perm_identity Walking the Dog – A Matter of Life and Death

by Derek Alger

Published in Issue No. 168 ~ May, 2011

My brother spouted out the traumatic event in a hyper, breathless voice.  I knew he was okay but the second he mentioned he and his dog had just been attacked by a pit bull, graphic, horrifying images appeared.  A dog unexpectedly bit me when I was eight or nine, and that was quite enough for me, obviously, since I still remember it so vividly.

My brother, who was still using a crutch, recovering from a car accident where another driver shot through a stop sign and rammed into the driver’s side of my brother’s car, continued relating the pit bull tale.  He was at his apartment complex in northern New Jersey walking his dog “G” along with a neighbor, a woman in her early seventies, who was out with her small dog Max.   Suddenly, up above them on a ridge, a pit bull came bounding out of the woods coming right toward them.

I can’t imagine how they felt — shock, paralysis, disbelief. It was an ordinary day, a Thursday, nothing special, and then, all changed in a second.

As my brother struggled to describe the scene to me, talking faster than he could think, I pictured the shark in the movie Jaws methodically slicing through the water toward its victims, a killing machine with no rational basis to its instinctive behavior.  I have no idea what I would have done in my brother’s situation, but I do know how much he loves dogs, so I was sort of proud of his reaction to the attack, and honestly can’t say whether I would have done the same.

The pit bull went for Max first, scooping the little dog up so it was caught in its gaping mouth.  One quick chomp and Max would be finished.  My brother’s dog, a non-violent dog who has never been in anything close to a fight, or even a confrontation in its 10 years, immediately lunged at the pit bull.  The pit bull dropped Max and went for “G” with its deadly locking jaws.  It knocked “G” down on her back and attacked but my brother hobbled and jumped between “G” and the pit bull, slamming and whacking the pit bull with his crutch, yelling and screaming for help.

The fight escalated, the pit bull biting my brother’s arms, and also “G”‘s back, but my brother would not relent and wielded his crutch with frenzied desperation and determination.  The pit bull backed off, then chomped down on “G”‘s haunches.  My brother was wild, a normally mind-mannered guy, now trying to protect his dog, at one point, even diving and laying across “G” so the pit bull couldn’t get at his dog.

I don’t know how long the attack lasted, and neither does my brother, a case of minutes seeming like eternity.  My brother’s cries brought neighbors out, and then the police and animal control arrived, as well as the town’s First Aid Squad.  The pit bull was restrained.  The imminent threat was over, but no one involved was close to recovering from the terrifying ordeal.

And what of the aftermath, what does one do, if anything?  There was a blurb online the next day from a local community news service, obviously gleaned from a police report.  Two paragraphs, not much, though it stated it was believed the Animal Control Officer was “familiar with the dog.”

Strange phrase, “familiar with a particular pit bull.”  My brother subsequently learned from a neighbor in his apartment complex that the neighbor’s dog had been attacked by the “familiar” pit bull on two previous occasions.  That the owner, a guy in his early twenties, who lived in a house above the ridge in the woods, had paid a $1,500 vet’s bill after the first attack.

I saw my brother and “G” the day after the attack.  My brother seemed okay, or at least okay for someone in a cast after ankle surgery.  As for the ordeal with the pit bull, he was obviously upset, more about “G” being in a situation where she could have potentially been killed than he was about the bites on his arm and hand, which I could see had drawn blood.  Fortunately, the pit bull had been tested and didn’t have rabies, or any other disease.

My brother was about to take “G” to the vet, but he had been monitoring her closely overnight and she seemed relatively unharmed, though I could feel her quivering when I started patting her back.  In any case, the vet pronounced “G” fit and gave her a couple shots, antibiotics, and reassured my brother that his dog would be fine, though the doctor found more evidence of bites from the pit bull than my brother first noticed.

