Dog attack on minor intensifies demand for new law

Posted on Dec 5 2013 - 10:52am by Lacey Russell

A recent dog attack on a child in southern Lafayette County may offer more support for a vicious dog ordinance that the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors is considering.

On Nov. 19, 2013, a 9-year-old Lafayette County girl was mauled by what the sheriff’s department has classified as a pit bull terrier. She sustained severe injuries to her face and arm.

According to Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Alan Wilburn, the incident occurred around 4 p.m., just as children were coming home from school.

The canine was tied to the porch of a mobile home and as a group of children exited their school bus, the dog broke the cable restraining it and attacked the victim. No other children were harmed in the encounter.

“It was a pretty serious injury and required numerous stitches,” Wilburn said. “She will be scarred for life on her facial area.”

Following the attack, the girl was transported to the LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis where she spent two days undergoing cosmetic surgery. Since then, she has made numerous visits back to the hospital for follow up operations.

Wilburn said the owners of the dog were unable to provide proper documentation of rabies vaccinations, therefore by protocol the dog was sent to the Mississippi State Department of Health in Jackson. The dog was euthanized and examined by State Epidemiologist, Dr. Thomas Dobbs. Test results determined that the canine did not have rabies.

Because the incident involves a minor and the case is still under investigation, the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department would not release the 9-year-old girl’s name nor the names of the pit bull’s owners.

According to Wilburn, the sheriff’s department regularly receives calls regarding dog attacks, however, they have not been as horrific as this most recent incident.

In early November, a group of concerned citizens approached the board of supervisors stating they had recently dealt with issues involving violent dogs within the community.

“It came to our attention that a lot of surrounding counties had vicious dog ordinances,” said Chad McLarty, Lafayette County District IV supervisor. “The reason they had the ordinances a lot of times was because of some tragic event. We are trying to be proactive instead of retroactive, and come to the table with some type of ordinance to keep something like that from happening.”

If put into effect, the ordinance will give law enforcement a more efficient way of handling situations involving vicious animals. It will also clearly define the penalties that can result from ownership of a dangerous dog.

“We can’t afford to sit around and wait until a dog kills somebody and then jump up and do something,” said Lafayette County Sheriff Buddy East. “We need something in place to know what we as law enforcement can do and to what extent we can do it. We just need to take some kind of action.”

According to the American Humane Association, an estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year. While most people are quick to point the finger at specific breeds, the American Humane Association reports that at least 25 different breeds of dogs have been involved in the 238 dog-bite-related fatalities that have occurred in the United States.

McLarty said the proposed ordinance will not discriminate against particular breeds of canines such as pit bulls, rottweilers and other breeds typically associated with violent behavior because any dog that causes detrimental harm to a human or other animal could be regarded as dangerous.

“If you’ve got a ten pound Jack Russell do you actually consider that dog vicious because it nipped at your heel? The way the ordinance is written, it could be deemed vicious,” McLarty said. “That would be the determination of the justice court system and the animal control officer. It’s at their discretion.”

The ordinance is still being organized, and has not yet been fully decided on. McLarty hopes that in the near future the community-wide problem with vicious animals will be reduced.

“You know, when there’s small children involved or family pets, and these dogs keep coming on to your property and killing your animals or your livestock or threatening your children, then it becomes an issue,” McLarty said. “Is a piece of paper going to stop it from happening? Probably not, but you know, all we can do is try. I hope (the board) will vote for it. We’ll see at our meeting come December.”

The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors’ next meeting is Dec. 16.

— Lacey Russell