circles rarely give 'pass or fail' recommendations, preferring instead to focus on each dog's specific issues and needs so appropriate help can be found. Occasionally dogs get a 'fail' if they're clearly off the charts in their reactions to people - for example, one very troubled dog from the Bad Newz Kennels case was euthanized because she was literally too unstable to be handled. By now you know the story well: out of 49 dogs, 48 dogs from this infamous fighting operation were successfully matched to appropriate rescue and sanctuary situations.

ABOVE: Hector during his initial evaluations in Virginia

An evaluator's main objective should not be to determine which dog(s) should die, but rather, which dogs can be matched to available resources, including qualified organizations that are set up to meet their specific needs. If rescue resources just can't be located after an honest search, it's understandable when euthanasia becomes necessary. But of course then the humans wear the blame for the deaths, not the dogs themselves. A compassionate society doesn't blame the victims of abuse for their fates. When an evaluator jumps too quickly to condemn a dog however without picking up the phone, exploring viable rescue options or even asking for a second opinion, we have a problem.

A rescue group in Michigan filed a request to absorb Dusty into their program, but based in part on Houpt's pessimistic testimony, their plea was denied by a judge and the young female is now set to be destroyed. The backstory here, as told by the: Monroe SPCA

Take a look: I'll leave it to viewers to decide if they feel threatened by Dusty's reactions. Included also is a video of Dusty's reactions to other dogs.

For information sake, charted out below is a detailed break-down of disposition recommendations we've used in more than one cruelty case including the Vick dog case and the 'Missouri 500' case. Do you believe Dr. Houpt did an adequate job following animal welfare norms in her recommendations? If not, there's a petition going around that would love your support. Petition to Recant Testimony Let's hope it helps.

a. Foster Care/Observation A - These dogs showed no sign of aggression or threat to either people or dogs. Placement is recommended into waiting adoption programs with qualified shelters or rescue groups.

b. Foster Care/Observation B - These dogs showed no sign of aggression or threat to either people or dogs. Placement is recommended in an experienced foster care home where additional observation and rehabilitation can take place and may result in these dogs eventually being placed in appropriately screened homes.

c. Sanctuary 1 - These dogs exhibit intense fear or lack of socialization with people or other dogs. Placement is recommended in a sanctuary situation with more control over the dogs interaction with people and dogs. The sanctuary should provide the dog with controlled experience and interaction with people and other dogs. Some of these dogs may eventually move to a foster care program.

d. Sanctuary 2 - These dogs exhibit mild to intense threat to stimulus and may have shown high arousal towards people. Placement in a sanctuary with extensive breed experience is possible.

e. Euthanasia - These dogs exhibit aggression to people or intense aggression to other dogs or evidence of a significant medical problem which requires euthanasia.

Footnote: The reason dogs like Dusty face such doomed fates in Michigan goes beyond one evaluator's personal bias. Many courts and animal control agencies in Michigan have used an out-dated and vaguely worded Michigan statute to condemn dogs from cruelty cases to automatic death. The wording in that statute was challenged by Kent County Humane Society in 2010 after several canine victims of cruelty in their care were threatened with euthanasia. In that situation, we celebrated when a judge ruled in favor of the shelter's request to make a select number of dogs available for adoption. A win for the dogs. Unfortunately that precedent did not influence this current Monroe County case, and that's very bad news in a state that suffers from perennial BSL threats and breed discrimination.


Krishva said...

How the heck could anyone who is familiar with dogs consider this dog aggressive? I'm baffled. She could definitely use some training in her basic manners, but it looks to me like she is trying to play with everyone who walks into the room. She seems scared of the weird noises and motion of the doll, but approaches it when it's quiet. I was pretty impressed by how she responded to the hand-on-a-stick shoved into her food dish.

Seems like a really nice dog. I hope the judge reconsiders his decision. Dusty reminds me a lot of my dog.

Mrs.Moos said...

How can Attorneys be "recruited" to be "on call" in these instances? Surely there is one dog loving attorney in Michigan that would like a crack at challenging this. Maybe there needs to be a network of attorneys across the country willing to donate their time to save a dog like this now and then. Maybe one or two in each state? They could file the necessary appeals to buy time. Imagine the Karma???
This is just ridiculous. The animal lovers of Michigan need to rise up and say OH NO YOU DON'T!!!