I felt sorry for my brother since he was having difficulty comprehending how the pit bull was loose in the first place.  When everyone immediately said the pit bull should be put down, my brother, a devoted dog lover, suffered mixed emotions.  He was more upset at the owner than the pit bull, whom he was willing to give a momentary pass because he believed the dog was just acting on instinct.

But then, my brother replayed the scene of the attack in his head, repeating in almost disbelief, “That dog was going to kill G.”

You should sue, that’s what many people told my brother.  We weren’t brought up in a litigious family, our Canadian parents, rightly or wrongly, instilling in us a belief in honesty and keeping one’s word, and my brother and I rarely thought in terms of contracts, documentation, or an escalating world of memos to cover oneself in almost any given situation.  And whom do you sue?  The homeowner, of course, we were told.  But we learned the owner of the pit bull lived in a house with his grandmother.  Would she be liable under her homeowner’s policy?  I don’t think my brother even wanted to find out, seeing any potential lawsuit against the grandmother as personal and unfair, which, actually, though intellectually I know it involves an insurance company, I kind of take the personal approach as well.

There was no question the pit bull was a menace, and a true danger to the community.  A hearing was scheduled by Animal Control, though my brother was never sure what the hearing would be about.  The pit bull was placed in mandatory quarantine for seven days, and then my brother learned that the dog had been put down, with the owner’s consent, before the date of the hearing.

My brother went to see the Animal Control Officer and was perplexed, then later annoyed, before moving toward anger, that the Control Officer, who knew the pit bull owner, went on about what a nice guy he was, praising his demeanor and positive attributes.  Eventually my brother was able to get the name of the owner but not the address, which he successfully sought out on his own, thus learning the guy lived in a house owned by his grandmother.

Before he departed, my brother told the Animal Control Officer that she should tell the pit bull owner to contact him, that the owner had a week or would be hearing from a third party.  I’m not sure why my brother actually thought he was going to voluntarily hear from the pit bull owner and believes that “G’s” vet bill will be paid by him.

Then, a day or so later, my brother showed me an online news report from the same community outlet about the pit bull owner’s antics two days after the attack on “G” and Max.  The lead of the story reported the guy, a 21-year-old resident — whom of course the writer didn’t know was the owner of a pit bull, or that there had been a recent attack — was arrested “for eluding arrest after” police said “officers chased the motorcycle he was driving, as well as chased him on foot” and “underwent an ‘exhaustive investigation’ to determine his identity.”

Yep, sounds like a nice guy to me, probably just having an off day.  The guy, the one who owned the pit bull, was charged with eluding arrest, unlicensed motorcycle endorsement, reckless driving, disregard of traffic control, operating an unregistered vehicle and having unregistered insurance, inoperable tail lights and operating an unsafe vehicle on the roadway.

I wonder if the grandmother knew any of this.  I wonder if she even knows the details now.  That police in one municipality received a report that the driver of a motorcycle was speeding on Route 23 and had committed a number of “traffic infractions” as police from another municipality were unable to stop him.  The motorcycle then went through a red light, with police giving chase, until the suspect, the pit bull owner, abandoned the motorcycle and attempted to flee through the nearby woods before being apprehended and placed under arrest.

The Police were careful to issue a standard disclaimer that a charge is merely an accusation and defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.  The motorcycle, pit bull guy was “transported to the police station where he was processed and released on his own recognizance.”

As for my brother, he’s extremely grateful and relieved “G” is okay, though upset the Animal Control Officer doesn’t seem interested in “G’s” well-being.

The fact my brother still has “G” overrides any true vindictive feelings or desire for vengeance or revenge, he might have had, and he’s not thinking in punitive terms, of getting or deserving any money in damages, physical or emotional.  No, “G’s still here and that trumps all other considerations.  I have to admit “G’s” a great dog, though I also must confess I have no idea why brother still thinks the pit bull owner will call him within a week, or even a month, or year, but I could be wrong, there are still a couple days left before the deadline my brother told the Animal Control Officer to give the owner of the pit bull.