Shelters Can Be Forced to Tell the Whole Truth

“The Pit Bull Meat Grinder Case” (Alvarado v. City of Los Angeles) Will Force Shelters to Tell Adopters in Writing the Whole Truth about a Dog’s Bite History and the Circumstances of Any Bite.

In September 2020, 70-year-old Argelia Alvarado became another victim of our nation’s animal shelters which, simply to boost their own reputations, trick people into adopting vicious dogs by engaging in a pattern of deception, a habit of NOT telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Los Angeles Animal Services, East Valley Shelter, impounded a vicious pit bull dog on May 25, 2020, because it had attacked a jogger and inflicted serious injuries on him. The circumstances of that incident moved a Shelter worker to recommend a formal administrative hearing to determine whether the dog should be put down. On June 20th, just 24 days afterwards, however, the Shelter adopted-out the dog to Brent Alvarado without disclosing the severity or circumstances of the May 25th attack, but just the opposite, “talking up” the dog and in different ways pressuring him to accept it. Just 99 days later, on Saturday, September 26, 2020, the dog attacked Brent’s 70-year-old mother, Argelia Alvarado, in the backyard of their house. The attack was a savage mauling in which both of Mrs. Alvarado’s arms were brutally shredded, with her right arm almost entirely chewed off. A Los Angeles Police Officer who was a first responder described it as “looking like it went through a meat grinder and the bones were broken.” Doctors had to amputate it almost to her shoulder. She is unfortunately going to have to live out her Golden Years as a severely handicapped person.

This terrible accident happened for three reasons which were all the City’s fault. First, a disclosure law was broken. In January 2020, California became the second state in the USA to require all public and private animal shelters to give people a written description of a dog’s bite history including the circumstances of each bite, when the dog is being adopted-out. In this case, the pit bull would not have been adopted if the City made the mandatory disclosure. By not doing so, the City broke the law and caused this accident, and therefore must be held responsible.

Second, a rule of common decency was broken. When anything is wrong with a dog, whoever is giving it away to the new owner has to say what’s wrong with it, whether the dog is crippled or has allergies or likes to jump on people or has bitten anyone. Courts everywhere have ruled for hundreds of years that giving this information is not discretionary, and failing to give it is negligent. So in this case, the City is responsible for this accident because employees of the shelter did not tell the pit bull’s new owner about the circumstances of the attack on the jogger.

Third, the people in command dropped the ball. Los Angeles politicians want the City to have “no kill” shelters, which are those that find homes for at least 90% of the animals in custody. This is a wonderful but unrealistic goal because many dogs are impounded after hurting someone. An unintended consequence is that a number of vicious dogs get released to increase the City’s “no kill” statistics at the expense of public safety. When this happens, it is not the result of making a bad decision but making no decision at all, just a slavish adherence to the “no kill” philosophy. We count on animal control departments to protect us, and when they drop the ball, as they did here, the City must be held responsible to compensate the people who get hurt.

This lawsuit is the first to be based on the mandatory statutory duty of any shelter, public or private, to provide an adopter with detailed written information about a dog’s bite history, meaning each prior bite plus the circumstances of each prior bite, and to obtain the adopter’s signature on an acknowledgement to confirm the information was given. The duty is established by California Food & Agricultural Code section 30526 subsection (b), which provides:

If an animal shelter or rescue group knows, to the best of the knowledge of the shelter or rescue group, that a dog, at the age of four months or older, bit a person and broke that person’s skin, thus requiring a state-mandated bite quarantine, the animal shelter or rescue group shall, before selling, giving away, or otherwise releasing the dog, do both of the following:

(1) Disclose in writing to the person to whom the dog is sold, given away, or transferred, the dog’s known bite history and the circumstances related to the bite.

(2) Obtain a signed acknowledgement from the person to whom the dog is sold, given away, or transferred that the person has been provided information about the dog as required by this section. The animal shelter or rescue group shall provide the person with a copy of the signed acknowledgment and retain the original copy in its files.

The first part of the lawsuit says the City failed to provide a mandatory disclosure document to Mrs. Alvarado’s son during the adoption process at the East Valley Shelter. This first “cause of action” is directly against the City. Technically it is based on what the law refers to as “breach of a mandatory duty.” The significance of a mandatory duty is that it is something a government or government employee is required to do, and a person who gets hurt because the duty was breached can be compensated for their injuries and reimbursed for their medical expenses.

What the average person does not know is that animal control departments and law enforcement officers in general are not required to do anything for anyone unless there is a special relationship with that person or the duty is a mandatory one. That is why an appellate court in California ruled against three brothers who sued the County of Los Angeles after being attacked by two roaming pit bulls. According to the Complaint, the County “had received numerous complaints about the . . . pit bulls yet failed to capture and take the pit bulls into custody pursuant to [Los Angeles County Code of Ordinances] § 10.12.090, knowing that they posed an immediate threat to public safety.” The cited ordinance said “[t]he director [of the County Department of Animal Care and Control] shall capture and take into custody [¶] . . . [¶] [a]ny animal being kept or maintained contrary to the provisions of this Division 1, the Animal Control Ordinance, or any other ordinance or state statute.” (LACC, § 10.12.090(C), italics added.) Notice the word “shall,” which normally means “must.” The brothers argued that the pit bulls should have been impounded because the County knew about 9 prior incidents in which the same dogs jumped the same fence and ran loose, sometimes chasing people, in violation of another ordinance that prohibited dogs that “constitute or cause a hazard, or be a menace to the health, peace or safety of the community.” (LACC, § 10.40.010(W).). The Court of Appeal felt that whether a dog was a hazard should be left to the discretion of the County’s animal control officers. Something involving discretion is, by definition, not mandatory. This meant the Court was able to rule that the County did not have a mandatory duty that it could be sued for breaching. (See County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (Kameron Faten), 209 Cal.App.4th 543, 147 Cal. Rptr. 3d 33 (Cal. Ct. App. 2012).)

The Pit Bull Meat Grinder Case is based on California Food & Agricultural Code section 30526 subsection (b), the bite disclosure law set forth above. As the legislature reviewed various drafts of the bill establishing the disclosure law, it was made clear, again and again, that the law was intended to create a mandatory duty. Additionally, there is no room for discretion in the statute — a bite history is a bite history, the circumstances related to a bite are what they are, and no interpretation or decision is required other than whether the shelter will do what the law requires. Therefore, section 30526 creates a mandatory duty and Mrs. Alvarado is entitled to compensation for the arm and the quality of life that she lost because the law was violated.

Every state in the USA should have a mandatory bite disclosure law like section 30526. As this is written, however, only California and Virginia have enacted these laws. Bite disclosure laws are necessary to combat the tendency of shelters to boost their “no-kill” statistics by pushing vicious dogs onto unsuspecting members of the public. Every state should impose on public and private shelters a mandatory statutory duty to provide an adopter with detailed written information about a dog’s bite history, meaning each prior bite plus the circumstances of each prior bite, and to obtain the adopter’s signature on an acknowledgement to confirm the information was given. “No-kill” should mean “no-kill” humans, not just dogs.