Editor: Read this Akita Case, view photo of injuries, the untruths, the plea for money,
related attacks, then decide how to help the dog and protect the Akita breed.
SAVE AN AKITA - OR SCAM?
Akitas are my breed so when I saw an Akita involved in what appeared to be a bogus attack complaint, biased investigation process, and a plea for donations to save a dog's life, my hackles went up.
January 2, 2010
I went to the website www.free-row.com and what I saw shocked me. A dog, on his own property, did nothing more than harmless vocalizations, startling an elderly couple walking by on the sidewalk, causing the woman to fall backwards and injure herself very slightly. The Akita was confiscated and a hearing would be held to determine his fate. The site pleaded for those who love the breed to sign a petition (and send money)to save this dog from death.
I signed the petition and then, concerned and highly motivated to help, I began looking for arguments that could be used towards a defense and in so doing, uncovered significant inconsistencies in the story.
Red Flag Number 1: The dog was repeatedly exulted as a show dog, a quality meant to infer he could not possibly be aggressive in any way. Yet the site showed only puppy win photos from ICABA shows, referred to as "international shows". It seemed the Akita had not been shown in some time, and testimony offered by an employee of Mr. Scott's at the January 8 hearing revealed that the dog has been running at large on an agricultural property owned by Scott, fed and cared for daily by the farm hand and used to drive off "wildcats" and protect the livestock.
Red Flag Number 2: "Row is a proud member of the American Kennel Club (AKC) registered (#4654D091E), Brevard Kennel Club, Pasco Florida Kennel Club, and the Seminole Dog Fanciers Association." That isn't an AKC registration number, and a dog isn't a member of any club. I could find no information anywhere stating that the owner William Jo Scott (aka BillyJo Scott) was a member or active in any of the named groups.
Red Flag Number 3: the site stated that Row only frightened the couple with a normal activity and Row himself pleaded "On December 9th 2009, I was visiting my granddad and hanging out in his front yard. He has a special spot next to a tree that I love. It’s special spot because I can watch the neighborhood and relax. After a while, I noticed some neighbors were walking by and stopped at our house. I wanted to say hello and find out what they wanted. However, as I approached the elderly couple, the woman became frightened. I didn’t want her to be scared, so I decided to talk to her. Unfortunately, as I spoke, she jumped back, lost her balance, and fell. I felt really bad and didn’t know what to do. When her husband helped her up I noticed she had bruises and scrapes. I did not mean to scare her! After this, I was taken away from my family. I was all alone for Christmas and New Years. I am not sure what my outcome is going to be. I promise! I never touched the couple or caused any harm. I just wanted to say Hi. Unfortunately for me, since the neighbor fell and hurt herself, I’m being blamed for her injuries."
The owner is quoted as saying "He is quite used to being handled and shown" and "He's been to many shows and is constantly around my family and staff. He is territorial on my own property, because that is his nature. I suspect that the couple may have approached him in some way, or stepped onto my property, hence provoking the attack".
Whoa. ATTACK? The owner is admitting his Akita dog attacked this couple?
Red Flag Number 4: The site states that if Row were found to be a dangerous dog, he would be either destroyed or forced to live in isolation. Not true. Regulations for Brevard County's Dangerous Dog designation says nothing of the sort. In fact, it states a dog is welcome to remain in the home with their family, and focuses more on reasonable containment to the property. I couldn't see any breed prejudice as the list had multiple mixed breeds and purebreds, including an Akita.
Red Flag Number 5: The site states the dog was adopted in May 2009 but was visiting his "grandpa's house" (Billy Jo Scott), and then contradicts itself with claims the dog actually belongs to Billy Jo Scott and is a service animal. So who actually owns Row? The dog was sold directly from the breeder to Ms. Sally Jaffe, who at some point after learning he could no longer be shown, sent the dog to either Scott or his son. In a separate bite incident report taken the day prior to this attack, Scott told officers that Row belonged to his son. The website implies this but then goes on to state the dog is Mr. Scott's and he is currently the owner of record for the purposes of the hearing and appeal. Will the real owner please stand up? The claim that Row is a service animal is a very recent addition to the site and appears to have been written to promote support for the dog.
Red Flag Number 6: The site asks: Do you wish to make a donation towards the Save Row Scott Fund? Donations may be made through any branch of Riverside National Bank 321-269-4444, in the name of William Jo Scott. All funds will be directed towards supporting his release, and the creation of a new shelter in his name. Not a rescue group, not a non profit, not even a specific account number. No way to be sure where this money will go. The website itself is maintained by a public relations company and not the owner. A new shelter? Just how much money is this guy looking for?
As an affable malcontent. I'm not happy just being told something, I needed information with a little more substance. So I placed a call to Mr. Scott (unreturned) and requested the public records from Brevard County. I was fully prepared to shine up my lance, mount my glorious white steed and defend the Akita against the forces of breed bigoted evil.
The problem with knee jerk reactions is that they can firmly plant your foot in your own mouth.
I confirmed that the dog was indeed an AKC show dog and had achieved a 3 pt major from the puppy classes under judge Clay Coady. I also learned the dog was a full litter mate to an Akita involved in a serious bite injury case two years earlier. Even more disturbing was the fact that the same owner was recorded for both dogs!
Further research indicated that the breeder has placed a total of at least seven dogs into the same home over a three year period, several of them after a mauling incident in which a woman's foot was nearly severed. Investigations into that complaint revealed the dog had a bite history and the breeder had agreed, in writing, to destroy the dog. Instead, she sent him to Florida, to live with his brother Ronin.
