A Dog Sentenced to Death

What do a dog bite and a social movement have in common? If you are in Austin, you probably have heard about Neville, the Austin Pets Alive! dog. He is a two year old little retriever mix dog that has been sentenced by a judge to “be destroyed” after he bit a child on the face. It is pretty clear he was scared by the child who surprised him from behind while trying to hug him.   The child clearly had nothing but sweet intentions. The family filed a “Serious Bodily Injury” determination and the judge agreed and sentenced Neville to be killed.

What happened next is fascinating. The local news stations got ahold of the court ruling and ran a story. The public rallied to save Neville, garnering more than 50,000 signatures on a petition within four days. He is not safe yet, but a group of volunteer attorneys are working around the clock to pursue all legal remedies.

So where is the social movement? A successful petition can scarcely be called a social movement in and of itself.

The social movement is much bigger and deeper than just Neville and involves the end of animal care and control in shelters as society has come to know it. The best way to describe the vast majority of shelters, both nonprofit and municipal, is as institutions with every connotation that the word “institution” evokes. Much like the human institutions that have been created to handle the elderly and infirm, the mentally ill, the convicted, and even the orphans, animal shelters were created decades ago to do away with a problem that was unsightly to the public and for which there was not better answer at the time. The institution to remove and kill animals from the streets was created due to public demand for governments to fix a problem. It is not surprising that although those institutions have progressed to be more positive than they were 50 years ago, they still have layers and layers of institutionalized knowledge, practices, and philosophies around controlling loose animals by killing them to unravel.  Neville’s sentencing is the perfect example of a bureaucratic system that routinely takes a life without hesitating based on one isolated incident even with plenty of evidence to suggest that it was a provoked bite. There is no political win for an elected judge in sparing his life. He might hurt another person if freed but he can’t if he is dead. It is the safe way to go.

Nev 3

The link between Neville and the institution of animal sheltering is in that ingrained thought process that animals are not worth the expense and uncertainty to save them. And there is an underlying assumption that the public would want them eradicated. The response that Neville received from average citizens, the ones that haven’t been involved in sheltering, the ones that can see right from wrong without the lens of “the way it has always been done,” shines a light directly on where we are as a social movement. Fifty thousand people don’t want this dog to die even after he bit a child in the face. That speaks volumes about how the average citizen sees the value of the life of a dog. The general community no longer believes that dogs and cats should be exterminated to make life easier for humans. There is public demand for life saving alternatives to the solutions that government came up with eons ago. The public will carry this movement over the finish line and into a No Kill USA. People created the institutions that kill pets. And probably a lot fewer than 50,000 people are responsible for that. The power of social media to pull the people together that demand better is changing the game. There are plenty of people, if each picks up a small piece of the work, to undo what has come before.

Austin Pets Alive!’s job, as a No Kill leader, is to help channel that rally cry towards the solutions that have been proven to work in Austin and move them across the country.

Like many other cutting edge ideas, Austin is the incubator of the end of killing pets. What started as an organizational mission is now the mission of the entire city. This is a new era and this social movement is ready to spread like wildfire. Once again, today, I’m proud to live in Austin, the safest city in the world for pets.


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  • Angie Nelson says:

    I think it would have been very helpful to explain the situation with Neville in more detail and why there is so much public outrage about this issue and why this petition currently has 196,197 signatures.. This situation is unusual for many reasons and providing additional information would help to explain why. Over 200,000 people have read the story of what happened and why Neville bit the child, which is why they’re signing the petition, donating to the legal defense fund, and sharing this story on various social media outlets. Providing all of the facts behind this situation is important to help your readers understand why so many people don’t want this dog to die even after he bit a child in the face. The backstory reinforces your point that the old system of “the way it has always been done” needs to change. I understand that APA is very hesitant to shed a negative light on the child’s parents and how their very poor judgement in this situation caused this unfortunate incident to occur at all. But it’s a fact, and is part of explaining the sequence of events. Not including all the facts surrounding a story is not good journalism because it leaves many unanswered questions in your readers’ minds.

