When dogs bite

Kingfield attack highlights how the city handles dangerous dogs

Dave Novak, Doug Halliday and Becky Shedd play with Lucy, a springer spaniel. Novak was walking Lucy on May 11 when Lucy was attacked by three pit bulls. She nearly died. She's wrapped in a T-shirt now to protect her scars. Credit: Nick Halter

As three pit bulls mauled a springer spaniel named Lucy, Dave Novak and three drywall workers kicked and punched the attackers in hopes of saving the smaller dog’s life. The police report notes that Lucy’s guts were spilling out as she ran for safety under a truck.

Odie, the reported leader of the roving dogs, tore out an index card-sized chunk of Lucy’s side. Odie continued on the attack after Lucy ran under the truck, according to reports. John Schmeig said he grabbed one of his drywall stilts and beat on Odie until he finally ran away from Lucy. 

Novak, who was hired to walk Lucy for her vacationing owners Becky Shedd and Doug Halliday, suffered bites to his lips and was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center. He received 12 stiches inside and out of his mouth. Lucy was taken to BluePearl, a pet hospital in Eden Prairie. She is recovering after two surgeries, but you can feel the scars under her fur a month later.  

Odie is back at home with his owner, one block away from the incident in the Kingfield neighborhood.

Neighbors aren’t happy.

“There are at least 10 kids who live within two doors of that house,” said one neighbor who asked not to be named.

Nancy Novak, who owns a pet care business with Dave, wants to know what a dog has to do before it’s not allowed back into the public.

“What is it going to take, a kid getting their throat ripped open?” she said. 

The May 11 attack on the 4500 block of Wentworth Avenue highlights a nearly daily decision that Minneapolis Animal Care and Control faces: What to do when an animal attacks. It happens 400 times a year, plus on 200 to 300 other occasions the department investigates other aggressive animal incidents.

Animal Care and Control Manager Dan Niziolek has a few choices, according to city ordinances. He can designate the animals as dangerous or potentially dangerous, forcing the owner to pay fees and meet certain requirements. He also has authority to order the “destruction” of a dog based on several criteria.

Niziolek says the community doesn’t have the rehabilitate dangerous pets, so it’s either up to the owner to straighten out problems or else the dogs will be put down.

“We work with 46 individual rescue organizations that take animals out of here and find homes for them,” Niziolek said. “They just don’t have the resources to deal with (aggressive dogs).”

Last year, Niziolek ordered nine dogs to be destroyed. That’s on top of a number of situations in which a dog’s owner requested euthanasia because of aggressive behavior.

In the case of Odie, Niziolek said he decided against euthanizing the dog because he places more emphasis on animals biting humans than on animals biting other animals. He instead designated Odie a dangerous dog.

“Animal to human aggression results in higher declarations than animal to animal aggression,” Niziolek said, noting that Animal Care and Control takes it “very seriously” when owners break the rules of owning a dangerous dog.   

While it’s clear in police reports that Odie bit Lucy, it’s not clear which dog bit Novak.

The three men who helped fend off the pit bulls, Schmieg, Dana Gunderson and Jim Callicoat, said Odie was the dog that bit Novak.

But Novak, the dog-walker, while in the hospital, told authorities that it could have been Lucy that bit him as she was being attacked, according to the report.

Gunderson noted that the other two dogs bit at Lucy’s rear end while Odie was locked onto Lucy’s side.

“We must have kicked each one of them in the gut 10 times and they weren’t even flinching,” Gunderson said.  

16,000 calls a year

Twice in the past two years neighbors have called to report that Odie was running loose in the neighborhood, according to Animal Care and Control —  once in 2011 and once in 2012.

Niziolek said his department gets 16,000 annual calls for service. Because he has only 12 officers who are also tasked with answering telephones and cleaning kennels, stray dog calls only get a response 60 percent of the time. After four hours, officers assume the loose dog has returned home. 

Animal Care and Control has focused its efforts on preventing dog bites, so as to avoid killing dogs and emotional appeals by dog owners against a dangerous declaration.   

Efforts have included more strict rules on dangerous dog owners, as well as recent outreach into schools to teach children how to behave near dogs.

The city counted 113 serious dog bites in 2008. In 2011, that number was down to 87.

In 2007, Animal Care and Control ordered the destruction of 59 dogs. That number has declined over the years, as 14 were ordered destroyed in 2011 and nine in 2012.

According to an Animal Control report, Odie was joined by two other pit bulls that day. One of them is Lily, who shares an owner with Odie. The third dog is Tiga, the pup of Odie and Lily.

Tiga’s owner has appealed the potentially dangerous declaration by Animal Care and Control, saying that her dog was in her care at the time of the attack.

Lily’s owner only got Odie back, not Lily. 

The owner complied with Odie’s dangerous designation rules, which includes impoundment fees, microchip fees and registration fees. He chose not to pay the fees for Lily, and therefor Animal Care and Control euthanized Lily.

 “It’s a personal decision on their part,” Niziolek said. “He didn’t properly meet compliance, because you have 14 days to meet compliance, and if you do so we move forward on destruction.”

The dog owner could not be reached for comment. His name has been withheld as he has not been charged with a crime.

Shedd and Halliday say surgeries for Lucy have totaled $5,078, and they’re unsure if they’ll be able to collect from the owner. The Novaks have hires a lawyer and are waiting for more information. They haven’t yet received all of their medical bills.

Shedd says the incident has come with a silver lining: The neighborhood has rallied, sending her e-mails of support and dropping off care packages for Lucy. They’ve also gotten more vigilant about watching out for dangerous dogs, including Odie.

But Shedd said she would like the City Council to perhaps consider changing ordinances to require that before a dangerous dog is returned home, the neighborhood should be asked for input.

“And that’s really the concern of the neighborhood,” Shedd said.  “Everybody feels a little helpless.”

Animal bites in 2012, by the numbers

Humans were bit by animals 299 times

Animals bit other animals 103 times

34 dogs were declared dangerous

169 dogs were declared  potentially dangerous

9 dogs were euthanized

When a dog is declared dangerous the owner has 14 days to …

–       Keep the dog muzzled and leashed within 3 feet when outside the house

–       Hang signs on the home notifying of a dangerous dog

–       Keep the dog in a kennel when non-family members are present in the home

–       Proof of insurance coverage of $300,000 for personal injuries

–       Mirochip the dog

–       Neuter the dog, if it’s not already

–       Sterilize the dog

–       Owners are not allowed to get off-leash dog area permits

–       Pay a $200 dangerous dog registration