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Questions linger after deadly pit bull attack

April 15th, 2005, 10:05 AM
PARTLOW, Virginia (AP) -- Dorothy Sullivan had been looking forward to St. Patrick's Day. The 82-year-old widow planned to whip up her family's favorite Irish soda bread, and her daughter made a festive green shirt decorated with shamrocks and a pot of gold for Sullivan's little dog, Buttons.

But the celebration never happened.

Three days before the holiday, Sullivan and Buttons, a Shih Tzu, were buried together in the same casket after they were mauled by three roaming pit bulls while Sullivan was out for a walk in her front yard.

Since the March 8 attack, a woman has been charged in Sullivan's death, a family has been ravaged by grief and community members who say they have been terrorized for years by wandering pit bulls want to know why more wasn't done to prevent the tragedy.

"I'm lost without her," Sullivan's 57-year-old daughter, Betty Greene, said softly. Her sister found Sullivan's body when she stopped by for a visit soon after the attack. "I used to always say, even when I was a kid, if there's a saint on earth, it's her."

Deanna Large, 36, who lives down the road from Sullivan, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and three misdemeanor counts of allowing a dangerous dog to run loose. If convicted on all charges, she faces up to 13 years in prison.

It's just the second time prosecutors in Virginia have sought involuntary manslaughter charges in a fatal dog mauling, but the case may reflect an emerging trend of prosecutors increasingly charging dog owners in attacks.

"It's almost routine now," said Karen Delise, a veterinarian who studied hundreds of such cases for her book, "Fatal Dog Attacks: The Stories Behind the Statistics," which found that the number of fatal dog attacks nationwide has held steady at an average of 20 a year.

"Law enforcement and the judicial system are realizing that, but for the negligence, but for the disregard (by owners), these things wouldn't have happened," Delise said.

One of the most infamous cases happened in San Francisco in 2001, when Diane Whipple was mauled in the hallway of her building and died later in a hospital. Two neighbors who had been taking care of two 120-pound presa canarios for a prison inmate were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served two years.

John Booker, president of The All-American Pit Bull Association, said there is no such thing as an inherently bad dog.

"Any dog is capable of doing anything -- it's just what kind of socialization and training the dog has had," he said.

Many of those who live in this rural, woodsy community between Washington and Richmond did not hesitate to blame Sullivan's death on the negligence of the dogs' owner -- and that of authorities who they say largely ignored repeated complaints about pit bulls roaming the neighborhood.

Large, free on $10,000 bond, declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press. Authorities killed the three dogs involved in the attack.

Sullivan family attorney Ed McNelis said Sullivan had called authorities before to complain that dogs had chased her into her house.

"What's this world coming to when you can't even walk in your own yard?" asked Sullivan's neighbor, Mary Adkins. A few years ago, she said, two unleashed dogs ripped open the throat of her terrier, Pepper, while he was playing in her front yard. Pepper eventually recovered.

Shane Owens, who sports a large tattoo of his Rottweiler, Leila, on his left arm and lives a few houses away from Sullivan's, said his pregnant girlfriend was once walking up their driveway when a pit bull charged at her. Owens grabbed his pistol and shot the dog dead. He said he repeatedly called authorities to complain.

Eulah Baker said she was working in her yard last summer when three pit bulls suddenly appeared before her. Weak from recent surgery, the 65-year-old stood helpless as the largest of the animals charged at her. As she screamed for help, the dogs abruptly ran off. Baker called the police.

"I told them they're gonna kill somebody," Baker said. "I could tell they were killers."

Baker, Owens and Adkins were not sure whether the dogs they encountered belonged to Large.

Spotsylvania County Animal Control Director William Tydings deferred comment to Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely, who did not return calls from the AP. But Tydings did say: "It's not all the way it seems." He would not elaborate.

Fatal dog maulings can be difficult to prosecute, said attorney Michael Rosenzweig, whose Pittsburgh law firm has handled hundreds of dog-bite cases.

The prosecutor has to prove the dog's owner had reason to believe the animal had a "dangerous or vicious propensity," he said. That could mean providing evidence of a previous attack or an incident in which the dog barked or lunged at a stranger.

"You have to prove that the violation of law goes beyond mere negligence," Rosenzweig said. "It has to rise to a level of recklessness."


Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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April 15th, 2005, 10:07 AM
Please pay careful attention to the part where it says THERE ARE NO BAD DOGS,JUST BAD TRAINING ETC,for all of u that say pit bulls are so bad....No there not,just bad owners.....................................

April 18th, 2005, 11:46 AM
Thank-you for that heidiho, I was not sure of your stance on pit's untill now. Some people are toataly convinced pit's are born bad, this is definately not the case. Dogs being left to run loose and feind for themselves, are a major problem, even friendly dogs left in a "pack" for too long with no humane leader can become unpredictable, and dangerous. And then there are people who should never be allowed to own any breed of dog period. Hopefully authorities will now take a more serious stance against roaming dogs and there bad owners, so these types of tragities can be avoided in the future.

April 18th, 2005, 12:13 PM
I do believe it is bad owners or bad breeding,any dog can be dangerous my friends chiuaua{dont know how to spell it]is a mean s.o.b...........