  • Romeo Cologne says:

    The issue at hand is when will the thousands of cities much smaller than Austin move to implement mandatory spay/neutering of all dogs and cats. Killing the millions of unwanted pets that flood animal shelters is the only humane way to end the suffering. All pets must be sterilized if we are to have a future that does not kill unwanted pets. Villifying the shelters and giving irresponsible pet owners a pass is just ignorant.

  • Until you have been severely attacked by a dog (my own dog by the way) you will never say that a dog should NOT be euthanized. I was a member of the Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue and I had a Golden that was “insane”. I did my research and I spoke with several doctors from the University of PA and they all agreed that the dog had bad genes and could never be rehabilitated. Until it happens to you please do not say a dog should not be euthanized! My neighbors dog just violently attacked my other neighbors almost ripping his nose off and the dog is still alive. I am doing everything in my power to make sure the dog is put to sleep. It’s very sad but that’s life. It has a lot to do with Breeding.

    You did make the point that the parents were warned but people still should not make excuses for their dogs; violent, or reactive, or however you spin it – then I guess we should make special excuses for child molesters, mass shooters and rapist’s too? The execution of these dogs should be permitted because it will put people’s life at risk, will stop the death of innocent people and because aggressive dogs are useless to humans. If dogs who harm humans shouldn’t be put down, it will continue to put many people’s life at risk including innocent infants. More than 500 infants have been attacked and the sound of a bark can be just enough to burst them into tears. More than 200,000 humans have been attacked without provocation and more than 30 have died in a single year. Additionally, many dogs that attack are “rescue dogs” that have allegedly been “rehabilitated.” Last April, a rescued pit bull that had gone through extensive testing and rehabilitation ran out the door of the man who had no better sense than to adopt the worthless mutt and attacked an elderly woman, who died a month later. In March, an elderly woman in Texas died after being attacked by a dog that had previously bitten a boy, but was returned to its owner. There should be no second chances for dogs and the very fact that so many feel aggressive dogs should not be put down is the reason we have a dog-attack epidemic in the US today.

    Dog apologists (people who value dogs above everything else on earth) have convinced people dogs are something more than the animals they are, that they are “part of the family,” a family they never deserved in our society, must live indoors, that they’re “harmless, cute, and helpless creatures” and other nonsense. Back when people treated dogs like the animals, kept them outdoors (where they belong), etc, dog attacks on humans was practically nonexistent. During those days, if a dog so much as growled at a human, it was beaten within an inch of its life and if it growled again, it was given a permanent dirt bed. Dogs had a healthy respect for their owners because they knew their owners would hurt them if they got out of line.

    • J says:

      First, based upon your comments, you appear to be just another fear mongering person that has a general dislike of animals or dogs in particular.

      I find it highly unlikely that you were involved with any rescue organization as you claim nor do I believe you were bit by your own “insane” dog. The word insane is not even used by professionals in the mental health field and certainly not used by K9 behaviorists so it is logical to assume you are spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) to further your own agenda and the event entirely made up. You offer no proof of either of these activities other than your own statement. You then go on to espouse a view that is antithetical to your own claims of working with a rescue organization.

      From there, you engage in logical fallacy suggesting by equating shelters not killing animals to the same level of making excuses for child molesters. This is a massive red herring argument. If you cannot see the difference between dog behavior and that of a child molester then you will never understand how to make a valid argument with support facts and logical flow.

      Next you go on to claim that you “rescued” a pit bull that then attacked someone walking in front of your house. I again suspect this is yet another made up event to support your fear mongering agenda. If this event were true, then I would suspect that you would be involved in a highly publicized lawsuit given the litigious nature of our society. I doubt any owner walking a dog that was severely attacked by your dog would just ignore the event. As such, your lawyer would advise that you not comment privately or publically as it would be seriously detrimental to your case. The fact you are commenting hear would suggest the event did not happen.

      You then advocate that all dogs should be kept outside which is absurd. Clearly you have no expertise on dog behavior and only limited experience with working with dogs. I’m sorry you were scared of dogs as a child. No one is forcing you to own a dog in fact, I like many would prefer you not have anything to do with dogs for both your safety and that of any dogs you happen to be around.

