Las Vegas Sun

August 21, 2014

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Victim of pit bull attack outraged by ‘free-bite’ law

Las Vegas resident Sharon Selep says she lives in terror that Clark County Animal Control will release the pit bull that attacked her and killed her toy poodle.

Under the law, that is what it has to do, animal control officials said.

Nevada is one of 21 states that has a so-called "free-bite" law, giving a dog that attacks and its owners another chance before officials seek court action to take the dog away. But even a dog that has killed other dogs on more than one occasion can remain with its owners under tighter lock, Sgt. Tom Pooler, Clark County Animal Control supervisor, said.

Under the county's rules, a dog has to grievously injure a human being or attack multiple times before it may be permanently taken away -- and then only by court order.

Victims of recent dog attacks are outraged, saying the law allows dangerous dogs to remain in neighborhoods where the dogs have the potential to get loose and attack again. They also say Nevada's laws are designed to protect the attacking dog and its owner, not the victim of the attack.

Neighbors were even angrier to learn the pit bull, who attacked Selep and her poodle Dec. 28 had killed another dog only two months earlier and was allowed to remain at its residence on the 8000 block of Lisa Dawn Avenue, near Buffalo Drive and Flamingo Road.

"This never should have happened," a shaken and sobbing Selep said last week. "The dog has killed before. It should have been put down the first time it did this. Why wasn't the dog put down?"

The dog's owner, Ruddy Gibbs, says is he upset over what happened and plans to have the pit bull euthanized after the end of the 10-day quarantine placed on the dog to make sure it does not have rabies.

"The dog is going to die," Gibbs said. "I don't want to give him a chance to hurt anybody else."

Gibbs voluntarily turned over the pit bull to animal control for the quarantine. Under the law, he could have housed the dog at his home because it had all of its current shots.

Selep, however, said she is incensed that Nevada's law would give him or any dog owner the opportunity to keep a "killer dog."

"This dog ripped my dog's throat out. I'm lucky it didn't cut my throat out," Selep, 57, said. "The dog has to be destroyed. I don't want anybody to go through the pain I went through. I'm not talking physical pain. I'm talking the pain nobody can ever take away."

In the Dec. 28 incident, the pit bull named Coby escaped Gibbs' back yard and then went on a "rampage" about 3:30 p.m., victims said.

The dog first attacked and almost killed a cocker spaniel named Max on the corner of Nina Street and Delbonita Avenue, said Willis Rogers, 64, of Redlands, Calif., who was walking Max on a leash with his wife, Nancy, and daughter Tricia. Max belongs to Rogers' grandchildren, who live in the neighborhood.

"I've never struck an animal as hard as I did that dog, and there was three of us doing it, and it wouldn't let go," Willis Rogers said. "The only reason that it let go was that it thought our dog was dead."

The pit bull then turned the corner and attacked Selep and her toy poodle, Baby, in front of her house on Rochelle Avenue. The pit bull knocked Selep down, bit her hand and then went after Baby.

Four Metro Police officers and animal control Officer Angela Shanley responded to two emergency calls about the pit bull, police records show.

Witnesses said they believe authorities did not address the attack seriously enough.

"To my notion, there was a very clear and present danger to humans, especially children, and no one in authority seemed to be taking this very seriously," Willis Rogers said.

Police also questioned whether Selep was even bitten, witnesses said. Selep was hysterical and possibly inebriated at the time, witnesses said, but the bite marks were undeniable.

"The police called me a liar, as I was lying there with my Baby in my arms," Selep said. "At first they said I wasn't bitten, but I was covered in blood."

The report filed by Shanley states Selep had two small puncture wounds on one hand. She was treated for bite wounds at Spring Valley Medical Center, medical reports show.

"The police have to be more supportive, they have to address the situation," Selep said. "I'm an old lady lying in the street, and they need to be more sympathetic."

The owners of a dog whose negligence allows the animal to get loose and attack another animal or human face a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500 and/or six months in jail, making it hard for law enforcement officers to file charges for incidents they do not see.

