Buffalo area media outlets reported the “bizarre and disturbing” story of a pit bull raping a two-year-old. StinkyJournalism.org finds two misquoted experts crying foul; hospital saying child protection agency is involved; an SPCA Executive Director reveals that mother has “relocated” and gives StinkyJournalism advance notice of results of dog's official behavioral analysis.
The voice on Buffalo, New York's WBEN news radio broadcast promised “bizarre and disturbing” news about “an attack on a small boy by a pit bull.” That wasn’t the unusual part. Scare stories about pit bull attacks appear in news coverage almost as regularly as weather forecasts.
What made this one so strange, though, was the mother’s claim that the dog allegedly anally raped her two-year-old son.
The toddler is in guarded condition in Buffalo's Women's & Children's Hospital after undergoing reconstructive surgery. The dog is locked up in the Niagara County SPCA, and the mother’s demanding that it be euthanized as soon as possible.
In an interview with Detective Larry Eggert of the Lockport Police Department, the WBEN news anchors tried to treat the matter with a sense of propriety. “This is a very delicate question,” the anchorman said. “I’ll try to approach it as sensitively as I can, but did you check with a veterinarian? Are animals ever sexually attracted to human beings?” The detective answered that the department had to search outside New York State to find an animal behaviorist who, apparently, has investigated “five” such cases.
Strangely, the anchors did not reveal what this expert discovered, or ask about the credentials of the person.
Even if all five of those cases turned out to be actual rapes of small children by dogs, and there’s no evidence that is the case, the outlets presented the story without skepticism.
Only one local paper vowed to dig deeper. The expert evaluation of the dog's behavior was going to be released on Saturday, June 14 in the The Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, but StinkyJournalism already discovered the results during a conversation with Niagara County SPCA's executive director, Albert Chille.
"They can't believe that it actually occurred," says Chille.
“This Story Does Not Add Up.”
A WIVB news report claimed that the President of the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society corroborated the story. According to the article, an unnamed expert stated that the parents may have missed warning signs, and that a two-year-old dog reaching “sexual maturity” should not be left alone with a small child.
Her words, however, were taken completely out of context. Stephanie Wolf, the misrepresented leader of NFVS, explained that a two-year-old dog can display aggression when reaching sexual maturity. “Aggression,” she told us in an exclusive interview, "[means] biting, not raping.” She never intended to suggest that parents need to fear potential rape by their family pet.
“Just coming from the standpoint of having worked with dogs that are breeding, [getting young dogs to mate] is not an easy thing,” said a frustrated Wolf. “For a dog to have done this in a fraction of a moment, sounds to me a little strange. This story does not add up.”
There goes one expert.
WIVB also made it appear that Albert Chille, the executive director of the Niagara County SPCA, verified the credibility of the story, when in fact he contradicted it. In a news story titled “Bizarre and Disturbing Dog Attack,” they quoted Chille as saying, “My understanding is the child had no bites on him at all … I guess the message is be respectful of a dog, until you absolutely know the animal” (ellipsis original).
One wonders what part of the interview was stricken where the ellipsis now stand. In my interview with Chille for further comment, he noted that the lack of bite marks on the boy was another reason to disbelieve the mother’s story. While Chille mentioned that it was not his role to speculate to the press, he had plenty to say to us about his skepticism.
For example, Chille said in 27 years at the SPCA he has never heard of a dog raping a child, and neither had any of his colleagues.
“Not to get crude about it,” he says to me as a disclaimer, explaining that a male dog attaches his claws to the sides of the female dog while mating. “It just seems to me that there would be something on the child.”
He was also disturbed by how adamant the mother was about wanting the dog (“Bear”) put down before the investigation was over and assured me that would not happen so long as he’s guarding the pooch. On Thursday, he says he received 30 emails, “most of them saying they want to adopt [the dog], none of whom blamed the dog and felt sorry for the boy. … I am toying with the idea of going to a rescue group with it.”
Most telling, perhaps, was Chille's revelation that the mother of the injured boy is no longer reachable at her residence. “Now, [the mother] has relocated. One of the agents went to her house, and the door was shut. The neighbors said she will not be coming back.” Her flight is not proof of culpability or involvement as an accessory, but Chille said it raised his eyebrows.
Niagara County’s District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III refused to confirm this information, as it was “an ongoing investigation.” When we asked if child protective services were involved, he repeated the answer and hung up the phone.
(StinkyJournalism.org called WIVB for comment, but the news director has not yet replied.)
An Alternative Hypothesis and a Question That Needs Asking
The dog seems to be in safe hands now. What about the boy?
The Women’s & Children’s Hospital has been told by the mother not to release information about the medical condition of the child. However, we asked the public information spokesman John Moscato if the hospital was shielding him, and whether they'd reported suspected abuse to child protective services.
“Child protective services and all of the appropriate authorities have been notified in this case,” he stated. It’s difficult to believe that they would be taking such measures if they were certain that the jailed dog was the culprit.
Surprisingly, no press reports that we've been able to find have investigated alternative scenarios with human perpetrators. Were “bizarre and disturbing” headlines more appealing?
Assuming the mother’s story is wrong, and it's becoming less credible by the moment, there is a more obvious hypothesis: this was a human crime.
It's unclear whether the story was reported the way it was out of a misplaced sense of propriety, or lurid sensationalism. Evidence, however, indicates that the press has lent credibility to the preposterous alibi of a child rapist, leaving a two-year-old in continued danger of molestation while sending an innocent pit bull to be put to sleep.
Fortunately, the director of the Niagara County SPCA and the Women & Children's Hospital are not just going with the assumption that the dog did it.
Additional Reporting by: Rhonda Roland Shearer and Jeremy Miller