Unknown said...

As an aside, what an awful room for temperament testing. It's so loud, there's no purchase on the floor, and the way they introduce dogs on leashes leaves something to be desired. I hope little Dusty gets what she deserves: a chance.

Anonymous said...

Speechless. I do wonder if this vet has a history of bias against pit bulls. Is the this lovely dog one of many she has condemned to death? She should have her license revoked.

Meg_Sherwood said...

I have 3 bullies at home so I'm very familiar with their behavior and there is nothing wrong with Dusty!!! He seems like a pretty well rounded dog and would be able to fit into a shelter or foster situation easily. I want to sign the petition but I live in Canada but if there is anything I can do I will gladly because this boy should not die for her incompetence!

Mary said...

doG, I would probably die of shock if my own dogs handled that kind of evaluation as well as Dusty did.

Unknown said...

The whole case is awful. Two dogs were confiscated by Monroe County Animal Control b/c they thought the dogs had been fought. In lieu of providing medical aid, the dogs - covered in wounds - ended up dying in the custody of the shelter.

For whatever reason, another eight dogs were left on the property (I'm just hopefully guessing they were unseen). A neighbor called the Monroe SPCA who brought Animal Control back out.

One dog had starved to death. The other seven dogs were taken to Monroe AC. One of those dogs died in custody. Two of the dogs I can only guess were adopted or relinquished to rescue (a Chi and a English Bulldog). The four remaining Pit Bulls were up for death row and were subsequently evaluated by Dr. Houpt.

Dr. Houpt is not a novice. She is extremely experienced with both invasive and non-invasive research on animals. She has a lot of knowledge on aggression and behavior of nonhumans, including dogs. You would think with that background she'd spend DAYS with these dogs, not minutes.

She evaluated all four dogs. You can see the videos of all four evaluations at The Buster Foundation:

She failed three of the dogs, Dusty and two males. She deemed the fourth dog, a female, "may be safe" despite also giving her an overall negative evaluation. The two male dogs were not as rockstar as Dusty but nothing they did indicated, to me, they needed to immediately be killed.

Sue Sternberg's Assess-A-Pet testing system used as pass/fail so frequently is such a dismal failure I don't know why it's still used...and by people, like Dr. Houpt, who should know better!

Mia said...

If this woman had been allowed to evaluate my rescue dog, I hate to think what would have happened to her. Maddie has separation anxiety and was labeled food aggressive when we adopted her. By Dr. Houpt's standards she would have been put down! I hope this sweet girl gets a chance at her forever home! I have posted the petition on my facebook page in hopes of getting more signatures!!

Please keep us posted on Dusty's fate!


Anonymous said...

My gosh, I own 2 smaller dogs and I'm afraid to admit that my 3 year old small terrier mix would not do as well as Dusty did! What is actually wrong with the behavior? I'm horrified at this! Posted it on my facebook page and signed the petition. To me, she looks like she wants nothing but love????

Dianne said...

I read this yesterday in Brent's blog and signed the petition. Even in an excellent shelter, I have seen these tests used to "railroad" a dog (even a cat on occasion). That's why they need to post their numbers publicly. This is just one dog, how many did they put down last year? (I refuse to use the word "euthanize" for killing healthy young dogs).

Donna said...

@ Marji - thanks for the additional info on the case. It's all very horrible, and I hate to say it, it's all "very Michigan." The amount of stubborn paranoia in that state towards pit bull type dogs has been unforgivable, despite little spits of hope here and there. I don't know what to say about Dr. Houpt, but the videos say plenty so thankfully I don't have to.

@ Dianne - I'm not confident that publishing numbers help shelters do a better job with assessments. I've witnessed shelter practices in person and have seen staff sign dogs off as untreatable without any evaluation at all. When dogs are labeled pit bulls, the public is are much more likely to believe that they're untreatable, especially when the shelter participates in breed tokenism.

Sarah Ryan said...

Excuse my language but what the hell is wrong with that woman? She should have her license revoked. All I saw of Dusty was that she seemed just like a sweet and easy-going pit bull, which is especially remarkable for any dog based up the fact that she is in a high-stress environment of terrified barking dogs.

