Thursday, December 29, 2016

Florida: “They basically sawed my Babi in half”. Pit bull attack coincides with proposed ordinance change

FLORIDA -- Donald Sigman tried to pull the two pit bulls off of his Chihuahua before they killed her, but it was too late.

Without collars or leashes on the two loose dogs there wasn’t much to hold onto, and Sigman, who is disabled, didn’t have the strength to make a difference.

“They basically sawed my Babi in half,” he said.

The incident started outside of Sigman’s Escambia County home on Ailanthus Drive the weekend before Christmas, when he let 2-year-old Babi outside to relieve herself in the front yard.

It was then, Sigman said, that the two pit bulls escaped from a neighbor’s unlocked fence and got hold of his dog, taking roughly 15 seconds to literally tear her in pieces, by his account.

“I tried stopping them. There was nothing but flea collars on them, no tags, no collar, nothing,” he said. “I kind of lost control and I just laid over her and started crying.”

Sigman lives alone. He is disabled. To him, Babi the Chihuahua was family.

“She was my mate. As we’re driving down the highway she’d sit on my shoulder in my pickup and in those precious everyday moments, I can’t tell you how close we were,” he said.

A proposed change in Escambia County’s dangerous dog ordinance would give animal control officers more power in determining aggressive behavior, allowing cases like this to not have to wait for a repeat offense before taking action. The Escambia County Board of Commissioners is set to discuss the proposed ordinance at its Jan. 5 meeting, with a recommendation to schedule a public hearing on the issue for Jan. 19.

Currently, the ordinance states that an animal can be deemed aggressive after it has attacked another domestic animal multiple times, but in the proposed verbiage it states that an officer can label the dog as aggressive based on their own judgment from one attack.

Escambia County Animal Control and the Sheriff’s Office responded to Babi’s death after multiple bystanders called authorities.

Video of the minutes following the incident taken by neighbor Dana Daniel shows the group yelling at the alleged animal owner as he leaves the scene before law enforcement arrived.

Escambia County Animal Control District Manager John Robinson said there is a record on file regarding the attack, but since the pit bulls and their owner were gone by the time they arrived, no citations have been issued.

Robinson said officers have patrolled the area several times in the days since the call, but with no luck.

Usually, the offending animals would be impounded or the owner issued a citation, Robinson said, but the possibility of further investigation would be limited based on circumstantial factors and immediate evidence.

“We want to leave it to the discretion of the officers,” he said. “We normally have a pretty good idea if a dog is aggressive or if it’s a fluke. In a situation where a dog has attacked another dog, under the old statute, even if we all know it’s aggressive, we need to wait for it to happen again.

“A human could’ve easily been attacked in that incident as well … you could’ve had a child or something jump in to try to stop them and get hurt.”

Animal control officers are trained to understand the preamble to an attack. They can figure out whether it’s rough play between two animals gone bad, whether it’s outward aggression, or whether there was some instigation on the part of the victim.

“When you have a confrontation with a bigger and smaller dog, even in play, I’ve seen big dogs that have harmed, injured or even killed the smaller one when they have no intention to,” Robinson said. “(This) was a pretty vicious attack, though. Any time there’s multiple dogs on one dog you have a problem.”

The numbers on how many similar incidents have occurred across the area are hard to gauge, as they get lost in databases of both 911 calls and animal control calls, differing between shifts, weekend calls and classifications.

If it’s an attack on a human, it’s mandatory for any doctors or medical professionals to report the incident to animal control, but when it’s dog-on-animal, it’s not the same guidelines.

Even so, Robinson said the roughly two to three dog-attack calls the department receives per month are not an accurate measure of the actual issue.

“I would say there are probably more that go unreported than are reported to us each month,” he said.

The Chihuahua’s body was last dragged to Daniels’ front yard, which is when he said it became his problem.

He said he had previously seen a goose killed in the same manner in the neighborhood, which he now suspects could be related to the pit bulls, but he has no proof.

“There are children and the elderly who walk their little dogs around this cul-de-sac so I’m concerned,” he said. “I just see a hazard and a manslaughter charge coming up and nobody’s doing anything about it.”

Sigman said he doesn’t blame pit bulls for the attack, and in fact he said he grew up with the breed, but he does believe more should have been done in the investigation and follow-up.

“I’m scared that all these kids and older people will be taken down by these dogs,” he said. “I’ve been around pit bulls all my life and they don’t act like that.”

The revisions to the county’s existing dangerous dog ordinance would bring the area into line with state law stemming from House Bill 91 which was passed earlier this year.

While most of the verbiage has remained the same or similar, changes include giving power to animal control officers, especially in the case of a dog-on-human attack.

A subsection states that ordering an animal to be destroyed following an attack causing severe human injury is up to the “sole discretion of the Animal Services Division Manager,” based on circumstances and evidence, and the animal’s threat to public safety.

The proposed ordinance also takes away a phrase that allows the dangerous dog to be sold or given away, as long as the new owner’s name, address and contact number is provided to authorities.

Under its definition of dangerous, the proposed ordinance strikes the words “more than once” when referring to the number of times the animal needs to have injured or killed a domestic animal before it can be investigated.

Click here to read the proposed dangerous dog ordinance.

(Pensacola News Journal - Dec 29, 2016)

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