Local News

Thursday, Sep 13 2012 08:20 PM

Pit bull attack rocks northwest neighborhood, represents one of weekly dog attacks

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Terrence and Veronica McEvoy sit in their Bakersfield home with their dog Toby while discussing the death of their other dog Charly who was killed by two pit bulls that escaped from a neighbor's home.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Terrence and Veronica McEvoy's dog Charly.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Veronica McEvoy holds up a plaster of Paris heart with the paw print of her dog Charly on it in her home in Bakersfield on Thursday night. Two pit bulls escaped from a neighbor's home and attacked and killed Veronica and her husband Terrence's pet and bit another neighbor.

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BY REBECCA KHEEL Californian staff writer rkheel@bakersfield.com

A neighborhood in northwest Bakersfield was rattled and a dog owner is seeking forgiveness after two pit bulls slipped out of their home, killed a neighbor's dog and bit another neighbor.

The melee was just one of the weekly dog attacks in Bakersfield Police territory. But dog attacks have gone up in Kern County jurisdiction over the past three years.

The attack Sept. 7 was hardly out of the ordinary, said Tammy Davis, animal control supervisor at the Bakersfield Police Department.

"As far as we're concerned, this is the same as every one we get," Davis said.

Most attacks do not result in severe injury, Davis said. She said she could not isolate how often attacks result in an animal death or an injury to a person. But she did know that more often, dog attacks are on other animals.

The most common denominator in attacks is that the dogs are usually running loose, she said.

That's what happened in last week's incident. Beverly McGowan owns the two pit bulls, Ruby and Maverick. She said she knows how dangerous pit bulls can be. That's why her backyard fence is covered in wood panels so her dogs can't make eye contact with neighboring dogs. And there's wire surrounding the yard that administers enough of a shock to "knock out a horse," she said.

Still, she said her dogs have never been aggressive toward humans -- only other dogs.

Last Friday, some relatives were staying at her house, McGowan said. One of them went outside to get some music from her truck and left the front door open. The dogs got out into the neighborhood through the open door.

"It was just a freaky accident that the door was open," she said.

Shortly after, McGowan said, the family realized the dogs were gone. She sent her son to pick them up in the truck.

By that time, they had already caused damage a block away. Veronica McEvoy opened her front door a crack when she heard some knocking. Her dog, Charly, bolted outside.

Before she could react, one of the pit bulls had Charly by the neck, said Terry McEvoy, her husband. The pit bull shook Charly, a mutt with Chihuahua and Pomeranian roots, and the McEvoys could hear his bones crunching.

Charly's injuries were so extensive the McEvoys had to put him down, Terry McEvoy said.

"My wife feels guilty because she opened the door," Terry McEvoy said. "But Charly normally would never go out."

After the pit bulls grabbed Charly, the McEvoy's next door neighbor, Randy Sharpe, ran outside when he heard Veronica McEvoy's screams. He threw a pen at the dogs and yelled at them, he said. They started chasing him. One of them chomped at his leg, scratching it, but not taking hold.

"I ran," Sharpe said. "Fast."

He swatted at them with a shovel, but as one backed away, the other one would lunge at him, he said. He eventually made it inside his house to grab a baseball bat to fight them off, too. The scene played out until McGowan's son came to collect the pit bulls.

Pit bull attacks are not any more common than any other breed of dog attack, said Maggie Kalar, marketing and promotions associate at Kern County Animal Control.

"Our motto is anything with teeth can bite," she said.

But dog attacks in general have gone up since July 2009, she said. From July 2009 to June 2010, 617 dog bites were reported to Kern County Animal Control. From 2010 to 2011, 625 were reported. And from 2011 to June 2012, 720 were reported.

The reason for the increase is probably the economy, Kalar said. As people work less and move in with other family members, a dog's routine is changed.

"When a dog's routine is changed, it can get stressed," she said.

The pit bulls in Friday's incident are now in quarantine in the Mount Vernon Animal Shelter because they bit a human and did not have updated vaccinations, said Davis, the animal control supervisor. All dogs that bite a human must be quarantined, but they can stay at their home if they are vaccinated and have no chance to get out.

The pit bulls will remain at the shelter until next Wednesday, when they will be given back to McGowan with microchips implanted.

Animal control requires a dog to be euthanized when an attack results in "pretty severe injury," Davis said. Most animals that are euthanized have had at least one incident that resulted in the owner being given confinement restrictions. If issues continue and the owner doesn't follow the restrictions, then the dog could be euthanized, she said.

"It would have to be articulated as a significant public threat," she said.

Olga Hartley watched everything unfold from her window across the street, too afraid to go outside, she said. She normally walks her son to school, but has been driving since last Friday. And her son's school district, Norris School District, sent a letter home to parents Tuesday saying they can have their children dropped off at a bus stop farther away from the pit bulls' home if they would like.

For her part, Hartley, who owns two dogs herself, said she wants to see the pit bulls euthanized.

"What needs to happen to put the dogs to sleep?" she said. "Do they have to kill someone? Do they have to kill a child? Not a dog, but a child?"

Meanwhile, McGowan said she "can't express enough how sorry" she is. "I'm horribly sorry. We feel so bad," she said, choking up.

She wants to apologize personally to the McEvoys and offer to pay for any veterinarian bills or buy a new dog, she said. But she hasn't because she's worried they will be hostile, she said.

McGowan is trying to find a new home for the pit bulls outside of Bakersfield, or even out of California.

"I can't live here and have a neighborhood that hates them," she said. "I want to respect the neighborhood and their wishes."

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