Yes, I said Ronin because, as it turns out, that's really Row's name. His name, pedigree and any other identifying information was carefully concealed from the public in an apparent effort to manipulate a sympathetic response to the dog's aggression. Other information you won't find on the Free Row website is that the dog has been accused of repeated aggressive acts and had bitten the owner’s niece the day before the attack on the elderly couple. That incident was still under investigation when the dog was moved to a another property owned by Scott and tied out to a twenty foot cable less than six feet from a public sidewalk.
I dug deeper. It seems Ronin had done a bit of showing when he was younger but public postings to forum lists and transcripts from the dangerous dog hearing state the dog was retired when he failed to pass OFA certification. At this point, it was determined he would be placed out. Standard practice with breeders. Not so standard to hand them off still intact, not if the intent of placement is to keep them from passing on genetic or structural issues to the next generation. How Mr. Scott acquired two Akitas from the same owner, Ms Sally Jaffe, is still unknown- she isn't talking. Possibly because, along with the Space Coast Kennel Club, she's involved in a lawsuit for injuries inflicted by one of her other Akitas- Ronin's brother, a dog known as Eli, in 2007.
The breeder, Becky Bullard, has publicly claimed to have no knowledge of the dog's disposition, however, as a member of the parent breed club and operator of a known show kennel, its usually standard practice to offer a replacement when a dog does not pass OFA. Ms. Bullard has also publicly related her angst at being unable to reacquire Ronin or the unnamed second Akita of her breeding on Scott's property because she sold the dogs outright to Ms Jaffe. Sounds like the same talk repeated on many breed lists after Eli's 2007 attack. One would think that after the devastating impact of that incident, a breeder would think twice about placing additional dogs with the same owner. Instead, Ms. Bullard has placed at least seven Akitas into Ms. Jaffe's home over the past three years, was in frequent contact with Ms. Jaffe, and should have been aware the dog was being sent to another home.
After examining the evidence including photos (click photo to enlarge, reports and an audio transcript, it becomes clear that Scot's widely advertised version of events is not consistent with the facts. While it is true the victim stated she could not be 100% sure her injuries were bites, review of the photos shows multiple puncture wounds along the elbow joint, from the top of the radius to the lower part of the humerus. There are several long deep scrape marks as well that were, according to testimony at the hearing, revealing exposed muscle. These injuries are inconsistent with a fall due to being startled; photos and testimony by the dog's owner indicate the street is clean, clear and well kept. There were no protruding objects or plants present.
Testimony offered by Betty Ann Ogus, a local Akita fancier, former handler for Ronin and member of a regional Akita club, stated she believed it was not possible for the injuries to have come from the dog, claiming that if he had jumped upwards, the victim's face would have been mauled. It is unclear how Ogus could have made this observation, as it was already stated the victim had fallen backwards when first menaced by the dog, and it is reasonable to assume that a person in a prone position would instinctively put up their arms to protect their face- thereby taking defensive injuries to the arms. A blow to the head, another injury sustained during this attack, could also account for the victim's poor recall.
Ogus did not mention in her testimony that she owns a litter brother to Eli and Ronin, a dog recently bred to a bitch bred by Ms Bullard and owned by Ms Jaffe, omissions that bring her testimony into question.
On January 8, 2009 the community appointed Dangerous Dog Council found sufficient evidence to determine that Ronin, aka Row, is a Dangerous Dog. Restrictions under this designation include restriction to the owner's property. The locked, enclosed area can be as large as the owner likes, as long as the chain link material is a minimum of 11 gauge wire. The owner would be required to maintain liability insurance in the amount of $100,000. The dog would need to be current on vaccines and licensing, including permanent identification (microchip is acceptable) and display a special tag identifying him as a dangerous dog. The dog must be surgically altered and the owner must attend and complete a course on responsible ownership.
These restrictions appear completely reasonable, given the nature of an offense that must be committed to declare a dog "dangerous". There is even an ability to reduce the fees after demonstrating good conduct and compliance. Mr. Scott, quite vocally, disagrees. The website states the dog will be forced to live in isolation or a "concrete iron dungeon" and "wear a mask".
Mr. Scott's attorney filed a last minute appeal of the designation and has requested a jury trial even though Scott admits on his website that the dog attacked. In the meantime, the Akita sits in a lonely kennel day after day when he could be taken home and live happily under the requirements set by the county. Another big red flag for me is Scott's assertions on the site that he has had no contact with Row during his quarantine and hold period. This is a startling claim intended, in my opinion, as nothing more than emotional blackmail against those of us who know these dogs need daily interaction with their families. Row sits alone, not as a result of a cruel, uncaring county system, but as an intentional act of neglect by the owner who claims to love him. There are no regulations whatsoever keeping Scott from visiting his dog. Only his unwillingness to travel to a location he has stated is inconvenient to him.
Daily, we are bombarded with TV images of abused and neglected pets. We receive email messages begging us to give our money, our time, and help. Out of compassion, we respond. Row's story spread quickly and touched many hearts. In my opinion, such misrepresented information is a heartless betrayal of the trust of the people who lent their recognizable names and reputations to what they believed was a valiant cause. This heavily damages the credibility of others who in the future seek to protect truly innocent pets and their owners.
The Free Row website's main page is blatantly asking for donations "particularly corporate". The owner and his agents' shameless manipulation of facts and exploitation of this dog in an effort to solicit financial gain should be investigated for fraud. Update! Following release of our coverage, the site was removed.
It is appalling that Mr. Scott's deceitful ambitions and ego are bigger than his heart.
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