Anonymous said...

If she had evaluated my Pittie he'd be on death row along with Dusty. He's a year old, will still jump on people and occasionally grab on clothes. But he's the biggest love bug, lives two kids, another dog, and three cats. According to this shelter's "expert" though, he might as well be put to sleep.

Like one of the comments above, I wonder if she is biased against Pit Bulls. I would love to see someone research her evaluation history and see how many Pitties have passed her evaluations.

Mike Sweeney said...

There was nothing wrong from the dogs perspective with this eval? In my opinion the dog passed with flying colors. The dog only displayed playful excitement, the evaluator needs to be wacked with that hand though. I understand putting the dog in a little stressful situation to see how they react. But that was a very poor eval and the dog should not be punished for it. WOW how sad and what a waist!!
Is there nothing that can be done here?

Anonymous said...

If having a "useful purpose" is a requirement, not only are my dogs in trouble, but I better watch out too.


dottie said...

I know that you have your plates full, but is there anyway BadRap can get involved and save these pups? It just breaks my heart, but sometimes (way too often?) these "evaluations" are used as an excuse to kill for overcrowding or because of the breed. See Urgent Part 2 and see what horrendous "evaluations" the dogs of NYC get - and way too many are killed for them (and for "medical reasons - i.e. kennel cough).

Anonymous said...

What an absolutely delightful young lady Dusty is. So hopeful, so optimistic, so charmed by the attention she is being shown.


Unknown said...

This is CRAZY AND OUTRAGEOUS. Dusty is much better behaved than the majority of dogs I see EVERY DAY in my neighborhood. By these "standards", if you can call them that, there should be dog alive, regardless of breed. Dusty just looks like a puppy who's happy and wants to play. I'm upset, angry, and in tears.

Dr. Houpt is disgrace to her profession. She should have her license revoked. Her actions are similar to a medical doctor attending to her patients in a hospital, poking and prodding them, searching for ways to give them a lethal injection, instead of focusing for a means to save lives.

The fact that the court is not allowing another group to try to train him is upsetting and unsetteling. We give more opportunities to rapists, serial killers, and daily criminals than this poor dog. Shouldn't we use AT LEAST the same standards for rescued dogs that we do for criminals, giving them second chances at rehabilitation? With dogs there's substantially better odds of being successful as well, with focus on training and socialization.

Though in Dusty's case, he just needs a loving home and human companions that'll give him standard, proper training. He needs nothing extreme and certainly should NOT be euthanized!!!

Margaret Svoboda said...

I have been personally involved in this case since May 2011 and I would like to clear a few things up. We are filing an appeal on this case. We have two wonderful attorneys that have been graciously spending countless hours trying to save these dogs pro bono.

These dogs were never fought or even trained to fight. They had no scarring and are young. The two females are under a year old. These poor babies were just victims of neglect and abuse, chained up in a clearing on the property.

The Buster Foundation and the Monroe SPCA were granted access to these dogs in a court order on May 4th to assess their temperament and medical conditions. We spent the next two days assessing Monroe, Reilly, Dusty and Razzel. Unfortunately we could not see the dogs over the weekend because the shelter is closed. When we returned on Monday we discovered that Monroe and Reilly had been severely injured. Monroe’s injuries were so infected that he was in very poor condition. His face so swollen that he was unrecognizable. We were told by the animal control officers that Monroe got his head caught under the fence on Friday and that they did not know what happened to Reilly. The dogs sat at animal control all weekend without medical treatment. Monroe had puss coming out of his eyes, nose, ears and mouth. Monroe County Animal Control would not let us bring the dogs to a veterinarian so we called one who came to us. Buster foundation and Monroe SPCA filed an emergency order to remove the 4 dogs from Animal control and into our care. The order was granted that day.

We had the dogs for 45 days during which time the dogs were being trained and were receiving medical care, daily exercise and one on one attention. Reilly tested positive for heart worm so he was undergoing treatment. I personally have many, many hours of video of our daily interaction with these wonderful dogs. I and 5 other evaluators assessed the dogs and they all are very friendly and eager to please and learn. We did not see any of the aggression that Dr. Katherine Houpt claims to have seen.

