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Pinellas' antitethering law was intended to stop dog attacks

ST. PETERSBURG — When a pit bull named King broke a chain and mauled a St. Petersburg woman visiting her niece, it was an incident a new antitethering law in Pinellas County was supposed to stop.

Anyone who chains a dog outdoors for an unreasonable time — a treatment that turns animals aggressive — faces a fine from the county.

The dog apparently broke free of its chain Wednesday, biting Arkies V. Thomas, 54, in the face, arm and ankle. She was in intensive care Thursday after surgery, said her husband, Willie Fudge. She's alert, but on a ventilator, Fudge said. She faces a long recovery.

Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni said the initial facts of the case suggest county officials could rue their decision to water down the antitethering ordinance in May.

Morroni had sought an outright ban as Seminole had done, a standard that animal services director Dewayne Taylor said is easier to enforce.

But the county went for more flexibility so people could tie up dogs as they bring in groceries, for example. They also decided to stress education over citations, issuing only one so far.

"Whether it's this one or one later, there's going to be a case where the commission wishes it had done a tougher law," Morroni said.

Not only was King tethered, he appeared not to have been neutered. Pit bulls already are known to be an aggressive breed, and the tethering makes them more defensive of their turf, experts said.

"It was a perfect storm," said Marti Ryan, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Animal Services.

On Wednesday, animal services operations manager Greg Andrews said the case was a tethering violation.

But Taylor, the animal services director, wouldn't go so far Thursday. The case is still open, he said, but investigators would need statements to justify a citation and haven't yet been able to get a statement from the victim.

"We did not see the dog tethered," said field enforcement manager Linda Britland.

In fact, the county could be forced to return the dog to its owners, even though they signed it away. "If the aunt won't come forward and won't report it, we have no other choice but to give it back to them," she said.

That's even though the county issued a warning to the owners after the same dog bit someone in December.

That case was considered "very minor" because the dog was only 3 months old, Britland said.

It was one of 1,239 dog bites reported in Pinellas in 2009, with no serious injury. The year before, 1,340 were reported.

Wednesday's attack happened at the same home where a police officer shot and killed a charging pit bull in April. That attack happened before King's owners, Edra Morgan, 30, and Joseph Bethune Jr., 32, moved in about a month ago. Morgan recounted the attack Thursday.

She said she hit King five times with a brick to get him off her aunt. She said the dog had never shown any similar aggression before. She also said animal services officers never warned her about chaining King on visits to their previous home.

Nonetheless, Morgan said she had no plans to get another pit bull and she didn't want King back, not after what happened.

Morgan is sticking with a chihuahua.

Reach David DeCamp at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas' antitethering law was intended to stop dog attacks 09/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 10:56pm]
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