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  • Michelle Howard, who works at the Severna Park Post Office on Magothy Bridge Road, was once the victim of a dog bite. She has a pit bull of her own, but she advises dog owners to keep their pets restrained.
    Photo by Zach Sparks
    Michelle Howard, who works at the Severna Park Post Office on Magothy Bridge Road, was once the victim of a dog bite. She has a pit bull of her own, but she advises dog owners to keep their pets restrained.

Dog Attacks Prompt Concerns About Civilian, Courier Safety

Zach Sparks
View Bio
July 12, 2017

Lilo’s Law Would Give Animal Control More Authority

With rheumy eyes and a heavy heart, Katie Rodgers first addressed the county council in May, lobbying members to alter county law after a pit bull savagely attacked her French bulldog/Boston terrier mix and her aunt, who was walking the dog at the time.

Rodgers’ mom, Sandra Feen, recounted how her sister, Rodgers’ aunt, tried desperately to shield Lilo, the smaller pet.

“The dog came from around the corner and charged her and Lilo,” Feen said. “At this point, she was able to pick Lilo up over her head, and the dog grabbed one of Lilo’s legs and pulled him out of her hands. The dog continued to maul the other dog.”

Lilo was killed and the attacking pit bull returned home after a brief stay with Animal Control, igniting a debate about current policies.

“Every day, we are fearfully checking out our windows before stepping out of our front door to do something as mundane as get our mail or take out the trash or walk to our cars,” Rodgers said. “We become hyper-vigilant about every sound that is around us, no longer taking walks as a couple through our community, sitting on our back porch or simply going in the general direction of where the attacking dog lives.”

After hearing an outcry from his constituents, Councilman Derek Fink responded with Bill 59-17, also known as “Lilo’s Law.” The bill, which has widespread support among the seven county councilmen, would repeal the definition of “potentially dangerous animal” and add “vicious animal,” allow Animal Control to “impound or destroy” vicious animals and establish a dangerous animal registry with the name of the animal; its picture, age and sex; and the name and address of its owner.

“Obviously, if this was a person, we wouldn’t allow that person back on the street within a week and unfortunately we let this dangerous dog on the street,” Fink told his fellow councilmen.

The “vicious” label would apply to animals whose attacks result in severe injury or death. However, those provisions would exclude animals if they bite because of pain or injury, if they are defending a human or other animal in the immediate vicinity, or if there is a willful trespass on the property of the pet’s owner.

While no detractors of the bill spoke publicly at the council meeting, some people have taken to Facebook to question Animal Control’s ability to discern provoked attacks from unprovoked attacks. Another worry is that the pet owners are not being held accountable while the animal is being euthanized.

“Animal Control investigates the complaints, talks to all involved parties, any witnesses and reviews any history,” said Robin Catlett, Animal Control administrator, in response to those inquiries. “On occasion, we are able to get video evidence of how an incidence occurred. Additionally during an investigation, pictures to confirm where incidences occurred help us determine the facts and fault in situations. Unfortunately, no enforcement agency can be present everywhere at all times, but our trained investigators complete due diligence to determine what happened and how.”

Currently, Animal Control has a more limited ability to “impound” or “destroy” a dangerous animal if it poses a public safety threat, and the pit bull from Chesterfield did not qualify. More common punishments include confining the animal to a muzzle or leash, or confining the animal to a structure defined by Animal Control.

The attack on Lilo was not the only one. At the July 3 county council meeting, a sea of pink shirts, branded with the words “Lilo’s Law,” filled council chambers. Jessica Ewing, president of Chesterfield Residents LLC, described a November attack on a teenager.

“The 14-year-old girl required 14 stitches. The dog was still returned and that [girl’s] family has subsequently, after living in our community for 20 years, left,” Ewing said.

“This isn’t an isolated incident and no one should walk out of their home and fear for their safety,” she added. “No law would have changed that this attack happened, but it would have changed what happened after.”