On June 24th the assistant prosecutor filed an order with the court to have the dogs returned to the Monroe County Animal Control Shelter immediately. This order was granted and at 3pm that same day they took the dogs away. We have not been allowed in animal control to even see the dogs. They would not even take the medication that Reilly was on to continue his heart worm treatment. The judge told us that if Animal Control felt that any of the dogs needed any medication they would get it for them and bill the Buster Foundation for it.

Dr. Katherine Houpt came and spent 20 minutes with each dog and condemned three of them to death. The Judge has now ruled that Dr. Houpt's testimoney trumps the testimony of 6 other evaluators that spent hundreds of hours with the dogs and all of the video evidence and that Monroe, Reilly and Dusty pose a possible threat to society and “serve no useful purpose”.

There are 2 other dogs that we have not been allowed to even mention in court, Little P, a Pomeranian and Morgan, an English Bulldog. These 2 dogs have been languishing in animal control since they were confiscated during the raid on March 6, 2011. There are rescues waiting to take them but the owner of these 2 dogs (the women who was renting the property that the dog fighting ring and dog fights were being run) wants them back. We want to get Little P and Morgan released to rescues immediately.

If anyone would like to see our pictures and video of these sweet dogs you should view them before Aug. 4th as the assistant prosecutor has filed an order to make us remove all video and pictures from our websites claiming that we are in violation of a gag order.

To learn more about the WHOLE story and the court case and to view pictures and video please go to or

Margaret Svoboda

Karen said...

I commented, and shared on FB. Please do keep us posted on what happens here. This is so frustrating and upsetting. (And with so much bad news coming down the pike today from DC, it would be great to be able to do one small good thing--save a dog, unseat a bad administrator?)

Is there a veterinary professional association that would be interested in pursuing this, as a standards-of-practice issue?

Donna said...

Karen - Unfortunately the wording in the MI statute regarding the disposition of dogs from dog fighting operations - even 'alleged' dog fighting operations - supports and even promotes extreme bias in the courts. The horrible "lack of any useful purpose" wording used in this case came from state statute as well. Whether or not Dusty is saved - and I really hope he is - the statute will still need to be changed in order to save the lives of future cruelty victims or this will just keep on happening.

Despite the huge amount of progress made, there are still so many dark corners out there in the animal welfare world that need cleaning up.

(18) A humane society or other animal welfare agency that receives an animal under this section shall apply to the district court or municipal court for a hearing to determine whether the animal shall be humanely euthanized because of its lack of any useful purpose and the public safety threat it poses. The court shall hold a hearing not more than 30 days after the filing of the application and shall give notice of the hearing to the owner of the animal. Upon a finding by the court that the animal lacks any useful purpose and poses a threat to public safety, the humane society or other animal welfare agency shall humanely euthanize the animal.

Anonymous said...

I have signed the petition and wish I could sign it 100 times. This woman needs to find another profession. This video in no way should condemn Dusty to be euthanized. Is she doing this because she doesn't like Pits? What about any other breed of dog that would have the same exact reactions as Dusty? She would pronounce them sound to be in a family home. This is absolutely ridiculous and find it surprising that this is the type of 'expert' that Cornell University is putting out.

Mary said...

And now I just read this update from the petition site.....
HEARING AUGUST 4TH - Prosecutor attempt to remove ALL evidence from web

Michael Brown has a hearing scheduled for Thursday, August 4th in the Monroe County Court in front of Judge Vitale to force us to remove all of our video and photographic evidence from any public access.

Donna said...

Hi Mary - It's normal for prosecutors to want all evidence under wraps during an open case - and the dogs of course are evidence. We were under a gag order when we worked on the Vick case for several months and couldn't publish a scrap for fear of harming the case against Vick. It's possible that the defense could use the open debate to support their clients in this case and the judge could actually throw it out and give the dogs back.

Josie and Pablo's Mom said...

Thanks for posting this Donna, signing the petition now.

Ironically, Dusty's body language was good (she was even trying to calm the doll down when it bounced toward her by looking at the floor and elsewhere), but the evaluator's body language before Dusty came in was terrible. She had her arms wrapped around her body in an uncomfortable and defensive position. Amateur psychology, sure, but she sure looks like she'd rather be anywhere else but evaluating a pit bull.


pitbullmamad said...

