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Pasco family mourns newborn as pit bull put to death

NEW PORT RICHEY — The single-wide mobile home on Olsen Street where the baby died is white with brown shutters. Blankets and towels are tacked up as curtains and a sheet of plywood is jammed into a broken window. There's a blue gingham couch in the yard along with old tires, a treadmill, an overflowing Dumpster, a faded red pickup with weeds brushing the doors.

The road is paved. Most in Moon Lake Estates aren't.

The trailer has 840 square feet of living space — two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, one bathroom. Ten people — eight adults and two children — lived here off and on with three dogs that didn't get along.

Sidon, a 45-pound dog that authorities believe is a pit bull terrier, fought with the other dogs, so he stayed in Nicole Koezeno's bedroom. On Wednesday morning, as the 16-year-old Koezeno slept in bed with her seven-day-old son, Thomas James Carter Jr., the dog attacked.

Koezeno woke at noon to a nightmare. Her son was dead beside her, killed as she slept.

"She's hysterical," Jackie Welch, a 32-year-old who often stays at the home with her 2-year-old son, said on Thursday. "That baby was everything to her."

Welch said she and a few other adults were in the living room while Koezeno, the newborn and the dog were in the bedroom that morning. She said she heard the baby cry about 9:30 a.m., but there was nothing alarming and it soon stopped. She never heard the dog growl or bark. Authorities said the infant had more than 50 puncture wounds.

"The dog had chewed him up," said Welch, who gave the baby CPR until paramedics arrived.

Welch said Sidon had never been aggressive to people — but he had to be kept separate from Buddy, one of the other dogs. A neighbor, John Young, said his stepson had to go to the hospital last month for bite wounds after trying to break up a fight between Sidon and the other dog.

Sidon was euthanized Thursday and his body sent to a laboratory in Tampa to determine if he had rabies. Denise Hilton, manager of Pasco County Animal Services, said Sidon's owner was the baby's father — Thomas James Carter, a 20-year-old lawn care worker who lives at the Olsen Street home. Hilton said Carter told her he vaccinated Sidon himself from vaccines he bought at a feed store.

Hilton said that doesn't count, but Carter won't be cited.

"This young couple is going to be suffering for a very, very long time for what happened here," she said.

Hilton said the agency also sent off for DNA testing to determine Sidon's breed. She said he appeared to be a pit bull mix. Welch said he was full pit bull.

"It was a freak accident," Welch said.

Friends and neighbors said Koezeno was a good mother who adored her son.

"Right now a part of her is gone," said Amber Childs, 19, who also gave birth to a son a few weeks ago.

She and Koezeno dreamed of their sons' future — joint birthday parties, growing up together in Moon Lake Estates, the same neighborhood where they were raised. It's a rural neighborhood north of New Port Richey with a rough reputation, though large, expensive homes in gated communities are cropping up nearby on the west side of Moon Lake Road, which carries traffic quickly to the Suncoast Parkway.

"She's blaming herself," Welch said of Koezeno. "I feel bad. It wasn't her fault."

Koezeno says on her MySpace page that May 31, 2007, was "the day I had a reason to smile, a reason to laugh, and someone to love."

It was apparently the day she first met Carter — or the day she became serious with him.

Koezeno's Web page says she's 18 and 19. But she's actually 16, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, which gave her birth date as Dec. 17. 1993.

That would have made her 13 back on May 31, 2007. Carter would have been 17 at the time.

Nine months ago, when the child was conceived, the mother would have been 15 and Carter would have been 19.

Under Florida law, it's illegal to have sex with anyone under the age of 16.

Does that mean Carter could face criminal charges for fathering a child with a minor?

Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll would not say if deputies were investigating anything other than the death of the infant at this time.

But bringing criminal charges could be difficult, said Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis. Knowing a crime occurred, and proving it, are two different things.

In such a case, authorities would need one of the parties to admit they conceived the child in Florida before they can prosecute the adult.

"If both parties say 'I want my lawyer,'" Halkitis said, "then we have a problem."

Dawn Koezeno is Nicole Koezeno's mother. She said "everybody has the wrong impression" about her daughter and Carter.

"Those two are in love," she said.

Authorities performed toxicology tests on Nicole Koezeno Wednesday and the results are not yet in, according to the Sheriff's Office. But Dawn Koezeno, 40, said her daughter passed all the drug tests and she slept through the attack because she was a new mother — up at all hours with the baby — and was exhausted.

"Every mother knows" how tiring that is, Dawn Koezeno said. "She's not on drugs."

She called funeral homes on Thursday and learned the starting price of tombstones is $400. Dawn Koezeno doesn't know where her family is going to get the money, but they want a proper funeral for Thomas — a service and a burial.

Today, she's going to tour cemeteries to find a place for her grandson.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at or (727) 869-6229.

How to protect the baby from the dog

Parents can keep the peace if they act before the baby arrives, said Lynn Buzhardt, a Louisiana veterinarian and an expert in child-pet relations in a previous Times story. The answer lies in prebaby shock treatment.

Snatch his food while he's eating. Buy baby furniture before the birth. Sprinkle baby powder around the house. Bring dirty diapers home from the hospital. Bring other babies to visit. If you plan to revoke privileges like sleeping on the bed, revoke them well in advance.

"Pull on his ears," Buzhardt said. "Poke his eyes a little bit."

These tactics are meant to inoculate the dog against infant smells, artifacts and behavior. They are also tests. If they provoke growling or biting, Rover may have to move out.

After birth, parents should keep the dog's bed and bowl baby-free. And watch both.

"Whether you have Lassie or Cujo," said Terry Marie Curtis, an animal behaviorist at the University of Florida, "the No. 1 rule is the dog is never alone with the baby. Period."

The Humane Society of the United States said pets can experience "sibling rivalry" when introducing a new baby into a household because your pets have been used to being the center of attention.

"Drastically decreasing attention and frequently scolding, ignoring, or isolating your pet after the baby comes home will likely make your pet feel stressed. If your pet is particularly attached to the mother-to-be, another family member should develop a closer relationship with the animal. That way, the pet can still feel loved and provided for while mom is busy with the baby."

The Humane Society encourages enrolling your pet in a training class before the baby arrives. Spaying or neutering also generally makes pets less aggressive.

"To prevent anxiety or injury, never force your pet to get near the baby, and always supervise any interaction."

To view other tips, go to

Pasco family mourns newborn as pit bull put to death 04/15/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 9:14am]
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