Wednesday, February 20, 1985

Florida: Women starting a grass-roots campaign aimed at having pit bull dogs declared wild and dangerous animals that should be kept penned up at all times

FLORIDA -- Two women, each traumatized in one form or another by pit bull dogs, are fighting back.

Laurie Fatta and Sally Gould are starting a grass-roots campaign aimed at having pit bull dogs declared wild and dangerous animals that should be kept penned up at all times.

They also want to force pit bull dog owners to buy insurance to pay the medical costs of attack victims. They think owners should face criminal felony charges if their pet injures people or animals.

Fatta, 21, of Pembroke Pines, was attacked Feb. 5, 1983 by a pit bull at a friend's house. Two years and 13 operations later, Fatta still bears minor scars on her face and requires more reconstructive surgery to correct damage inflicted by the animal.

Gould, 33, of unincorporated Broward just north of Hollywood, fears her two children will be attacked by a pit bull that roams her neighborhood.

She is the girlfriend of a man whose 6-year-old daughter, Virginia "Jenny" Miller, was attacked by a pit bull Jan. 21, 1982.

James Miller, the girl's father, lost a civil suit in Broward Circuit Court seeking damages to compensate him for the attack.

"Jenny testified in court: 'The dog bit my face and shook me like a doll,'" Gould said. "Something has to be done. Too many people are getting hurt."

Fatta collected $100,000 in an out-of-court settlement, but she said the money has been spent on attorney fees and medical costs.

"How I got through that night, I'll never know," Fatta said of the attack. "What followed was many operations, years of mental anguish and lots of expenses."

The two women are writing to various public officials, including President Reagan, in hopes of getting support for their cause. They are trying to find victims of pit bull dog attacks and sympathizers who will aid their efforts. A petition drive is planned to persuade legislators to enact tough restrictions on pit bull dogs and their owners.

Hollywood previously had a law requiring pit bull dog owners to register their animals with City Hall and to purchase $50,000 in liability insurance.

In 1980, the Florida 4th District Court of Appeal struck down the law because, it ruled, one cannot determine the viciousness of an animal based on its breed.

The Hollywood law was challenged by the Everglades Pit Bull Club, which contended the dogs are faithful companions who rarely attack unless provoked. Bad breeding, rather than bad blood, is the main cause of attacks, owners have regularly said.

Fatta and Gould disagreed. They cite an ABC television documentary that contended the dogs will attack at random, regardless of breeding.

Broward residents have registered 972 pit bulls, according to county records. Since September 1981, the county has recorded 105 pit bull dog bites, about 7 percent of the total number of dog bites recorded in Broward.

In December, 7-week-old Daniel Smith was killed by a pit bull dog in Davie. In January, two llamas were attacked by a pit bull at a farm near Hollywood. The dog died in the llama attack.

Neither woman has been a social activist before, but both said they are determined to succeed.

"If I have to go door-to-door in Broward and Dade counties to get support, I`ll do it," Fatta said. "Those dogs are bred for fighting and to enjoy killing."

(Sun Sentinel - February 20, 1985)