The two groups trying to save these dogs are being charged with contempt of court. We have protested the decision on the streets of Monroe in support of these two groups. We now ask people of Michigan who never want to see this again to come to court on Thursday August 4th in support of The Buster Foundation and Monroe SPCA. Hearing will be held at the Monroe Court house at 9:00 am. They don't want people to see the truth so they want the evidence taken away.

Jon Svoboda (Buster Foundation President) said...


Much earlier in this case it was decided that these dogs weren't owned by anyone, as no-one would come forward and claim ownership of the Pit Bulls. We have been working through legal channels to get them turned over to us so that we can foster until ready for adoption and then match them with their forever homes. We were released from releasing video and photographs when the Judge made a decision. We have been extremely prudent (to the point of looking foolish) in holding back on presenting anything that the court could take exception with until this order no longer applied. In this case we are the Defence against the Prosecutor's office who has been trying to kill these dogs for months. Three of the Seven Pit Bulls taken into custody on March 6th have already died in the care of Monroe County Animal Control. Two of the remaining four would have died due to wounds that occurred while in the care of Animal Control if a visiting Judge (Judge Collins) hadn't granted the remaining dogs to be immediately released into our custody. They have since been ordered back into this same facility where we are unsure of their care or current condition.

mcb05 said...

This is a very sad situation. I had to smile though when watching Dusty's response to the "hand" petting it repeatedly. She was so good and tolerant of it, you could even tell when she had had enough, cause she just turned away. My dog would totally have taken ahold of the dang hand and shaken it off of its wooden stick, thinking that it must be some sort of game, since that lady keeps poking me with it. He would have failed for sure.

Crystal said...

Sure she could use some manners and basic obedience but she seems like a very sweet girl! I cant even comprehend that anyone who considers themself to be a dog expert would deem her as worthy of euthanasia!

Bev CANADA said...

This video is such a joke. No matter how hard Dr tried to torment the poor dog the dog came through 100% perfect. I have seen many evaluations on dogs and this "Dr" was doing her darn best to find fault with the animal. I find it hard to believe that this woman is a "Dr". She is obviously siding with the idiotic Judge instead of remaining impartial. I hope that the animal advocates win because this judge and "Dr" should not be in positions of power as they are obviously inept at what they do. They, themselves, are a big joke!!!!

Anonymous said...

Crazy! I thought Dusty reacted to all that poking and prodding very well - I didn't see any aggression or reaction that would concern me. The noise from the kennels in the background made me fell stressed out while watching this. I think my dog would have grabbed the hand too, thinking it was a game if she was poked that many times. I'm sorry to say that although I think the tests can give some insight, I think they are often administered incorrectly and unfairly and used as an excust to PTS. I hope Dusty gets another chance.

Anonymous said...

I think that Dusty was very well behaved. The dog was excited and was curious, but I saw no aggressive behavior at all nor any mannerisms that would cause concern.

3s_enough said...

That women is a total witch. Not once did anyone in that video tell Dusty she was a good girl when she ignored all that was being done to "test" her. If I had a place with a larger yard I would gladly take her in! Even with my youngest being only 5. That women did nothing but chase that poor dog around with that doll! Dusty even turned to the officer with the leash with a look of "I'm a good girl right?" Sniffing things, walking away from things and standing on her hind feet to get a better look are NOT aggressive things. It's pure curiosity! She is a brave dog that's been through a lot in her life. I hope she has the opertunity to find a loving forever home! She deserves it! Good Luck Dusty! If I ever run across that lady I'll bite her for you!

Shellie said...

I have a cat that is more dangerous than this dog. Seriously....I've never adopted or fostered a dog this well behaved. What a joke. Dusty is a good girl and she should have been told that. I'm embarrassed to say I used to live in Monroe and nothing there surprises me. Poor Dusty was so well behaved despite that loud, stressful environment.

IndyElmer said...

I just saw on Buster Foundation's FB wall that they now have custody of all four dogs, including the three that Dr. Houpt had declared temperament failures with "no useful purpose." Couldn't be more grateful that they won't be spending Thanksgiving at that horrible shelter. Happy Thanksgiving!!