Kennel worker tells of pit bull's attack New city laws target fighting, vicious dogs

July 04, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

There was no growl, no snarl, no sound, just the sudden instant pain of a pit bull's teeth clamping so hard on Kevin Hoffmann's wrist that his doctor compared it to being crushed by a forklift.

Terrified and alone, the Montgomery County animal shelter worker knew if the dog's teeth reached his neck, he could easily die. So Hoffmann, 29, dragged the dog -- attached to his right arm -- 50 yards through the kennel, using his other arm to protect his face.

Help came when fellow kennel workers heard his screams and threw water on the dog to startle it so it would let go. His hand was all but severed -- held on only by some tendons and a nerve.

Yesterday, Hoffmann told his harrowing story for the first time after spending 11 days at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, where doctors performed four surgeries on his arm -- one operation took 10 hours -- so he could use his hand again.

Hoffmann, sitting in a wheelchair with his arm bandaged and his hand surgeon at his side, urged Maryland to enact strict animal control laws to crack down on owners who train pit bulls to fight.

"Unfortunately, they are being bred for aggression -- the amount of aggressive pit bulls that we get in shelters are increasing greatly," Hoffmann said. "Maybe 90 percent of the pit bulls out there are very nice, but you never know which are going to be the ones that are going to turn on you."

He added: "I believe that if somebody's pet attacks and injures another animal or another human, that owner should be responsible for their dog's crimes because basically it's not the dog's fault. It's the owners, the trainers."

The June 23 attack on Hoffmann at the Montgomery County Humane Society shelter in Rockville comes just as Baltimore puts into effect a law prohibiting the training of attack dogs and allows the city to more easily destroy vicious dogs.

The law also prohibits dog fighting, a sport flourishing mainly in poorer neighborhoods in Baltimore.

The push for the law -- which creates a hearing board to review complaints against vicious dogs -- came from West Baltimore Councilwoman Agnes B. Welch, who was bitten by a roaming dog in March.

Rottweilers and pit bulls were responsible for nearly half the 199 dog-bite-related fatalities in the United States from 1979 to 1996, according to figures from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Welch began researching the bill in 1994 after a Northeast Baltimore infant was killed by a pit bull.

In March, an Anne Arundel County animal control officer was mauled by a pit bull and underwent surgery to reattach part of his left thumb, which the dog bit off. The dog was in the shelter because it had bitten two other people.

The dog that attacked Hoffmann was placed in the shelter after it attacked a 12-year-old Montgomery Village boy May 11. Hoffmann, who has been a veterinary technician at the shelter for three years, was cleaning the dog's cage at about 7 p.m. when it attacked. The animal since has been destroyed.

Dr. Keith A. Segalman, who treated Hoffmann, said the injury by the dog was the worst he has seen. When Hoffmann came in, bones and tendons were protruding from his skin, and a severed artery had stopped blood flow to his hand. His arm had 70 tooth marks, Segalman said.

"The arm was really mangled by the dog," Segalman said.

During the four operations, Segalman removed muscle from Hoffmann's shoulder and a nerve from his leg, and took a skin graft from his thigh.

Hoffmann will have to undergo a year of physical therapy to recover, Segalman said. Hoffmann has feeling in two of his fingers, but the other three have less sensation.

"He's doing very well. I don't think he's going to have normal function but he should be able to grab certainly some larger objects, he should be able to get feeling back, to feel hot and cold, but that's going to take about a year," Segalman said.

Hoffmann, who left the hospital yesterday, remains an animal lover. He has a lizard and dog, a retriever-Doberman, and has taken care of stranded animals.

He hopes to keep doing volunteer work with animals but is not sure he will work in a shelter again.

"I am having a lot of nightmares that will take time to get over," Hoffmann said.

"I always knew it could happen, but you never think it's going to happen to you."

Pub Date: 7/04/98

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