BRIDGETON, NJ -— A local couple is asking why something was not done sooner, after their cats were killed by a pair of unregistered pit bulls who had escaped and done nearly the same thing more than a year before.
James and Sarah Livoti live on Woodland Drive, which joining with Institute Place forms a loop off Atlantic Street, and until last Thursday lived there with their two cats Snowflake and Other.
"We called him Other because there was Snowflake and then he was the other cat," explained Sarah. "Other would walk along with me as I walked out to the garbage," said James.
"And you know what else? During the winter I had a heat pad out there for them. I put it in their little house and they would have it made all winter."
That all came to an abrupt end on Thursday, July 21, when two pit bulls belonging to a neighbor down the street escaped from their owner's yard and mauled them both to death.
The dogs belong to Leroy and Christina Harris, who live on Institute Place. And this was not the first time they had done something like this.
On April 21, 2010, an officer was dispatched to Woodland Drive. The police report from the incident said it was, "...in reference to two dogs killing cats in the neighborhood."
Upon arriving on that date the officer found one of the pit bulls, Platinum, standing above the dead body of Calvin, a 16-year-old orange cat belonging to the Canino family.
He had blood on his nose.
Anthony Canino, who lives at the residence with his daughter, Maria, took the officer to the back yard and showed him the dog had also killed their 22-year-old cat, Momma.
A young man named Stephen Williams ran up to the scene and leashed Platinum. He had been watching the dogs for the Harrises and later told the officer that Platinum and the other pit bull, Raven, had escaped when he let them off of their leashes just inside the front door of their home.
Williams claimed both of the dogs were four years old, up to date on their shots, and registered with the city of Bridgeton. He said they were owned by Christina Harris.
The officer told Williams to quarantine the dogs for 10 days and to contact the police if they exhibited any violent behavior. The officer said he would contact the Cumberland County SPCA and Health Department.
He issued two summonses to Harris for allowing her dogs to run at large.
Maria Canino was less than pleased with the response from both the owners and the city.
"There was no remorse from the owners, no apology. They're right down the street and they never knocked on my door," she said. "Then I really started to push the issue. I called up animal control to find out when the hearing would be. Bill Knipe said Harris had a previous warrant she would have to deal with first before this would be addressed."
The hearing occurred and Canino said she never received a call or notice about it.
"I found out they only received a fine because this was a non-indictable offense. Then I called the Health Department and they said the dogs had been quarantined and were found to not be a danger. That really ticked me off because they had just killed two animals in the street," she said.
No one from the Cumberland County Health Department was available Friday to confirm this, but the dogs were returned to the Harrises.
She said she now walks around the block three or four times a week with her baby.
"I see the owners. They never said a word to me, never apologized. I think to allow the dogs to stay here with them is unfair to the neighborhood."
Melody Jones shares her sentiment. She lives next door to the Livotis with her husband and 5-year-old daughter, Mimi.
She said she came outside about 10 minutes after the dogs had attacked the Livotis' cats.
"I walked into my driveway and was standing at the front of my car. The cops were already there. The owner was standing in my yard and he still hadn't gotten the dogs. He didn't say a word to me. Then I looked around the car and saw the dog was still standing there loose by the trunk. I went running and screaming back into my house because I was concerned for my own safety," she said.
She recalled an earlier instance where she had seen the two dogs running loose in her yard.
"I saw a big black and a big brown dog come running into the yard right where my daughter plays. And these are huge dogs. They look like they weigh 100 pounds apiece. Thank goodness she wasn't out there then. The owners have done nothing to make sure the dogs are properly contained," Jones said.
"My concern is, these dogs have killed four pets in the past year and a half. They always name a law after a person once they're dead. I don't want my daughter to have to get attacked for them to make a 'Mimi Law,'" she said.
While Maria Canino never received an apology from the Harrises, the Livotis did receive an apology letter. However it contained some inconsistencies.
"We cannot express how truly and deeply sorry we are for the loss of your pet by human error," reads the letter signed by Leroy and Christina Harris. "We have lived in the neighborhood for the last nine years and with Platinum and Raven for the last eight years without incident."
During the April, 2010 incident for which Christina Harris received the two summonses, Stephen Williams had claimed the dogs were four years old.
Later on in the letter they also offered to pay for some yard lights that the dogs broke while chasing the cats.
There is a hearing scheduled at Bridgeton Municipal Court for Tuesday, August 2, to determine what will happen to the dogs.
Leroy Harris was issued two summonses apiece for having unlicensed dogs, vicious or potentially dangerous dogs, and dogs running loose.
Bev Greco, Executive Director of the Cumberland County SPCA confirmed that the agency had taken possession of the dogs after the Livoti incident.
"The dogs are not aggressive toward us, but they may be small animal aggressive," she said. Aside from its responsibility to hold the dogs she said the agency is not otherwise involved in the case.
The Livotis, Melody Jones, and Maria Canino said they will all be attending Tuesday's hearing. James Livoti does not know what will happen to the dogs but is determined to not have them return to the Harris residence.
"We can't have a situation like this exist in the neighborhood," he said.
Leroy Harris declined comment on the entire matter.
He answered his door on Institute Place holding what appeared to be a child of no more than one or two years.
"Not to be disrespectful or ignorant," he said, "but we're going to court for this on Tuesday and whatever has to be said will be said there."
(The News of Cumberland County - July 31, 2011)