Sunday, March 4, 2018

Delaware: 911 call for horrific pit bull attack in Wilmington produces no police response

DELAWARE -- In the 911 call, Wilmington resident Heather Hook was clear: She needed help.

"There's a pit bull loose, and it's attacking a dog, and we're trying to hold it, and it's hurt a dog," she says frantically on the recording from Monday night.

A New Castle County dispatcher said he would transfer her to Wilmington police.

"No, please! Come right away," she said as the call was sent to the city.

"911, what is your emergency?" the city dispatcher said.

"Hi, please come to the corner of Van Buren and Cool Spring park. We have a loose pit bull, and it just attacked a dog really badly."

Wilmington police didn't show up, according to residents.

The incident exposes a "glitch" in the Police Department's procedure for handling animal incidents, City Councilwoman Loretta Walsh said. "More common sense should’ve been used."

For Cool Spring resident Diane Olin White, 66, the night started like any other. Around 9:30 p.m., she was walking her two dogs – Stella, a brown 50-pound boxer mix, and Darcy, a white 17-pound poodle and Jack Russell mix.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a stray pit bull ran up to her dogs and started viciously attacking them, she said.

It went for Stella first, digging its teeth into her, but when White started hitting the pit bull to protect Stella, the pit went for 12-year-old Darcy. 

The "monster" went back and forth between White's two pets for what seemed like forever to White.

Recalling advice from a veterinarian, the former school teacher tried to force her fist into the pit's mouth to prevent it from ripping her animals apart. She said she was bitten in the process.


"I felt like it was in Revelations and Evil had attacked my dogs," she said.

White "screamed and screamed and screamed," alerting neighbors.

Hook heard the commotion and ran into the street to help, she said, but the pit bull had already badly hurt Darcy.

"Diane was lying on the pit bull screaming when I got there, and Darcy was twisted in its jaws," she said. "The Pit Bull was eviscerating her dog, just chomping on it."

Hook called 911 at 9:46 p.m. Soon after Hook was transferred to the city police dispatcher, White was able to release Darcy from the pit's grip. Hook handed the phone to a nearby teenager so she could help Darcy.

"(Darcy's) blood had soaked through my shirt, down my arms," she said. "It was bad."

As for the police, "nobody came," White said.

Hook believes the city referred the case to the state's office of animal welfare because 10 minutes after the 911 call, Hook got a call from a state animal control officer.


According to Hook, he said he was out of the area and wouldn't be able to immediately respond to the scene.

"He said he was backed up and couldn’t make it up there in time," she said.

Hook didn't have much time to protest.

Other neighbors took control of the pit bull, which eventually calmed down, and White and Hook rushed to a vet. Stella suffered puncture wounds and survived, but it was too late for Darcy.

"There was nothing they could do," White said. "He didn’t have a heartbeat. He was gone."

Around 10:35 p.m., state animal control officers picked up the pit bull, neighbor Greg Luna said. That's about an hour after the attack, according to White.

An animal welfare officer met White at the hospital to take a report after 11 p.m., she said. At that point, she felt it was too little, too late.

"If you say you [won't] come, what's Plan B? Obviously, he didn’t have a Plan B."

White said she is devastated by the loss of her beloved dog and disappointed with Wilmington police. 

"If there is somebody or something that is being attacked, get there," she said. "I’m angry. And I’m so sad there’s not even a word to describe the grief." 

The longtime animal rescuer and 24-year resident of the city said even if police had responded, it may not have saved Darcy's life. But things also could have been worse.

"I could’ve been killed," said White, who has scrapes and bruises, is taking a "powerful antibiotic" and required a tetanus shot.

Hook, too, was surprised the neighborhood was left to fend for itself.

"I assume when you call 911 and tell the police to come, they come," she said.

But apparently, it's not always that simple.

Dispatchers are instructed to send reports about animal-on-animal incidents to the state's Office of Animal Welfare, according to Walsh. That's what they did, Walsh said, but perhaps didn't consider that a person was at risk, too.

"I think the call-taker followed protocol," said Walsh, the City Council's public safety chair. "But they should know they can go off protocol in a very dire situation, and this was a dire situation."

White said she was contacted by a Wilmington police inspector who said the department is reviewing the incident. According to White, the inspector admitted that "there should have been a response" and said the dispatcher will be disciplined.

Officially, Wilmington police would not acknowledge whether a mistake was made.

Despite repeated interview requests over three days, Sgt. Stephanie Castellani, public information officer for the Wilmington Police Department, refused to take questions about this incident.

The News Journal obtained the first part of Hook's 911 call from New Castle County. A request was submitted to the city for the rest of it, but officials have not yet provided it.

Update: The entire 3 minutes has now been released.


The Office of Animal Welfare confirmed it got a call Monday night after normal business hours.

"The answering service quickly relayed the report to the on-call officer, who was already in the field due to being dispatched to another call in southern New Castle County, and he immediately headed to Wilmington, arriving on scene in approximately 30 minutes," said Andrea Wojcik of the Office of Health and Risk Communication.

Wojcik declined to answer several specific questions citing an internal policy.

The pit bull was taken to the Brandywine Valley SPCA where it is on rabies quarantine, Wojcik said. At the conclusion of the quarantine, the dog will be euthanized if no owner comes forward.

White wants it to be put down.

"I've never been scared in the city," White said. "This is enough now that I’d like to leave."


(Delaware Online - March 1, 2018)

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