      • J,

        I’d really like to know who you are because you made quite a few assumptions about me and I can guarantee you I could present the facts. All the incidents were true and the fact you don’t believe proves how naive and how you ignore and obfuscate hard evidence. I did not mention any specifics of this case in detail, a forum of debate such as this is quite an appropriate medium to discuss it, freely. The fact you people are talking about compassion, well guess what? Argument from emotion is not an argument at all.

        You can look the dog attack facts in the US, just like any other statistic that deals with deaths. I also support the Freedom of Information Act.

        The fact you talked about any expertise in behavior dogs is missing the point entirely. Sure, you and I know about it – but Joe the Plumber who wants to adopt a pet shouldn’t have to be an expert in dog behavior, not to the extent which we are dealing. The analogy to a mental case who attacks a person is the same in a sense – real people aren’t trying to understand it, were wanting justice for what it/he/she did.

        But really, I’m trying to speak about real flesh and blood people, not some flimsy ideology. All you do us espouse rhetoric – and assumed you know everything about my side without any debate or fact checking. You are ignorant so let me educate you a little bit.

        The bottom line is that this dog offers little to no use to society. See, we live in a society based on mutual obligations; and therefore, rights are given accordingly. In wartimes, certain people dont have a right to live! You and I should be glad we dont live in those conditions. This is why I support breeding standards and on the side, rescues. Because it benefits both sides.

        This dog might have a chance to be adopted, at least for a little while.

        Likewise, to real people, law abiding citizens who worked hard to make the country what it is, these aggressive dogs that live with an irresponsible owner and cause trouble around the neighborhoods are undoubtedly have no benefit in this world. If the Liberal Government is not going to immediately take care of this matter, inevitably someone, or even the dog, is going to get critically wounded or affected and might even spark another arguable debate. Ever day people shouldnt have to accept dog behavior because they are less intelligent than us and not receive punishments for their actions. There are an uncountable number of innocent people in this globe who if are caught doing one abolishing act is sent straight to jail, so why only show mercy to these pets that offer no real value to society?

      • Many dog bites go unreported! The fact you think there’s litigation with every attack proves you are living in a fantasy world, where everything is politically correct. Get a clue. You have got to be the most densest, moronic, pseudo-intellectual sciolist to ever grace humanity.

        Where did any lack of behavior knowledge come into the picture? Almost all breeders agree a dog bite of this nature is intolerable.

        While I agree with that in most cases a dog bite can be directly attributed to owner negligence on some level (and in “owner negligence” I include people who leave dogs alone with children, because, no matter how “kid friendly” your dog is and how “dog trained” a kid is, below a certain age kids just can’t be expected to know how to treat animals properly. I hate the idea of a dog being put down for biting a kid when it’s entirely possible that it bit in self defense, but if you didn’t see the bite, you have no way of knowing what happened), I also think that it’s not always as black and white as we’d like it to be. Dogs that attack unprovoked, and especially dogs that attack children unprovoked, need to be put to sleep. We still have vague facts on what this child did to provoke the dog on any grounds. As my breeder friends said, there are too many nice dogs who need homes to keep dangerous dogs alive (and harming the reputation of their respective breeds).

        I also keep in mind that a dog isn’t a person, it doesn’t know what being “put to sleep” is, so any tragedy inherent in euthanizing a dog is entirely in the mind of the dog’s owner (not that this is invalid by any means, but to the dog it’s just a needle like any other). I think this can somewhat ease the mind of an owner who feels they should have their biting dog put to sleep, but who feels badly for the dog about it. I think if more people were responsible when it comes to biting dogs (“freeing them from their demons” is a phrase I’ve seen used before, and I like it), we’d have fewer dog-haters out there, fewer people being bitten, and fewer people trying to get breeds banned because of a few irresponsible owners.

  • Emma says:

    This type of situation is frustrating to me. I will preface by saying that I have a rescue dog, I’ve only ever had rescue dogs all my life, and yes, I love them like they are family.

    However, if a dog attacks someone, especially a child, especially in the face, I believe that dog should be put down. While another poster went a bit overboard, I don’t think its wrong to compare a dog that attacked a child with a child abuser. Do you blame the child for being abused? Do you blame the child’s parents for allowing a child to be abused? Or do you punish the abuser?

