Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Pit Bull Named Killer

The pit bulls didn’t know any better. They never do. It’s the people who buy them and raise them who should know better.

A happy pit bull, a socialized pit bull, a pit bull raised in a positive, healthy, environment, can be as harmless as a kitty cat.

But when you add negative catalysts, like hostility, cruelty and ignorance to the equation; the kitty cat turns into the Tasmanian devil.

I have investigated my fair share of dog attacks.
I’d say as far as breed attacks go, in my experience; it’s a 60/40 split. Meaning: 60% of the time a pit bull is involved, the other 40% it’s another breed. A Lab… a Rottweiler… a mixed breed tied up outside a supermarket that bites a hand that reaches out to say hello.

Last month, a Lab mix bolted half way out of an open car window window at a gas station and tore of the bottom half off my client's ear. The client was a gas station attendant and the woman driving the car with the dog in it fled the scene. She was followed by witnesses who got her plate.

Last year, a pit bull escaped from its yard while another of our clients, a mailman, was on his rounds. The mailman was bitten twice before he beat the dog off with an expandable baton he carried with him. When the mailman saw the dog heading toward a young kid heading towards the scene, the mailman shouted and raced towards the dog to draw his attention away from the child. The mailman put himself between the dog and the kid. And then the mailman took another dog bite.

Someone called 911. The police arrived. The ambulance. Then animal control. The pit bull was taken away and then its life was taken away.

And the mailman, my client, was one more unsung hero living with a traumatic memory he can’t erase.

A few years before that was my most memorable dog attack case.

Our client was a minor, four years old, mauled by a one-year-old pit bull.

The owner of the dog was a 17 year old female gang-banger from Everett, a city north of Seattle. She saw someone selling pit bull puppies outside the supermarket. She fell in love with one.

She named the pit bull puppy “Killer”, blew pot and tobacco smoke in its face. And she fed Killer gunpowder, the same additive fight-dog owners use to make their dogs more vicious and crazy.

The girl and her gang hung out in a park most people from the neighborhood avoided after dark. When people she didn’t like would walk by, she would say, “Killer, Kill!” then laugh with glee when her dog would, bark and yank at the leash, and her target would run.

You’d think the 17 year old, being a minor, might have a parent who had a clue what she was doing to the dog. But Mom was dead from an overdose for 5 years now, and dad was too high to notice.

So one sunny northwest Saturday, this girl took her dog for a walk in a nearby neighborhood full of playing children.

One mother, who knew of the dog and the girl’s gang involvement, looked out the window and saw the girl with the dog. She opened her front door and yelled for the girl to take the dog out of the neighborhood. The woman had her son, a 4-year-old boy tucked protectively behind her, just inside the doorway of the house.

The woman shouting at the girl set off a chain reaction. The pit bull turned to the woman yelling at its master. The pit bull pulled, and then broke its leash. It ran directly for the woman, then past her, to the four-year-old boy hiding behind his mother, inside the house. The dog opened wide and bit the boy in the skull, face and neck, just missing his jugular.

Mass hysteria ensued. Ultimately and miraculously, the dog and boy were separated. The boy was airlifted to Harborview. The dog was taken away and quarantined while the police and Animal Control investigated. Because the dog didn’t have its shots, the boy got a series of painful ones.

I interviewed everyone involved in this case, everyone except the girl and her father.

I photographed the little boy’s long, jagged, red-stitched rips and tears. They were ugly, angry and life altering. I talked to the little boy’s mother, all the witnesses, and the police.

Writing this now, it is the exasperation on the police officer's face I recall most vividly.

I asked him about the girl who owned the dog and the father who was supposed to parent her. The officer said the father raised her daughter the way the daughter raised the dog. As an object, not a living, loving creature with potential.

The father got his daughter high; the daughter got the dog high. Like the dog, the daughter didn’t stand a chance in the environment she was raised in.

“She intended to use that dog as a killing machine from day one,” the police officer said. “The dog was doomed by a little girl who was doomed by her parents.”

Time has passed as it always does and this story would have faded away were it not posted here. The update is this:

“Killer” was executed.
The girl has grown a few years older. Maybe she’s grown wiser...
more likely, she’s grown meaner.
Last I heard, her father went to prison. That’s when she went to the streets of Seattle, which can be as mean as the pit bull she raised.

And the little boy is growing up. His scars have faded, the memory hasn't and won't. His mother said he won't go near dogs and he's terrified of the dark.

No one wins in cases like this.


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