Board sets conditions for return of fighting pit bulls to owners

Fines up to $3,000 per dog must be paid for release

June 23, 1999|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Despite gruesome testimony of injuries suffered by pit bull dogs seized at what authorities called an organized dogfight, a Baltimore County hearing board yesterday cleared the way for the animals to be returned to their owners.

The Animal Hearing Board, a volunteer panel that rules on civil violations issued by county animal control officials, voted to uphold fines against seven men for harboring dangerous animals. The board also discussed ordering the euthanasia of the animals, but in the end voted to set conditions for the 12 dogs' return to their owners.

It is uncertain whether the owners will claim the dogs, which carry names like Ice Pick, Cutthroat and Gator. The owners would have to pay fines from $500 to $3,000, along with boarding fees and veterinary bills that could amount to hundreds of dollars, before the dogs would be released.

Also, each dog would have to be spayed or neutered -- a condition that might dissuade an owner wanting to reclaim an aggressive fighting dog.

"They'd have no market value," said Sewell Price, a county animal control official.

The one board member who voted against the proposal to set conditions for the dogs' release said she "just didn't feel comfortable" with the decision. After the hearing, Joy Shillman asked: "Would you want to live next door to one of these dogs?"

The hearing was the first to address the results of a March 20 raid at a house in Lochearn. That raid has led to criminal charges against 14 adults and one juvenile, police said. Those criminal cases are scheduled to go to trial next month.

During the hearing yesterday, a representative of the county state's attorney's office took notes as police and animal control officials described how dogs impounded after the raid suffered from gaping wounds to their faces and bodies. Authorities found one seriously injured dog in the trunk of a car.

"Some of the dogs were in deplorable condition," said Linda Dickerson, an animal control offi- cer who transported the dogs from the raid. "Some of the dogs weren't responding at all. They were so injured we had to carry them."

Gayle Saunders-Christopher, supervisor of the county animal shelter in Baldwin, said some of the dogs have behaved aggressively at the shelter, adding, "They definitely can't be around other animals."

Craig Shriver, a Baltimore County police officer who answered a 911 call reporting the alleged dogfight, testified yesterday that one man admitted he was at the house to pit his dog against another in a fight. Shriver also said investigators found men taking apart what appeared to be a dog-fighting pen in the house's garage.

But no one at yesterday's hearing could say they had seen any of the dogs bite one another, or that they had ever seen the dogs bite a person.

In explaining the board's decision, Chairman Bernard J. Smith said, "There have been no complaints in this neighborhood about these dogs."

Under the board's ruling, dog owners would have 15 days to meet the conditions for claiming the animals. Only one owner appeared at yesterday's hearing to contest the charges, but animal control officials said other owners have visited their dogs since they were impounded.

If the dogs are not claimed, they could be declared abandoned, and they would then likely be euthanized, said Patrick H. Roddy, an assistant Baltimore County attorney who is counsel to the Animal Hearing Board.

County animal control officials have said they are seeing an increase in the number of pit bulls that show signs of having participated in fights. But police said dog fighting appears to be sporadic in the county.

Frank Branchini, executive director of the Humane Society of Baltimore County, said dog fighting is much more prevalent in Baltimore City and in Anne Arundel County.

"It's not just organized gambling activity," said Branchini, a former executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for Anne Arundel County. "It's also a reflection of urban violence connected with the drug culture."

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