    What does Austin Humane Society plan to with this dog if it is allowed to live? Adopt it out to an unsuspecting person/family? Adopt it out with a warning never to allow someone to approach the dog from behind/never allow children around the animal/keep it in a cage where it can not harm people? A dog that bites is a dangerous dog. The end.

    Austin Humane Society is wasting money trying to save this dog that could go to saving countless other lives. When you value the life of a dog over that of a human, your sense of direction is very skewed.

    My dog, our beloved pet and companion, means the world to us. But if she bit my child, then I would be able to do the right thing to protect my family and anyone else she might come in contact with.

    • Emma says:

      Further on this, I adopted our cat from APA, I donate money, supplies, and kennel bedding several times a year. I can not do this any longer on good conscious. I will find a smaller rescue or a human society on the outskirts of Austin to donate to from now on. One that is dedicated to saving animals and making the world a better place, but not at the expense of children’s safety.

  • Sarah says:

    To “Responsible Breeder”:

    Your sentiments on this post represent a very old and dis-compassionate way of thinking about domesticated animals. Your facts are twisted and your analogies are ridiculous. (Comparing a biting dog to a child molester or rapist?!)

    I have been bitten by a dog before and I do not agree with you at all. I feel sorry for you. Your sick thinking about animals as a problem to be exterminated is exactly the issue Dr. Jefferson describes in her post.

    You remind me of the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz, and if you were in front of me, like Dorothy, I’d bite you myself. I hope you re-read the author’s post and try to see the big picture. Even if you don’t, thankfully your ignorant way of thinking is a dying breed.


    • I mentioned much of this in the above post to J.

      Ever hear the saying if its not broke, dont fix it?

      I’m sorry you think the real work is a Disney movie and you think dogs can do no harm. I also pity you because you are a hypocrite and you miss subtleties in human language. No, it is not exactly like a child molestation incident, you idiot, its the principle and slippery slope of thinking.

      I really hope you do bite me first, because then I would be dead in the clear to retaliate and show you a lesson about the consequences of your actions. See, unlike you, I understand the world can be survival of the fittest. A soft, dumb, naive, emotional girl such as yourself has no place in.

  • Emily says:

    From the sounds of it, this dog does not deserve to die because irresponsible parents didn’t handle their child appropriately. I have a rescue greyhound, and not too long ago my rescue group dealt with a similar situation. A second grey was adopted to first time dog owners, and when he stole some fake flowers off the toilet, the wife attempted an “alpha roll” on a hard tile floor. She got bit for her trouble. I feel absolutely no sympathy for her because she had tons of info from both her vet and the rescue saying that technique is dangerous and should not be used. From the dog’s perspective, she was attacking him and most likely it hurt (greyhounds don’t have much body fat), so he did the only thing he could, he bit. The rescue group was able to convince the police it was an isolated incident and thankfully the dog was rehomed to a responsible owner, but there’s no way he should have died because his owners were stupid. Same thing here. If the dog was scared and felt like he was being attacked, the natural response is a bite. As an aside, I was bitten by a dog as a child, but my parents didn’t blame the dog, it was just an unfortunate accident.

  • See, Emma put it much more eloquently. She understands and seems to have a good grasp of common sense.

    I helped a rescue and am involved in breeding, BUT I also have to speak for the majority of people who are indifferent to dogs. People who use real words like “insane” and don’t try to cover up reality with rhetoric.

    You see? Stepping outside social norms and out of subjective emotional state is key.

  • Tim Verret says:

    For all you sheltered people who never step into the real world.

    The proof:

