Editor’s note: Some of the descriptions and photos of the attack detailed below may be disturbing.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — A woman who was scalped by a dog is pushing for a resolution that will go before Austin City Council next week. The resolution could limit the taxpayer-funded shelter’s ability to release dangerous dogs into the community.
The resolution — which has many elements — includes a change from the city’s current internal measurement for how aggressive a dog is, to the nationally recognized Dr. Ian Dunbar scale. That scale ranges from 1-6.
The most severe end of the scale, 6, is an animal killing someone. The least severe, a 1, is aggressive behavior but no biting. The resolution would require the city shelter not to release any animals at or over a 4 — which requires severe and deep wounds.
Right now, before an animal is euthanized at the Austin Animal Center, even if the reason is behavior, other organizations have a “right to rescue.” This would eliminate that possibility if an animal is deemed that aggressive.
“We are seeing the number of serious bites from animals in Austin…they’ve climbed significantly over the last few years and that’s a real concern,” Council Member Chito Vela said. “We have also had reports of animals that had a bite history that were subsequently released by the animal center to, let’s say a rescue organization, then biting other people after we release them.”
Under the proposed change, the dog that attacked Mickelle Bolls last year would not be allowed to be released if it were to end up at the Austin Animal Center.
Bolls said she was volunteering at a Central Texas rescue when she was attacked by the large dog, one who she said had previously been at the Austin Animal Center and one that had a bite history.
She had worked with the dog for months and felt she and other volunteers were taking all the precautions necessary to remain safe. But walking the dog in the rescue’s yard one day, Bolls tripped and fell on her hands and knees. The dog attacked her head.
“I was basically scalped. The initial tear caused a flap of two by three inches, down to the bone…down to the skull. And then the two to three other bites, there were sections of my scalp that were pulled away from my skull, there were gashes, there were punctures,” she said.
That level of severity is something Vela said is thankfully uncommon. And Vela said the proposed rule change would not likely impact the city’s set ‘no kill’ rate of 95%.
“It’s a very narrow change. We’re talking about in the dozens of animals. This is not a huge change, but it’s an important change,” he said.
That proposed change is something Dr. Ellen Jefferson, the president and CEO of Austin Pets Alive! (APA!), said is a step in the right direction, but she also worries the shelter isn’t capable of keeping accurate data right now, something pointed out in an audit released last year.
She doesn’t want animals to end up in the mandatory euthanasia category because of bad reporting. APA! regularly takes animals with behavioral issues from the city shelter and has experts who specifically work with those animals.
“The tool itself is a good tool. And I do think that this a great way for the city to approach it, the problem is that — and the audit pointed this out — the problem is the data keeping system and the human part of data collection is…needs a lot of work at Austin Animal Center,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson said APA! has been involved in conversations with the City of Austin about the proposed changes and that with this one in particular, she hopes the city will wait at least six months to make sure the Dunbar scale is applied accurately before adjusting the release requirements.
“We really need to get to a place, I think, before we jump to mandatory euthanasia or mandatory killing of dogs and potentially do that in error. We need to have data that’s correct and accountable,” she said.
KXAN reached out to the Austin Animal Center who said Director Don Bland was unavailable for interview Wednesday. KXAN will follow up when he becomes available.
Other proposed changes in the resolution
The monster resolution also calls for changes to the city’s requirement that the shelter hold dogs for at least 72 hours in the shelter before releasing them to foster. Right now, if you find a dog, the shelter has to take it in for three days before allowing you to foster it.
The proposal would change that, something they’re calling “finder to foster.” It could allow for more space at the shelter and incentivize people to foster animals.
“Having it so that an impoundment can occur anywhere in our city is a huge leap forward. And I’m really, really excited about that. That’s going to help a lot of animals not have to enter the shelter,” Jefferson said.
The resolution also asks the city shelter to eliminate the language “animals” from the city code that governs the city’s ‘no kill’ rate, and change it to “cats and dogs,” so that the city’s reports more accurately reflect pets.
“The ordinance for Council’s consideration will clean-up definitions, clarify reporting requirements, amend impoundment language, and add requirements for public safety,” council documents say.