When an angry pit bull rocketed over Mike Dean’s fence on Millbank Street last month, Dean barely had time to jump the fence to escape. His bulldog, Mr. Boy, was less lucky; he ended up with puncture wounds on his face from defending Dean.
A few blocks over, a St. Bernard attacked Teresa Washburn’s two tiny Chihuahuas on her back patio late last year, leaving one with a punctured liver and lung and the other with a pin in his paw and a permanent limp.
And a couple of houses down from Washburn’s on Rumson Road last weekend, Kenneth Daughtry was bitten in the arm by another loose pit bull.
Persistent dog problems in the neighborhood off Raleigh Boulevard just northeast of downtown have neighbors taking action to change the way the city handles aggressive animals, which they say leaves them unprotected.
“There are people who won’t go for walks in this neighborhood now, or will only walk with sticks – there’s fearfulness about these big dogs,” said Sue Sturgis, Dean’s wife. “A golf club is a common walking accessory.”
The neighborhood where these and other attacks took place has the largest number of vicious animal complaints to Animal Control in the city this year, according to records from Raleigh’s Animal Control Unit. Of the 19 reports of animal bites in that district since Jan. 1, three were in the neighborhood where the attacks on Dean and Daughtry took place. That data does not include Dean’s call from late last year. Animal on animal attacks in that district are up this year, Animal Control Supervisor Tracey Alford said.
The East Citizens Advisory Council, which covers the neighborhood, approved a committee at their March meeting to identify problems in the city’s animal control ordinance and to circulate a petition to support changes to the law. Residents say they are concerned about safety, especially with Powell Elementary School just a few streets over.
The aggressive dogs tend to be owned by other neighborhood residents but escape frequently. The pit bulls that attacked Dean and Daughtry live next door, as does the St. Bernard that went after Washburn’s pets and three other dogs in the neighborhood.
“I love dogs, but when they’re dangerous, you need to get rid of them,” said neighbor Ron Stacy, whose black lab, Holly, was attacked by the St. Bernard up the street last year.
By current city law, dogs must be on leashes when not on the owner’s property, Alford said. Owners can be fined $100 to $150 if their animal is off-leash outside of the owner’s property.
To be paid back for damage to property or to other animals while the dog is loose, however, victims must fight the issue for themselves in small claims court. Washburn filed for compensation for her $2,990 vet bill Thursday.
The city does prohibit public nuisance animals, which include dogs repeatedly found off-leash or “vicious” animals that repeatedly attack humans or other animals. However, vicious dogs are allowed to be kept for personal protection as long as they are kept securely confined.
But neighbors say those measures are inadequate and leave them vulnerable. Dean and Sturgis have had to perform their own repairs to their neighbor’s fence so they can feel safe in their backyard.
By contrast, the county’s animal control ordinance contains many of the protections sought by the neighborhood. When a dog under the county’s jurisdiction attacks a human or domestic pet, for example, Animal Control officers may confiscate the dog and keep it at the owner’s expense for up to 30 days until the owner provides a secure enclosure with a visible warning sign.
Within the city limits, it’s important to call Animal Control and report as soon as you see an off-leash animal or experience a dog attack, Alford said.
The department is aware of the issue in that area and has been proactive in sending police to patrol the neighborhood, Alford said. The dog that attacked Daughtry last weekend was quarantined for 10 days at the Wake County Animal Shelter to ensure that it does not have rabies, then it will be returned to the owner.
A judge ruled two weeks ago that the St. Bernard that attacked Washburn’s pets is dangerous according to state statute, which means a fine, a muzzle requirement for the dog and possible jail time for the owners if there is a repeat offense, Alford said.
The problem isn’t the dogs, neighbors say; the problem is irresponsible owners.
“The dog’s just being a dog,” Washburn said. “The owners need to be held responsible.”