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 Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center Director Bob Gatt, left, hosted a press event Jan. 3 to explain what happened during a dog attack that took place last month. County Director of Public Services Mark Newman, right, was in attendance.

Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center Director Bob Gatt, left, hosted a press event Jan. 3 to explain what happened during a dog attack that took place last month. County Director of Public Services Mark Newman, right, was in attendance.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

Oakland County leaders reflect on attack at animal shelter

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published January 6, 2020

OAKLAND COUNTY — According to officials, the dog that attacked a veteran staffer at the Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center last month had an extensive history of aggression.

Bob Gatt, the director of the center, hosted a press conference at the Pontiac facility Jan. 3 along with other county executives to explain what exactly happened during the Dec. 12 attack that sent center Supervisor Shelley Grey to a hospital and led to the dog’s death.

Red flags
Gatt said the dog, a pit bull named Roscoe, had been at the shelter since late October, in the facility’s quarantine area. According to police reports, Troy police officers had responded to a 911 call at a residence a little after 10 p.m. Oct. 16. Neither the caller nor the address of the home has been disclosed to the media.

The caller reportedly said the family’s dog had gotten out of his enclosure and had just bitten three members of the family, including two children. One of the victims drove herself to Henry Ford Hospital in Sterling Heights for medical treatment following the attack, and Troy police enlisted the help of county animal control staff to retrieve the dog. The children were treated by first responders at the scene and then transported to a hospital.

Roscoe was removed from the home to be held at the shelter. The following day, he bit an animal control officer, increasing law enforcement officials’ concerns about possibly returning the animal to a home with children.

The dog owner who made the 911 call, an adult male, said he was ready to be rid of the dog, which had shown aggression before. His girlfriend and co-owner of the animal, however, indicated a couple of days later that she did not want to surrender Roscoe, knowing he would be later euthanized.

An “Oakland County animal control officer spoke via phone to the female victim of the dog bite, who also is the co-owner of the dog. She told the officer that she was talking too loudly, which excited the dog,” the police report states.

County animal control officers informed the family that if they didn’t release Roscoe to the county’s custody, officials would by law need to file a child protection complaint with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and would go to court to request that the dog be given over to animal control.

While awaiting a show cause hearing originally scheduled for Dec. 5 and then postponed by the owner to Dec. 12, Roscoe was held in shelter quarantine, which is standard procedure anytime a dog bites a human.

‘She was afraid for her life’
On the day of the attack, an inmate worker from the Oakland County Jail was in the quarantine area to begin cleaning the floors. Seeing the worker, Roscoe jumped up against his cage door, which allegedly hadn’t been fully locked upon last being closed. The dog escaped the pen, and the inmate worker was told to leave the quarantine room so animal control officers could re-crate the animal.

After failed attempts from animal control officers to enter the quarantine area — each time resulting in Roscoe charging the officers — Grey entered with a leash and moved toward the cage. The dog, around the corner, ran back around and latched onto her.

“The dog rushes toward Shelley and now has latched onto her right hip, and the attack begins,” Gatt said as he narrated surveillance footage of the attack for members of the press.

Two animal control officers entered the area and attempted to get Roscoe to release his grip and eventually get him into his cage. The dog moved from Grey’s hip to her right shoulder and wrestled her to the ground.

“Ms. Grey told me later that she was afraid for her life at that point,” Gatt said. “The dog was looking at her right in the face and she was afraid for her life.”

At that time, another officer at the facility entered the quarantine room, told the others to step back for their safety, and proceeded to shoot the dog once in the head. This released the grip, and the dog fell to the ground, unconscious.

Grey was moved out of the room to a safe area for first aid treatment. A few moments later, however, a staffer noticed that Roscoe was still moving and, in fact, was able to stand on all four legs, though he was clearly having trouble breathing and moving, according to the footage.

When one of the animal control officers returned to the room to retrieve Grey’s shoes that had fallen off during the attack, he noticed that Roscoe was alive, but suffering. He shot one more round into the dog’s head, immediately euthanizing him.

“I want to point out that Supervisor Grey has 25 years (of) experience. It’s what she does for a living. She’s had situations similar to this, I’m sure, in the past,” Gatt added, noting that after surgery on her right arm and left hand, she is now at home recovering.

Gatt conceded that, as one might expect, bites and scratches are a typical occurrence at the shelter, which takes in about 4,000 dogs per year. But the attack is reportedly the first of its kind in severity to take place at the facility.

“The incident has been very traumatic for each and every person on our staff,” he said. “We’re like a family here.”

Oakland County Director of Public Services Mark Newman, a former county sheriff, was at the press conference and said he feels terrible for all involved in the incident. He once had to shoot a dog while on duty. He called it a traumatic experience.

“There is nobody in this facility that’s better (than Grey),” said Newman. “It just goes to show that even with (professionals) with all kinds of experience, these things can still happen.”

Gatt later said that no existing shelter procedures were violated in advance of the event.

Asked whether Roscoe’s owners in Troy had been notified of the attack, Gatt confirmed that they had, but they so far had “been mute” with county officials. The show cause hearing scheduled was dismissed, and no criminal charges can be filed against the owners.

Gatt said new protection policies have been implemented at the shelter to prevent such an attack from happening again, including double locks on cage doors in the quarantine spaces, a no-contact rule for inmate workers working in the quarantine spaces, new alert devices to be carried by employees at all times, and increased and “redundant” regular training for all employees, with more in-depth orientation programming being developed for inmate workers.

Along with improved safety protocols at the shelter, Gatt said, another good thing that came from the attack is the opportunity to raise awareness about the risks of owning an aggressive dog.

“If anyone has a dog that is biting for no apparent reason, the safest thing to do is bring them to us,” Gatt said.

Dangerous behavior is often preceded by physical warning signs, like a tucked-under tail, curled lips and visible teeth, dilated pupils, a wrinkled nose, ears pointing back, hackles — or back fur — raised, and a lowered body stance.

Despite their reputation, pit bulls are far from the only dogs that could pose a risk of biting or attack, Gatt explained. In the Oakland County Animal Control report following the initial attack in October, the responding officer noted that “by all accounts,” the dog had not been abused, was adequately fed and sheltered, and had a large yard to play in and an “attentive and caring family.”

“We have some pit bulls in the building that are wonderful, loving pets. So this is not a day to attack pit bulls; this is a day to talk about ownership of dogs and ownership responsibilities,” Gatt said. “I think it’s all about how they were raised.”