On the night of Sept. 10, Dane Corell of Medford, N.J., made a distraught call after discovering the body of his longtime girlfriend, 66-year-old Valerie deSwart.
She died in her home by what was first thought to be an act of a violent criminal. Later, The Early Show resident veterinarian Debbye Turner reports, the authorities determined the family pet killed deSwart.
"It was the dog that had killed her and literally had attacked her from the back and bitten through her skull multiple times, and she bled to death," says Fran Hartman, the deSwarts' attorney.
Valerie deSwart left behind two children and a grandson. A second grandson was born four days after her death.
The killer dog, Ignat, was a three-year-old Doberman pinscher that deSwart had adopted 10 days earlier. She had logged on to Petfinder.com, a Web site which helps prospective owners find shelter dogs in their area.
There was a listing for a Doberman pinscher, which was located at the Associated Humane Societies Shelter in Newark, N.J. DeSwart thought she'd found exactly what she had been looking for, but there was a deadly twist.
"Unbeknownst to Valerie deSwart, this dog had been turned in to the shelter to be put down or killed, because it had attacked its prior owner to the point that she had 46 stitches in her face, neck, and back as a result of the attack," Hartman says.
According to deSwart's family, the Petfinder.com listing didn't include any of the warning symbols that indicate if a dog is aggressive toward people or other pets. And, they say, nobody at Associated Humane Societies warned her about Ignat's past.
DeSwart apparently didn't know about this, either. A scathing report issued this past March by the New Jersey Commission of Investigation on Associated Humane Societies depicted the association as a troubled organization.
Among the findings:
Lawyers for Associated Humane Societies didn't to respond to The Early Show's interview requests.
DeSwart's kids and estate have filed a wrongful death and consumer fraud suit against both the Associated Humane Societies and Petfinder.com.
"It's really horrible that she did everything that all of us are encouraged to do to help these animals," says Hartman. "And she suffered dearly for it. Obviously she suffered the ultimate price."
DeSwart's tragic experience is thankfully not the norm. In fact, 20 percent of the nation's 130 million house pets are adopted from animal shelters, most with happy results. So this is the exception, not the rule.
So it is still a good idea to go to a animal shelter to get your pet, and Turner notes that Dobermans are very docile by nature. The key is to ask about your pet's history before your pet arrives at the shelter.
Do your homework. A good shelter will answer your questions.
Questions to ask:
- Where the pet came from,
- What family situations the pet was in before it came to the shelter
- Why pet came to the shelter
- What is the medical history - is pet current on vaccinations?
Most great shelters now have an animal behaviorist on the staff. You want to ask:
- Has this animal been socialized and tested for its temperament?
- Do they have the the Assess-a-Pet test?
- Can you return the pet if there is a problem?