    •According to the American Medical Association, dog bites are the second leading cause of childhood injury, surpassing playground accidents.
    •Dog bites to people of the male gender are approximately 2 times greater than the incidence involving females.
    •Dogs that are licensed with an identifiable owner are implicated in the vast majority of dog bites (compared with strays).
    •Dogs not known to the victim account for approximately 10 – 20% of all reported dog bites.
    •Dogs between 1 and 5 years are involved in more dog bite incidences than dogs older than 6 years. Male dogs are more frequently involved when compared with female dogs.
    •Mixed breeds and not pure bred dogs are the type of dog most often involved in inflicting bites to people. The pure-bred dogs most often involved are German Shepherds and Chow chows.
    •The list of breeds most involved in both bite injuries and fatalities changes from year to year and from one area of the country to another, depending on the popularity of the breed.
    •Of the estimated 4.7 million people who were bitten by dogs in 1994, 800,000 sought medical care. Of these, 332,000 needed treatment in emergency rooms, and 6,000 were hospitalized.
    •The average hospital stay for a dog-bite injury was 3.6 days.
    •Emergency room costs for dog bite victims in the United States was about $102 million in 1994, and overall direct medical costs was about $165 million.
    •The majority of dog bites to adult humans are inflicted to the lower extremities followed by bites to the upper extremities including the head, face and neck. For children, 77% of dog bite injuries are to facial areas.
    •According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites accounted for about one-quarter of all claims on homeowner’s insurance, costing more than $321 million in 2003. –In 2002, the latest year for which numbers are available, the average claim for a dog bite was $16,600.
    •Dog attacks account for one-third of all liability claims on homeowners’ insurance policies. According to statistics, the insurance industry paid out more than $1 billion in dog-bite claims in 1998 alone.
    •From 1979 to 1996, dog attacks resulted in more than 300 human dog bite related deaths in the United States. Most of the victims were children.
    •Approximately 20 people die every year as a result of a dog attack in the United States. –By far, the majority of the victims are children.
    •In the two year period from 1997 to 1998, twenty-seven people died as a result of dog bite attacks (18 in 1997, and 9 in 1998).
    •Annually in the United States there are approximately 20 human fatalities directly resulting from a dog attack.
    •Of the 27 people who died as a result of dog bite attacks during 1997 and 1998, 67% involved an attack by 1 dog; 19% involved an attack by 2 dogs; and 15% involved an attack by 3 or more dogs.
    •From 1979 to 1998, at least 25 breeds of dogs have been involved in bite related deaths. Pit Bulls and Rottweilers were involved in more than 50% of these incidences.

    Hey, where was that twisted facts again?

  • Tim Verret says:


    Many more dog bite incidents go unreported!

    For those of you thinking there’s always litigation, thats hardly the case, especially in rural areas. Please people.

  • Clare says:

    There’s always One Bad Apple that just doesn’t GET IT!! THE REST OF US WILL CARRY ON ALWAYS DOING THE RIGHT THING PERIOD!!!

  • Furthermore, to think how we treats animals, and more specifically dogs, is any kind of morally progressive movement is a joke.
    Its the same camp that wants to stop lethal injections, disciplining children in public, stamp out the vestiges of cultural divides etc.
    The whole thing is about image and what appears to look good in their ideology. No, were not closer to a better place or utopia because we don’t kill useless dogs. Sorry.
    It also costs resources, time, money, families who need to be dog literate even if the dog is not needed for a purpose/job. Sure, we live in a spoiled country, in one of the nicest cities in that country. But other places, resources wouldn’t be used on such trivial ideals. In China, the government had an order to go into peoples house and kill pets, brutally if necessary. Hows that for a comparison?
    Our country is what it is because we out built, out worked, out smarted and out achieved our competitors. Not on how well we treated animals or compassionate we were to others.

  • How can anyone or any thing have these kinds of rights within a framework that it is too ignorant to and has shown overwhelming evidence in destroying? For dogs its worse as no dog adds to that framework and are less intelligent by default. Rights are not just abstractions plucked out of thin air. Rights are part of a whole set of mutual obligations binding people together. If enemy soldiers have any rights, it is as a result of international agreements such as the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war. And they have those rights only after they have surrendered and become prisoners of war.

    At one time, all this would have been considered too obvious to require saying. But today, when some people talk blithely about “saving an animal life,” as if animals were part of some system of mutual obligations, even the obvious has to be explained to some of the products of our dumbed-down education.
    A sense of decency limits what we do to enemies or to animals, but this is not a matter of rights, civil or otherwise. Nor is it a threat to the rights of American citizens when we fail to treat dogs as if they were some sort of reflection of our morality towards eachother . Citizens are people who have a legal obligation to play by certain rules, and who are therefore protected by that same national system of rules. But ones that are haphazard to the citizens and ignorant to the rules they live in have no such claim.

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