Dog attacks raise issues for lawmakers

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2007:
At least 32 U.S. communities adopted or
considered adopting breed-specific dog control
legislation in 2006, responding to attacks
involving pit bulls and Rottweilers.
The debate over whether possession and
sale of pit bull terriers, Rottweilers, and
possibly other dog breeds should be restricted to
protect public safety is in essence a debate
about possibly the oldest of all philosophical
questions vexing lawmakers.
Since Biblical times opinions have
conflicted as to whether laws should seek to
prevent harm by forbidding potentially injurious
behavior, or merely punish those whose behavior
results in actual harm.

The argument that no one should be enjoined from
behavior if it does not do harm tends to be
politically attractive, but the counter-argument
is that if harm comes to an innocent person and a
guilty person is punished, at least two people
suffer for an action which might have been
Further, in the case of a dog attack that kills
or maims, the harm may be irreparable. As no
amount of punishment can undo the damage, the
argument for breed-specific legislation holds,
preventing attacks of extreme consequence by
prohibiting possession of dogs of high risk
potential better protects public safety than
relying on the uncertain deterrent effect of
Non-breed-specific dog control legislation
typically relies on identifying dangerous dogs
from their past behavior, which does not protect
anyone from the consequences of a first incident.
Usually it requires that all dogs be securely
Even if pit bull terriers are uniquely
dangerous, opponents of breed-specific
legislation often assert, they can be kept
safely if there are no children or other animals
in the home. But the belief that dogs of any
kind can both be house pets and be kept
completely out of contact with strangers was
refuted by the September 22, 2006 mauling of
Judy McGruder, 74, in Rifle, Colorado.
McGruder was attacked by a three-year-old
pit bull named Butterbean, after knocking on the
wrong door while trying to pick up her grandson
after a play date. The dog escaped the house to
attack McGruder as she was leaving.
Julie Dawn Sullivan, 32, on December 6,
2006 pleaded no contest to possessing a dangerous
dog who inflicted bodily harm, and pleaded
guilty to not licensing Butterbean, whom she
agreed to having euthanized soon after the
attack. Sullivan was sentenced to do 40 hours of
community service, to pay $469 in fines and
court costs, and received a year in jail,
“Sullivan maintained that the dog did not
have any past history of being violent, and that
she had owned him since he was a puppy,” wrote
Heidi Rice of the Aspen Times.
The incident had further repercussions
when on the same day in the same court, Garfield
County animal control officer Aimee Chappelle
pleaded guilty to possessing a vicious dog,
identified as a pit bull by Sheriff Lou Vallario.
Chappelle “paid a fine, was given a one-year
deferred sentence, and was ordered to perform 16
hours of community service,” wrote Dennis Webb
of the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.
“Chappelle’s affinity for the breed has drawn
some criticism from pit bull opponents,” Webb
continued. “Rob Snyder, who lives south of
Glenwood Springs, is among those who say
comments made by Chappelle after a September pit
bull attack in the Silt area appear to put blame
on the elderly victim, Judy McGruder. Snyder,
whose dog suffered a pit bull attack this summer,
said Chappelle made it sound like McGruder ‘did
something to provoke the dog who mauled her.'”
Chappelle “was sentenced by Judge Jason
Jovanovich,” Webb added. “While sentencing
[Julie Dawn Sullivan], Jovanovich reportedly
said that if he could, he would kill all pit
bulls, and that they should be illegal.”
Drugs & dog attacks
The November 6, 2006 fatal mauling of
Luis Fernando Romero Jr., 2, by two Rottweilers
at his family’s home in Tucson meanwhile raised
other common elements of the debate as to whether
such incidents should be ascribed more to the
nature of the dogs or to the characteristics of
many of their keepers.
“The day of the attack,” wrote Josh
Brodesky and Dale Quinn of the Arizona Daily
Star, “Pima County Sheriff’s Department
investigators searched the mobile home, finding
ledgers, scales, a money counter, weap-ons and
empty suitcases reeking of marijuana. But the
grieving parents, identified as Luis Fernando
Romero and Jessica Nunez’ were never taken into
custody. By the next day they were gone without
a trace, having packed their belongings and fled,
most likely to Mexico.”
Pima County Child Protective Services
turned out to have had two previous contacts with
Romero and Nunez about broken bones suffered by
their four-year-old daughter, whose whereabouts
are also unknown.
Romero and Nunez immediately called 911
after their son was attacked, and drove the
fatally injured boy two miles in search of help
before finding sheriff’s deputy Gilbert
Hernandez, who called paramedics.
In other respects, the Arizona case
paralleled the October 2005 fatal mauling of
Jonathan Martin, 2, in Whaleyville, Virginia.
Two pit bull terriers allegedly bit Martin more
than 100 times, while his parents, Heather
Frango, 26, and James Jonathan Martin, 30,
used illegal drugs in another part of the house.
Frango and Martin in May 2006 pleaded
guilty to charges of involuntary man-slaughter
and felony child abuse and neglect. Frango and
Martin were in August 2006 sentenced to serve
three years each in prison.
Not known is whether the victim received
any warning signals from the dogs before they
mauled him, whether he was killed or disabled
early in the prolonged mauling, and whether both
dogs were part of the initial attack.
Central to the argument that pit bulls
are uniquely dangerous is that they tend to
attack without the series of warnings that most
other dogs provide first, and often inflict
immediate severe injuries, as do Rottweilers,
whereas most dogs inflict disabling,
disfiguring, or fatal injuries only in sustained
attacks or pack attacks.
“The prosecution told the court about
Martin’s long list of past offenses that included
11 charges of driving without a license and a
drug charge,” wrote Sabine C. Hirschauer of the
Hampton Roads Daily Press. “The couple’s history
of drug abuse soon emerged as the center of the
case. Police found a bong, a container used to
smoke drugs, in their master bedroom. Frango
confessed that both had smoked marijuana the
night before the mauling. She also told
investigators that Martin grew marijuana and kept
the pit bulls to guard the drugs. An inmate
testified that Martin told him he and Frango were
both high on cocaine and marijuana the morning of
the mauling.”
“The old family home” where the attack
occurred “was later condemned,” wrote Linda
McNatt of the Virginian-Pilot. “Code violations
included a septic system rigged to pump raw
sewage outside a window.”

