By Matthew D’Onofrio
In Oceanside over the past two weeks, pit bulls reportedly killed a small dog and attacked an 11-month-old baby in two separate incidences, splitting community opinion and reigniting a nationally discussed topic: whether the breed poses a danger.
Resident Kathy Mann was walking Chloe, her daughter Chelsea‚Äôs 4-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, along Knight Street on the evening of July 13 when they encountered her neighbor and her 7-year-old pit bull, Sasha. After seeing Chloe, Kathy said, Sasha barked and grew agitated, causing the neighbor to drop the leash. Kathy said Sasha then rushed them, and ‚Äúbasically slaughtered [Chloe] right in front of me,‚ÄĚ and bit her finger as she tried to intervene. Chloe later died from her injuries at a nearby animal hospital.
‚ÄúI lost my best friend,‚ÄĚ Chelsea said. ‚ÄúThe owners need to be held accountable.‚ÄĚ When she approached Sasha‚Äôs owner, she said, he said, ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre animals, and these things happen.‚ÄĚ He did not offer to pay for Chloe‚Äôs medical expenses. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not about the money,‚ÄĚ Chelsea maintained. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs about respect, and sympathy.‚ÄĚ Sasha‚Äôs owner could not be reached for comment.
Neighbors who gathered at Chelsea‚Äôs house after the attack said that this was not the first time Sasha had bitten neighborhood pets, citing two past dog attacks that occurred nearby. Chelsea said she thinks Sasha is an ‚Äúaggressive‚ÄĚ breed of dog. Her neighbors have refused to have Sasha euthanized.
‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt take the dog ‚Ä¶ not until there is an order from the court,‚ÄĚ said Rebecca Sinclair, deputy chief of staff for the Town of Hempstead. The town Animal Control Department has petitioned Nassau County for a ‚Äúdangerous dog proceeding,‚ÄĚ for Sasha, which labels the animal as ‚Äúdangerous to society,‚ÄĚ according to spokesman Michael Fricchione. If accepted, Sasha will be taken and euthanized.
Sometimes, after such an incident, the owner relinquishes their dog. A family pit bull bit their 11-month-old daughter in the head on the night of July 17 at their home on Lands Place, requiring an airlift to a nearby hospital, according to Nassau County police. A police spokeswoman said the baby had suffered ‚Äúnon-life threatening injuries.‚ÄĚ
The family who owned the dog ‚Äúwillingly surrendered‚ÄĚ it to animal control, according to Fricchione, and the Town ‚Äúhumanely euthanized‚ÄĚ the dog the next morning.
‚ÄúPeople need to wake up ‚Ä¶ these are not family-oriented dogs,‚ÄĚ said resident Jamie Stern, the Manns‚Äô neighbor who drove Kathy and Chloe ‚ÄĒ who was ‚Äúcovered in blood‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ to the hospital. He added that Sasha is known in the neighborhood as ‚Äúthe killer pit.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄėSetting them up for failure‚Äô
While the Manns and some of their neighbors have become distrustful of pit bulls, many dog experts say that there is a great deal of misinformation out there about the breed.
‚ÄúThere are no such things as pit bulls,‚ÄĚ according to state-licensed dog behaviorist and trainer Brandon Karp, owner of South Shore K9 Academy, He said what people typically refer to as pit bulls are actually ‚Äúbully breeds,‚ÄĚ which are mixes of breeds such as American pit bull terrier and bulldog, mastiffs and boxers, and more.
Karp noted that American pit bull terriers, ‚Äúthe actual pit bulls,‚ÄĚ were originally used for hunting and brought inside the home for use as ‚Äúnanny dogs,‚ÄĚ intended to guard babies and young children.
‚ÄúDogs are not aggressive creatures, they are reactive ‚Ä¶ like humans,‚ÄĚ Karp explained. He said that not training a dog is like not properly parenting a child, ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre setting them up for failure,‚ÄĚ he said.
Karp, who teaches Dog-Smart Kids classes across schools in New York state, concluded that ‚Äúlack of education and information‚ÄĚ causes situations such as the one with Sasha and Chloe.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs easy for people to make it about the breed,‚ÄĚ said Oceanside resident Gilat Nahum, who has two small dogs and is a neighbor and friend of the Mann family. She said that she believes that many factors, such as proper socialization, supervision, proper training, quality of ownership and underlying medical condition, determine the likelihood of a dog attacking someone or something.
Nahum said she sympathized with what happened to Chloe and the Manns, adding that it was ‚Äútragic,‚ÄĚ and that the owners of Sasha should muzzle her, ‚Äúso we don‚Äôt have to walk our dogs in fear carrying mace and baseball bats.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs the least they can do to ensure all are safe in the neighborhood,‚ÄĚ she continued. ‚ÄúHumans and dogs.‚ÄĚ