The Evolution of a Preventable Accident to the Myth of a Vicious Pit Bull Attack
What Really Happened on June 17, 2007
Colleen Lynn - Seattle Animal Control Records
Written by Fred Kray (a Miami lawyer later awarded the "Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award for 2016" by the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section of the American Bar Association)
Originally Published on Tuesday, 30 August 2011 in the Pit Bulletin Legal News
Scene of the June 17, 2007 Incident
For the first time anywhere on the web, you will be able to view, in their entirety, the Seattle Animal Control Records regarding the investigation of the June 17, 2007 bite incident involving Colleen Lynn. The link to the records will be at the end of this article. The addresses and phone numbers of the dog owner and dogwalker have been redacted, in an attempt to protect their privacy and prevent harassment. I am not sure these precautions will be effective. Ms. Lynn has had a copy of these records since 6/29/07 and has already made the photo of the dog involved public through her colleague Craven Desires. As you can see, there has already been harassment of the dog owner. I have also redacted Ms. Lynn's information, but since she has moved to Austin, it is superfluous.
In writing this article, I have reviewed the Seattle Animal Control Records, talked personally to the dogwalker, reviewed photos of the scene, read various reports by Ms. Lynn on how she says the incident happened, and consulted a dog bite expert. The opinions in this article are my own.
II. Why This Article?
I have written on this site about the "in your face" tactics of dogsbite.org and its founder Colleen Lynn. It has always struck me as odd that she has never published the records from the June 17, 2007 incident. Many doubt the incident even happened, since there are no records available in court records or on the internet. There have been nagging questions about whether a Pit Bull was involved. The best way to silence critics would have been to publish the records. But she never did so. It seemed out of character, based on the way she villifies her opposition, as I discussed here. And when I read the Craven Desires story that featured a photo of Bull, the dog involved in the attack, it became clear that not only did such records exist, but that Ms. Lynn had them.
I began to search through court records myself, and although I found her divorce decree, there was never any lawsuit filed in Seattle. Yet she did say here (in her own voice), that she had settled her lawsuit. Nor was there any record of a dangerous dog hearing. I was beginning to wonder, like many others, whether it actually happened. On impulse, I called Animal Control in Seattle, and yes, they did have the records, and yes, they would send them to me. Now you will be able to see them too.
There is an explanation for the lack of records. There was never a lawsuit filed because the case was settled for the owner's policy limits. There was no dangerous dog investigation because Lynn agreed not to pursue the owner in exchange for euthansia of the dog involved. So, the only record of what happened, is contained in the initial Seattle Animal Control Investigation records.
After I finished my own investigation, I felt that the public ought to know what really happened on June 17, 2007, and not just from Ms. Lynn. It is my opinion that Ms. Lynn has not published these records because the story she is now telling bears very little resemblance to what actually happened, and are in total conflict with the only other witness involved: the dogwalker.
III. Overview of the Incident
There are four characters in this story. Bull (the Pit bull involved in the incident), the owner of Bull (owner), the dogwalker (dogwalker) and Colleen Lynn. The only witnesses to the incident are the dogwalker and Lynn. It is important to note that it was Lynn's right arm that was injured in reconstructing the accident. You also have to be familiar with the actual scene of the incident to understand what happened. Below is a photo of the scene of the incident taken recently. There have been no signficant changes to the scene since June 17, 2007. The arrow shows the direction of the dogwalker and Lynn.
Below is the dogwalker's only statement to animal control:
There was no follow up By Seattle Animal Control to the dogwalker's statement, because within days of the incident, the owner agreed to have Bull euthanised. No further legal proceeding were going to take place, and the case was closed.
Lynn chooses the shortest, not the safest route
You would assume if Lynn's right arm was bitten, that she must have passed on the left side of the dogwalker exposing her right arm to the dog. You would be wrong. The dogwalker drew a diagram to make what happened clear.
The notations made on this photo were made by the dogwalker, and show both she and the dog in the middle of the walkway in the direction of the arrow. According to the dogwalker, she was not even aware of Ms. Lynn until she was next to Bull, where she has drawn Ms. Lynn's name.
Ms. Lynn made the decision, which turned out to be what caused a startled dog to react, to pass closest to the dog on the right with very little room for her to get through. There is a wall to her right. If the dog reacts, she has nowhere to go. Passing on the left would have given her infinite room to move away, and put the dogwalker between her and Bull. The dogwalker says Lynn gave no warning of any kind to let her know she was coming or passing. Lynn was wearing earbuds while jogging.
The dogwalker says that when she first saw Lynn, she was to Bull's right, where her name is on the above photo, stumbling. She did not know if Lynn had been tripped by hitting the dog, been bitten or lost her footing on the grass. Both Lynn and the dog were together as Lynn continued to fall in front of her. Lynn fell to her back and Bull had her right arm. She pulled the dog off. The dog remained leashed during the entire incident.
