Dog owners sued over attack on neighborhood boy

March 10, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Mount Airy youth and his mother have filed a civil lawsuit against their neighbors, alleging that their two large dogs attacked the boy as he walked home from school in February 1991.

Sean Madden and his mother, Judith Madden, are seeking $1.2 million in damages in a lawsuit they filed in Howard Circuit Court against the Nicastri family.

The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 18, names the defendants as Vittorio Nicastri, Maria Nicastri and Graziella Nicastri of the the 2400 block of Mullinix Mill Road. They live two houses away from the Madden family.

The Maddens contend in the lawsuit that the Nicastris were negligent for allowing their two dogs -- one a Rottweiler and the other a wolf hybrid, or wolf dog -- to roam free on the day of the Feb. 22, 1991, incident.

But Maria Nicastri said the Rottweiler did not intentionally bite the boy, whom she says got mixed up in a fight with her dogs and a neighbor's dog. She added that her family no longer has the wolf dog, although they still have the 4-year-old Rottweiler.

Walter Madden, Sean's father who works as an attorney in Rockville, filed the lawsuit four days before the statute of limitations would have expired for the case. He declined to talk about the case.

The lawsuit asserts that the Nicastri family violated Howard County ordinances that require animals with potentially violent natures to be kept on leashes or in cages.

The county Animal Control Office issued citations against the Nicastris for failing to obtain licenses for each dog and for failing to get a rabies vaccination for the Rottweiler, said Brenda Purvis, an agency spokeswoman.

The Rottweiler was quarantined for 10 days after the incident and was returned to its owners, Ms. Purvis said. Dogs involved in attacks are quarantined to allow officials to determine if they have any illnesses, including rabies.

The wolf hybrid was not quarantined because it did not bite the boy, Ms. Purvis said.

Dr. Randall Lockwood, a veterinarian with the Humane Society of America in Washington, said Rottweilers, which can weigh up to 100 pounds, were responsible for five of the 10 dog-related deaths nationwide last year.

Wolf dogs -- usually a cross between a wolf and a husky or malamute -- are predators by nature, Dr. Lockwood said. The size of the dogs vary, ranging between 60 and 175 pounds. Dr. Lockwood noted that Rottweilers and wolf hybrids are not always vicious animals, but their behavior depends on how they are trained and treated by their owners.

According to the lawsuit, Sean got off a school bus and was walking home when the two dogs cut across two properties and pursued him. The Rottweiler, named Vixen, attacked Sean, biting him on his left thigh. The youth was 12 years old at the time.

"As [the boy] went to the ground in pain with blood spewing out, the wolf dog was about to join the Rottweiler in the attack and moved in for the kill," the lawsuit says.

The attack ended when a neighbor chased the dogs away from the boy, the lawsuit says.

Sean, now 15, suffered from puncture and ripping wounds in his leg that required numerous stitches and left permanent scars, the law suit says.

The complaint says that Sean suffered from severe emotional distress that was so extreme he feared "literally being eaten alive" because of the incident. The boy also became physically ill and went into trauma-induced shock after the attack.

The Maddens have asked for a jury trial for their lawsuit. The case has been assigned to Judge Raymond Kane Jr., but no proceedings have been scheduled.

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