"I can't give somebody a ticket for something I didn't see," Pooler said. "It's the same thing as running a stop sign or speeding down the road."

Police do have the authority to immediately seize or even kill a dog that they witness attacking another dog, Pooler said, or to search a neighborhood for a dog that may still be running loose.

Metro spokesman Jose Montoya said there was no report on the incident and that animal control cleared the situation, according to log books.

"The codes on animals are rather vague," Montoya said. "There's not much we could do."

Shanley, who handled the complaint when the same pit bull killed another animal two months ago, took only a bite report for Selep. The report does not include complaints that the pit bull killed Selep's poodle or attacked the cocker spaniel.

Shanley was unavailable for comment.

Without the prior history, the attack has to be treated as a first offense, Pooler said.

Pooler wouldn't comment on whether the laws needed to be strengthened, but he said victims are often frustrated that animal control can't take the dogs away from owners.

Several other states, such as California, Arizona, New Jersey, Texas and New York, have strict regulations on dangerous and possibly vicious animals that allow animal control authorities to seize accused animals immediately while the complaint is being investigated. These states also allow for animal control hearings that allow the dogs to be euthanized if found to be vicious.

In these states, a dog may be declared vicious the first time it attacks, whether the victim is a human or another domestic animal.

County regulations show that a dog may be declared vicious if it "bites, attempts to bite, attacks, attempts to attack, or otherwise constitutes a physical threat to humans or domestic animals," unless provoked or defending against a trespasser on the dog owner's property.

Both Las Vegas and Clark County, however, will first declare a dog legally dangerous and place special restrictions on holding the animal before they declare it vicious. Henderson's animal control has no such protocol, officials said.

It's rare for a court to order a dog euthanized, Deputy District Attorney Susan Krisko said.

"I've seen cases where a dog bites and gets out, but the owner takes responsibility for it and houses it securely, and the dog is never a problem again, but then there is also other people whose dogs keep getting out and biting people over and over," Krisko said.

"Should the law say that if a dog bites someone once that it needs to be put down? I don't think that's necessarily true."

The victims of the latest dog attack, however, believe the laws need to be strengthened to avoid incidences such as a recent case in Summerlin in which someone allegedly tried to kill a dog in revenge for another attack.

In that case, police allege Ryan Schiestel, 25, hired Melvin Gilchrist, 26, to either kidnap or beat up a Rottweiler that had killed another dog the day before. A police officer shot and wounded Gilchrist in the hip in the Dec. 5 incident when Gilchrist wouldn't put down the bat and butcher knife in his hands, police said.

Police believe Schiestel was upset because animal control did not seem to be doing anything about the dog, so he took the matter into his own hands.

Las Vegas Animal Control Supervisor Roger Van Orrdt said the owners of the Rottweiler will be charged with a misdemeanor for their negligence in how the dog got loose, but that the suspected owners were being evasive and officials were still trying to prove ownership of the dog.

Van Orrdt did not return calls on whether the owners have been charged as of this morning. Gilchrist was arrested at the scene in the upscale Country Club Hills Dec. 5.

The district attorney's office shows that an arrest warrant was issued for Schiestel Dec. 16. Metro Sgt. Mike Thompson said the warrant was waiting to be approved by a judge.

Both Willis Rogers and his son Todd, the owner of the cocker spaniel that was badly injured by the pit bull Dec. 28, said they understood Schiestel's frustration.

"We are all terrified this could happen again. It scares me that no one is taking responsibility for the community," said Todd Rogers, who has written a letter to County Commissioner Mark James about the incident and petitioned animal control to destroy the pit bull.

"What it seems to me is that they need something really bad to happen before they can do anything," Todd Rogers said.

Gibbs said he takes full responsibility and will repay Selep and the Rogers family for any expenses.

"I know (Selep) probably thinks I am a terrible person, but I'm not," Gibbs said. "I never, ever would have wished this on my worst enemy, for her to have her dog taken away from her like that," Gibbs said.

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