A. Lynn's First Version of the Incident
So what did Lynn say in her first version of the accident? The statement was not taken until a day later, June 18, 2007 over the phone. This is what the animal control officer wrote in his report:
Lynn admits, then, that she passed on the right, but says that the dogwalker had moved all the way over to the "parking strip", inviting her to pass. She then slowed down as she passed-no stopping is mentioned.
How can someone move over to the left when they don't even know you are there? Nowhere does she say she gave any warning, verbally or otherwise, that she was going to pass. She has never said it, as far as I have seen.
The dogwalker vehemently denies she moved left and I quote her:
"Colleen states that I moved over to the side, but I did not....I was not aware of her. She just sudenly came upon us."
The diagram the dogwalker drew likewise makes this same point. Note that the dogwalker, according to the animal control reports was 175 pounds. The dogwalker says that Bull was about 80 pounds. So if they were in the middle of the sidewalk, there was not much room on the right to pass.
The first statement makes it clear that Lynn never stopped running as she passed to the right, only slowed down. And of course, that would make sense.
But isn't there some assumption of the risk in deciding to pass closest to the dog on the right? Don't our driving habits on passing go against this? The only logical explanation is that Lynn wanted to take the shortest route rather than a safe one. Does she bear some responsibility for this decision, in light of the fact she gave no warning?
B. Lynn's Second Version of the Incident
Animal Control took a sworn statement of Lynn the next day, June 19, 2007. In this version, Lynn now says the she not only slowed as she passed on the right but stopped.
In this version, Lynn says that she was 10-15 feet away when the dogwalker moved to the left. She gives no explanation as to how the dogwalker could even know she was coming. The dogwalker was facing the opposite way and Lynn does not indicate that she gave any warning. In this version she "slows way down" "when I passed them." She gives no explanation of why she would do this. You are now clear of the dog. Why slow down now?
At the point she passed them, she says, the dog positioned himself in front of her. How is that possible? The dog was being walked on a 5 foot leash according to the dogwalker. The dogwalker knows this because she still has the leash and measured its length. How does the dog get in front of Lynn after she passes them on a five foot leash?
This story, even after she has had time to think about it, does not make any sense. But it doesn't have to. None of this will ever be challenged because the investigation is over after Lynn agrees not to go forward if they euthanize the dog.
C. February 24, 2010 Version
In my research, I have come across countless versions of the "attack." I am not interested in cataloging them all and the inconsistencies they show. I will, however, give you a flavor of how far the mythology of this incident has come, by citing you to a debate she had with Debra Bresch regarding Breed Discriminatory Legislation back on February 24, 2010. I use this example because you can hear her recite the myth of the attack in her own voice. At the very beginning of the debate she is asked how the incident happened. The link is here, click on the mp3 audio link to hear it. (You should listen to the whole debate to hear how little she knows about the lack of science behind BDL-she is totally unaware of the Voith study showing that shelter personnel are only 25% accurate in judging breed by visual identification.) Here is the description given in the linked interview and I quote:
"I was trying to pass by a woman, and she had gotten out of the way, she knew she had a dog that was potentially dangerous, so I passed, the dog, the pit bull, broke free from her, and that's when I knew something wrong was happening, and it jumped, it ran in front of me and just kind of sat in the middle of the sidewalk, and at that point, I completely stopped running and I just kind of stood there, like oh my gosh what's about to happen and it jumped on my chest, knocked me to the ground, and immediately went for my neck, and I protected myself, I put my forearm in front of my face.....I'm good and I'm fully healed and my case has settled and so forth."
In this latest version, the dogwalker "knows" she has a potentially dangerous dog, which Ms. Lynn alleges is the reason she gets out of the way. There is no evidence Bull has any prior aggression problems either by animal control or known to the dog walker. It is this kind of confabulation that is seen on dogsbite.org. Bull, in this version, breaks free from the dogwalker despite being on a five foot leash at all times, runs in front of Lynn, sits down as Lynn is stopped and attacks. This statement bears little resemblance to Lynn's first story, and is completely at odds with the dogwalker's version of the incident. The incident has been transformed from a preventable accident to a vicious pit bull attack.
IV. Bull's Reaction Predictable Startle Response
I consulted with a dog bite expert to get his analysis on this incident. He described Bull's behavior as the response of a startled dog. The dog did not know she was coming and snapped to protect himself. He reviewed the photographs, and explained that the post surgical photo of her injuries do not indicate that the dog either dragged her to the grass or shook her arm as she alleges. It was one or two quick bites and release. Lets take a look at what he is referring to. First, lets be clear that the original injury were two sets of puncture wounds, from one or two bites and immediate release. Take a look at the scene photo after her arm has been wrapped.
