Carroll commissioners vote to have dog killed 2-1 decision reached in surprise closed meeting

August 16, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners voted 2-1 in a secret meeting Thursday to kill a black and tan pit bull that attacked a 10-year-old Westminster girl last month, biting her on the arms, stomach and groin.

The commissioners' closed-door action came as a surprise to county attorneys, who expected to be present when the vote was taken.

Shortly after an emotionally charged, 73-minute hearing Thursday afternoon to determine the dog's fate, the commissioners had said the vote would be postponed at least a day. Commissioner Richard T. Yates had wanted to view a three-minute videotape showing the child's injuries and a 36-square-inch bruise across her stomach.

Yates, who voted Thursday against killing the dog, said after the hearing earlier in the day that the decision would be made within 10 days.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and W. Benjamin Brown said they were ready to decide the issue immediately but agreed to wait for Yates to view the tape. Brown said he would press for a vote the next day. Dell said he expected it this week.

But the commissioners discussed the issue while in executive session, perhaps violating the state's open meeting law. The law says officials in executive session can discuss only the issues for which the meeting was closed.

The dog case was not on the commissioners' agenda, but was brought up at the end of the closed session called to deal with another matter, said Robert A. "Max" Bair, the commissioners' chief of staff.

Yates, who did not view the tape, said he asked his fellow commissioners Thursday to give him time to see it before the vote, "but apparently they couldn't wait. It wasn't my desire" to decide the issue in secret, he said. "I was outvoted."

He wanted to spare the dog, Yates said, because "it was a people error, not a dog error" that led to the attacks.

"The testimony was that he was on a leash. The problem was with the people, not the dog. He's just a poor dumb animal. I thought the sentence was too harsh," he said.

Yates' vote to save the dog touched a political nerve in Kenneth Warren, father of Mary Warren, the 10-year-old the dog bit. Warren said he was furious that Yates wanted to return the dog to its owners and require it to be muzzled.

The dog had broken from a leash three times when attacking victims, witnesses testified at Thursday's hearing. It was on a leash when it broke loose and attacked Warren's daughter July 15.

"This animal was unprovoked and meant to kill," Warren said Thursday, testifying about the attack. "I'm afraid it's going to kill a child the next time" unless it's destroyed.

The attack on his daughter was so severe that she was emotionally scarred and is undergoing counseling, he told the commissioners. She has "gone from a love of animals and being friendly to everybody" to being fearful whenever a dog barks or she sees an animal outside her home, he said Thursday.

"We can't walk the streets of Westminster if this dog is out there again," he told the commissioners.

Warren said after the vote that he was upset by Yates' desire to spare the dog despite the animal's two-year history of attacks.

"I thought it was only my daughter. I didn't know about the history until I went to the hearing," Warren said. "I've never been active politically before, but I'm going to do everything I can to see that this man is not re-elected."

The first complaint about the pit bull occurred Oct. 2, 1996, when a woman walking her dog in Bennett Cerf Park reported the pit bull had "come after her and her dog," said David R. Stair, animal-control officer for the Carroll County Humane Society.

It was the first of four complaints that month, Stair said. The others indicated the dog was running loose in Deer Park on Oct. 10; it was living in a station wagon Oct. 14; and it broke loose from a leash and attacked another dog Oct. 28.

The first biting incident was reported by Amie Snyder, who said the pit bull bit her at a Westminster coin-operated laundry in May 1997.

"I was scared for my life," Snyder told the commissioners Thursday. "The dog was out of control."

After the attack, the Humane Society sent the owners a warning, saying the dog would be declared "a public animal nuisance" and destroyed if it bit someone again.

The county sheriff's office asked the Humane Society for protection from the dog when it served an eviction notice on its owners March 10. The dog was impounded and reclaimed two days later.

Jason R. Cantrell was bitten July 1 though the dog was on a leash. The attack occurred near the pool of the Westminster motel where he works, and he was afraid the dog might attack children if not destroyed, he testified.

"If something had been done then, the attack" on Mary Warren outside a soda shop on West Main Street would never have happened, Cantrell said.

The Humane Society picked up the dog July 15 after the attack on the girl and took it to the county animal shelter, where it has been quarantined. The society sent owner Karyl White of Westminster a letter July 22 telling her the dog would be destroyed 10 days later.

White appealed to the County Commissioners, who heard the case Thursday and upheld the society's decision. Unless White appealed the commissioners' decision to the Circuit Court, the dog would be destroyed within 10 days.

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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