TAMPA — Bear, a pit bull terrier mix, lived his entire two years in Apt. 8015 on Tommy Court. He kept to himself for the most part, spending some days inside and others chained to a second-floor balcony.
His owner said she babied him.
"I fed him out of a bottle" when he was a puppy, said Tanya Okeke, 41.
On Monday afternoon, Okeke took Bear down the wooden stairs outside her apartment and chained him to the handrail at the bottom so she could bathe him. Nearby, children played.
"Y'all move!" Okeke said she told them. But she said one child, a 3-year-old girl named Destiny McKenzie, somehow fell off the stairs — and into Bear's reach.
Bear attacked, biting the face of the little girl known to many as "Peanut." The child screamed, but Bear did not let go — not until Okeke was able to strike him on the head with her fist.
"All I heard was screaming," recalled a neighbor, Dorecus Aikens, 30, who came running outside. She said by the time she got to the door, the child had managed to walk away, covered in blood.
Destiny, who lives at the complex with her mother, Akesha Williams, was in serious condition at Tampa General Hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery for the cuts to her face, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies said.
Her mother could not be reached for comment. Several neighbors said the child was coated in blood from her injuries.
Hillsborough County Animal Control seized Bear. Okeke said she told officers to put the dog down.
"I'm sad, I'm depressed," Okeke said Monday evening. "But it was a kid. A kid comes before an animal."
Okeke acknowledged that it wasn't the first time Bear had bitten someone. About a year ago, he bit a woman who lives at the apartment complex.
Okeke declined to go into detail but said it was an accident and the woman never pursued a case against her.
She said Bear had all his required shots.
The Sheriff's Office said it had turned Monday's case over to the county's Animal Services Department. No charges had been announced.
State records show that Okeke served almost 16 months of a two-year prison sentence in 2004 and 2005 for cocaine possession.
Aikens, who lives across from Okeke, said she'd never had any problems with Bear. She said she'd sometimes pet him.
"She's had him since he was a baby," Aikens said, shaking her head.
Outside Okeke's apartment was a makeshift plywood dog gate dividing her section of the balcony from her neighbors'.
She had a "Beware of Dog" sign near her door. Hanging off the balcony was Bear's heavy chain.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.