The problem is not unique to Pasadena. “We did have a similar attack in our neighborhood and the vicious animal was not returned,” testified Herb Meade, president of the Gingerville Woods Community Association in Edgewater. “The owners made the right decision, but if they had not made that decision, it would have torn the fabric of our neighborhood apart. We would have had neighbors pitted against each other.”

According to State Farm, in 2016, Maryland ranked 15th nationwide with 76 dog-related injury claims costing $5.1 million in payments. The average Maryland claim was $51,505. The national claim average was $33,253.

Children make up more than 50 percent of all dog bite victims. The elderly and mail carriers are also high on that list.

“Any dog can bite, and a lot of times, a misconception is spread that it is only the pit bulls,” said Dave Phillips, who does media relations for State Farm. “That’s just not true.”

Tom Ouellette, manager of strategic communications for the U.S. Postal Service, said dealing with dog attacks are a part of training for couriers. The number of postal employees attacked by dogs nationwide reached 6,755 in 2016 — more than 200 higher than the year before.

Pasadena and Severna Park have had a total of five dog bites on letter carriers in the past two years. In Anne Arundel County, 21 letter carriers were bitten by dogs in 2016, more than twice as many from the previous year.

“Dog bites are more likely to occur in summer,” Ouellette said. “Because dogs are outside more, there is an increase in the number of dog/letter carrier interactions.”

Michelle Howard, who works at the Severna Park Post Office on Magothy Bridge Road, was once the victim of a dog bite. She has a pit bull of her own, but she advises dog owners to keep their pets restrained.

“I shake my keys and carry spray so if they do happen to get out, I’m prepared,” said Howard, who has been with the Postal Service for 30 years.

Her colleague, Kim White, had two incidents in the Linstead community in Severna Park about two years ago.

“I got out of my truck, and I did not have my spray or satchel,” she said, recounting the first incident. “The door was half open, so I said, ‘Hello.’ I went to put the mail in the box and the dogs came running out. They circled me, and I was down on the ground screaming.”

White said the owners came just in time to wrest the dogs away from her, but White wasn’t as lucky during the next encounter, when a dog bit her arm. “I’m just frightened now,” she said.

With dog attacks affecting communities and couriers, support is growing for Lilo’s Law. The amended bill is up for hearing on July 17. Rodgers hopes to see it pass.

“Citizens of Anne Arundel County and their pets should never fear walking around their own neighborhoods,” she said. “Lilo’s Law will ensure that pet owners are held responsible by giving the county the authority to review each attack on a case-by-case basis, thus protecting the residents and the pets of Anne Arundel County.”

Dog Bite Prevention Background And Tips

The Victims

·         More than 4.5 million people are bitten annually.

·         The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that small children, the elderly and letter carriers, in that order, are the most frequent victims. Dog attacks are the most commonly reported childhood public health problem in the United States.

·         The AVMA also reports that the number of dog attacks exceeds the reported instances of measles, whooping cough, and mumps, combined. Dog bite victims account for up to 5 percent of emergency room visits.

·         According to the AVMA, as many as 800,000 people annually are admitted to U.S. emergency departments with dog bite–associated injuries. Countless more bites go unreported and untreated.

How To Avoid Being Bitten

·         Don’t run past a dog. The dog’s natural instinct is to chase and catch you.

·         If a dog threatens you, don’t scream. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, and then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight. Don’t approach a strange dog, especially one that’s tethered or confined.

·         While letter carriers are discouraged from petting animals, people who choose to pet dogs should always let a dog see and sniff them before petting the animal.

·         If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.

How To Be A Responsible Dog Owner

·         Obedience training can teach dogs proper behavior and help owners control their dog in any situation.

·         When the letter carrier comes to your home, keep your dog inside, away from the door, in another room, or on a leash. Dogs have been known to burst through screen doors or plate-glass windows to attack visitors.

·         Dogs can be protective of their territory and may interpret the actions of letter carriers as a threat. Please take precautions when accepting mail in the presence of your pet.

·         Dogs that haven’t been properly socialized, receive little attention or handling, or are left tied-up for long periods of time frequently turn into biters.

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