Archive for Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Dog’s death prompts talk of additional animal laws

Deputy shoots pit bull after animal bites man

January 29, 2003

During the two weeks since a Leavenworth County sheriff's deputy shot a dog north of Tonganoxie, controversy has been brewing, and it shows no signs of letting up.

Depending on whom you speak with, the details surrounding the incident vary widely.

But one thing is clear: The incident raises the question of whether the county needs a vicious-dog ordinance.

Leavenworth County Sheriff Herb Nye is pushing to establish vicious-dog guidelines for rural areas. The state already has laws centering on protection of livestock.

"It's basically in the state law that if an animal is harming livestock then the animal can be put down," Nye said. "I think that can be defined a little further in a county resolution to say if this dog has made threatening moves toward the neighbors or children or whatever -- while not an outright attack, it could be an indication of what could come."

If officers receive complaints, the owner could be told to keep the animal locked up, Nye said.

"Once somebody calls it to attention then you would need to take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again," Nye said. "... It would be something in there with legal teeth where we could actually take these people to court if they harbor vicious animals."

A dog bite

On the evening of Jan. 12, when David Shoemaker tried to chase a dog off his property about five miles north of Tonganoxie, the dog charged him, knocked him to the ground and bit him on the stomach.

Shoemaker, who was examined that night and started rabies vaccinations at St. John Hospital in Leavenworth, reported the attack to the sheriff's department.

He described the animal as a light brown boxer-type dog with a white breast, and he said the dog had been aggressive toward others in his family. An officer tried to find the dog that night, but was unsuccessful.

The next morning in a field near Shoemaker's house, Deputy Robert Dunham spotted a dog that fit Shoemaker's description. His report said he called to the dog, which then charged at him. In an interview, Dunham described the dog as approaching "in an aggressive manner, running full speed, mouth wide open and barking."

Afterward, Dunham, who has been with the sheriff's department since April 2001, fired about five shots. The first hit the ground, according to his report. The others struck the dog, which then ran to the front door of a nearby home where the dog's owner, Roxie McGraw, stood in the doorway.

"My wife heard the dog screaming and went to let him in the house -- he's a housedog," said McGraw's husband, Mike Breshears.

Breshears said Dunham pointed his gun toward the door.

"He was screaming and waving one arm at my wife to get out of the way so he could shoot the dog in the door here," said Breshears, who has retained an attorney to look into the officer's actions.

In Dunham's report, he said he told McGraw he needed to speak with her.

"She refused to come outside," the report said. "Several times I yelled for her to come outside, but she refused. She eventually stepped outside."

The dog, which was a pit bull, was wounded. Breshears took the dog, whose name was Bandit, to a Tonganoxie veterinarian, who euthanized the dog.

The sheriff's department sent the dog's head to Manhattan to be tested for rabies. Breshears said he realized that his 5-year-old dog was likely the dog the deputy was looking for.

"I'm not denying that my dog bit Mr. Shoemaker," Breshears said. "He just smelled a dog in heat and went over there and was having a good time, and all this stuff came out of that, it's just a bad deal."

Although Breshears acknowledged the dog had previously bitten a child visiting in his house, he described the dog as gentle.

"The sheriff's report said my dog has attacked every member of their family (Shoemaker) at least once," Breshears said. "I just couldn't believe that. This was my family pet, he slept in the bed with me and my wife."

Breshears said they had taken good care of the dog. Bandit was up to date on vaccinations and Breshears had brushed Bandit's teeth the day before he died.

"I brushed the dog's teeth because it helps them live longer," Breshears said. "It helps them stay healthier."

Others' views

But others didn't view Bandit as his owners did.

Dee Bahr, a Jarbalo woman who has been running marathons for 20 years, in September changed her jogging route after a run-in with Bandit in front of Breshear's house on County Road 9.

"He ran out and snapped at me -- he came in low," Bahr said. "And then the next time I went by, he came out twice at me. He jumped up and snapped at my arm, crossed the road and came back and snapped at my arm again."

Bahr filed a report with the sheriff's office that day, and talked to Breshears that night, asking him to pen his dog.

"He said if you call me and tell me when you'll be running, he could keep him up at certain times," Bahr said. "He even said if he was out there in the yard with his dog he couldn't guarantee that he wouldn't come after me."

In an interview, both Breshears and McGraw said they were willing to keep Bandit indoors during times Bahr was jogging.

Bahr met with county commissioners in September, asking them to establish a dog ordinance. Bahr, who said there are five rottweilers, two of which run loose, on the six-mile stretch of County Road 9 between Jarbalo and Tonganoxie, would like to see a law targeted at pit bulls and rottweilers.

"I wish they could name specific breeds and make sure they're contained because pit bulls and rottweilers are known to be attackers," Bahr said. "I don't know if the county commissioners would ever have enough guts to do anything like that."

But Nye prefers a different type of law -- targeted at any dog demonstrating a propensity for violence or aggression.

"Once somebody calls it to your attention, then you would need to take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again," Nye said. "People need to understand you're harboring a vicious animal at your house -- your insurer is going to look very unkindly at settlements if you know full well that this animal was vicious and if you had been notified that it had an aggressive manner to it."

According to Nye, sheriff's reports indicated that there had been not one child bitten by a dog that lived at Breshear's residence, but two. He said he was not certain if Bandit was the dog that bit the children.

Surprisingly, Breshears said he would support a county vicious dog ordinance.

"That would be fine," he said. "They came in here and gunned my dog and nobody called me. That would have been great -- an ordinance like that -- instead of come and shoot first and tell you about it later."

Give me an assessment

Leavenworth County Commissioner Joe Daniels said he was aware Bahr had made sheriff's reports about Breshear's dog, as well as about two rottweilers that also live on County Road 9.

"Personally, I would look to the sheriff to give me some sort of assessment that we could act on to tell us where the need is because he is the county's top animal control officer," Daniels said.

Nye said he had been told that the dog was aggressive toward Officer Dunham.

"I don't want any officers bit, I can tell you that," Nye said. "Whether it be a dog, or any animal of any kind that is aggressive toward an officer, if an officer can get away we expect him to, but if the aggression continues I expect the officer to take the appropriate action."

Pet owners should know their responsibility, Nye said, noting that, with the exception of an ordinance pertaining to exotic animals, the county has no rules regarding vicious or aggressive animals. Nye noted that Shoemaker, who declined to be interviewed, believed the dog that bit him was a stray.

"Had we known who the owner was at that time we probably would have went and asked that the dog be quarantined, asked for proof of vaccination," Nye said.

Norma Breshears, Mike's mother, said she didn't understand why the officer shot Bandit.

David Shoemaker, she said, did not suffer serious injury.

"If Bandit had of wanted to bite, he would have severely hurt him," Norma Breshears said.

As far as she knew, Bandit had been a gentle loving family pet. Because of their attachment to the dog, the family is broken hearted, she said.

Whether the dog was viewed as a family pet or a roadside terror, one fact remains: Bandit is gone, and the families involved are trying to get their lives back to as normal as possible.

Tuesday morning, Mike Breshears went next door to talk to David Shoemaker.

"We're trying to work things out," Breshears said. "I was just over there talking to David, and we're trying to forgive and forget over this deal."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.