Not seeing risk

Virginia in May 2006 adopted legislation
creating felony and misdemeanor penalties for
keeping a dog who attacks a person, but Frango
and Martin were sentenced under the older
legislation used to convict Deanna H. Large, 37,
of Spotsylvania, whose three pit bull terriers
in March 2005 fatally mauled Dorothy Sullivan,
82, and her Shih Tzu, in Sullivan’s own front
yard. Large was on March 30, 2006 sentenced to
serve three years in prison for manslaughter.
A central element in the Large case
appeared to be that Large did not accept that her
dogs were dangerous, despite many complaints
from neighbors about their behavior.
However, San Francisco prosecutors
failed to persuade a jury in July 2006 that
denial of risk was sufficient evidence of
criminal negligence to convict Maureen Faibish,
40, of felony child endangerment in the June
2005 pit bull mauling of her son Nicholas, 12.
The jury of eight men and four women reportedly
split 7-5 in favor of conviction, well short of
the unanimous verdict required to convict.
A case involving similar issues appeared
to be heading toward a swift conclusion in
Bossier City, Louisiana, when Mary and
Christopher Hansche reportedly agreed on
December 21, 2006 to plead guilty to misdemeanor
charges of improper supervision of their child,
perform community service, attend parenting
classes, and surrender possession of a pit bull
terrier and a ferret.
“The Hansches were arrested on December 7
after they woke up and saw that one of their pets
had gnawed off four of their month-old daughter’s
toes,” reported Associ-ated Press. “Mary
Hansche, 22, said the ferret did it; police
said Christopher Hansche, 26, thought the dog
was responsible.”

Other cases of note

A case demonstrating that any dogs might
be dangerous to a defenseless person came to an
end on November 28, 2006, in Marion, Indiana,
when Linda Kitchen, 58, drew four years in
prison and three years on probation for criminal
recklessness resulting in serious bodily injury,
two counts of obstruction of justice, and one
count of false reporting. Her husband Michael
Kitchen received the same sentence, on the same
charges, one week earlier. On May 1, 2005,
the Kitchens reported that two stray dogs had
entered their home through an open door and
killed Linda Kitchen’s mother, Julia Beck, 87,
who was an invalid. A police investigation
established four days later that the attackers
were the Kitchens’ own Labrador and Dachshund.
Among pending U.S. criminal cases
involving dog attacks, Bentley Collins, 53, of
Dillon, South Carolina, is facing involuntary
manslaughter charges after six of his
bull-dog/boxer mixes killed John Matthew Davis,
10, on the evening of November 3, 2006, as
Davis walked home from a neighbor’s house.
No suspects have been identified in the
case of an undersized and underfed pit bull mix
who fatally mauled Pedro Rios Jr., 4, on
November 21, 2006 in an unincorporated suburb of
Houston. The dog is believed to have been a
However, Firas Beseisso, 22, of
Willis, another Houston suburb, was charged
with a Class A misdemeanor count of possessing a
dangerous dog, after his pit bull killed David
“Ted” McCurry, 41, on October 29, 2006.
Recounted the Houston Chronicle, “McCurry and
Kimberly Cunningham, 19, had gone to Beseisso’s
home to look at the pit bull because they wanted
to buy a dog for home protection.”

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