Notice that the wrap appears to be 6 inches from the elbow joint. What complicated this injury was that one of the bones in her arm broke. We cannot know, without x-rays, whether the break ocurred from the bite or a fall to the ground. In any case, this is not what we see in Ms. Lynn's photo of her injury taken after surgery. That photo is below.
Bull did not inflict with his teeth all the injury that you see in this photo. To repair the broken bone, the surgeons had to open an incision to place a stabilzation bar. That is what caused all of the damage you see other than the puncture wounds. You can see the steri-strips covering some of the stitches. The holes titled as "punctures" are the bite marks from the incident and are the only injury inflicted by Bull in this incident shown in the photo. According to the bite expert, the fact that the holes are very round and clean, is evidence that the dog bit and released, and that there was no dragging or shaking done with the arm in his mouth. If there had been dragging or shaking, these puncture wounds would have been irregular and enlarged with some evidence of tearing around the wound. The wounds do not support the "dragging" and "shaking" alleged by Ms. Lynn in her statements. Likewise, the dogwalker denies that there was any dragging or shaking by Bull. The puncture wounds and the dogwalker's testimony are thus consistent on this point. Yet another embellishment by Ms. Lynn?
This was not an inexplicable mauling by a Pit Bull. Rather, the dog's response was a predictable, known type of response when a dog is startled. Ms. Lynn has an understanding of the strength of the startle response, based on the words from a piece she wrote and published on the internet entitled "Don't Believe Everything You Think." In that article she wrote, and I quote:
My boyfriend, who lived with me, got the worst of it. I would slingshot from a stupefied state into one of aggression, especially if he approached me from behind. "[DELETED] YOU!" I would shriek. "Don't you EVER come up behind me without announcing yourself."
By not announcing herself to the dogwalker and Bull, she failed to treat Bull in the way she insisted she be treated. Unfortunately, rather than suffering some profanity like the boyfriend, Bull was killed for his reaction.
This was a preventable accident. Ms. Lynn could have done the most logical thing and passed the dogwalker on the left. She did not do that. She decided to take the shortest, not the safest route. Despite that choice, she failed to warn the dogwalker or Bull in anyway that she was coming. Because of that, the dog was startled when she ran by. A predictable startle bite reaction was the result.
Ms. Lynn has never acknowledged her part in this accident. Instead, her story has evolved from an incident in which her poor decision was the deciding factor into a mythical vicious pit bull attack. And she has used this myth to position herself at the forefront of the fight for Breed Discriminatory Specific Legislation. From this bullypulpit, she has used this myth to galvanize her followers.
I sympathize with Ms. Lynn - she was injured by a dog bite, and whether the arm was broken in the fall or by the bite, the dog was still the proximate cause of the injury. She was able to be compensated for her injury, and you can hear in the tone of her voice that she was pleased with the settlement when she talks about it in the Bresch debate linked to above.
Further, the Dangerous Dog Law system worked for her as an alleged victim. She was compensated for her injury, and the dog she alleged was dangerous was euthanised under the threat of a dangerous dog investigation (which could have resulted in criminal charges). So Ms. Lynn own experience validated controlling dangerous dogs not through breed banning but by enforcing Seattle's Dangerous Dog Law.
On the other hand, the outcome was not very fair to Bull. Bull has been unfairly demonized in an incident where Lynn could have avoided the accident by taking a safe route. Lynn's decision to not give warning and pass on the right (particularly in light of her own admission that she herself does not like to be approached from behind without warning) makes her responsible for this incident as well. Bull was not a vicious, blood thirsty bad dog. If Bull had been a red zone dog and had wanted to savage Ms. Lynn while she was on the ground in close quarters, he could have. But he didn't. It was one or two quick bites and release. Had the dangerous dog charges been contested, and Lynn's inexplicable story exposed, Bull's life might have been saved. We'll never know.
Ms. Lynn's misrepresentation of this preventable accident as a vicious, intentional, pit bull mauling, and then going on to use the incident to justify Breed Discriminatory Legislation is shameful. If she was really serious about wanting to prevent dog bites and canine safety, she could have used the truth of her story to warn others of the dangers of approaching a dog closely from behind without warning. Telling people to take the safe rather than short route and thus perhaps preventing others from making the same mistake.
Instead, she has actively taken part in the evolution of a myth, with little basis in reality, to fan the flames of prejudice against the Pit bull breed.
I hope this article and the accompanying documents will shine the light of truth on what actually happened on June 7, 2007. Read them and make your own analysis and conclusion.
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