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Dog walk turns ugly as pit bulls burst free

Published Aug. 28, 2005

As Jeanne's winds subsided late Sunday afternoon Todd Miller figured it was a good time to walk Caper.

"The storm had died down, and he'd been in all day," Miller said of his "pound puppy," a Shetland sheepdog_West Highland white terrier. Miller, who lives in the Old Northeast on 14th Avenue NE, put a leash and a Gentle Leader_style head collar on the dog and walked through the alley over to 13th Avenue NE.

After that, it was chaos.

"I walk out out of my house, I get to 13th Avenue," he said. Two pit bulls "busted through the screened_in porch" at 425 13th Ave. NE, "coming right for me. And then the black one just beelined for Caper."

Miller said the dog grabbed Caper by the neck, picked him up and started shaking him. The pit bull flipped over Caper _ who weighs less than 25 pounds _ and locked its jaws onto his chest.

"I'm screaming at the other dog to let him go," Miller said, pulling at his own pet in an attempt to free it.

Jim Abel, who lives a few doors away on 13th Avenue NE, heard yelling and screaming and ran outside to investigate.

He struck the pit bull in its abdomen, and it momentarily released Caper.

Abel's slug "didn't even faze the dog," Miller said.

The pit bull clamped down again, and Abel delivered a couple more punches before the smaller dog got free.

"It was a frantic scene," Miller said. "I am just amazed that my dog wasn't torn in half."

Soon, another neighbor got involved. "I was actually sleeping, and I heard my wife screaming, with a very terrified sound, and I woke up," said Alan Lew, who lives across the street from the pit bullterriers' owners.

"I didn't know what had happened. I retrieved my shotgun, because I will protect my wife and my daughter if need be. I went out to my porch and saw two pit bulls. I didn't know if they had a person, a baby, a dog, an animal or what. It was a very confused situation."

Lew said he put his shotgun down and went back into his house to look for a baseball bat, but it was not in its usual place. Then, he said, "I went outside with my shotgun and pointed it in the air.

"I saw two people on the ground, and I saw two pit bulls. One pit bull was engaged in the attack. The other pit bull was aggressively roaming around this group of people."

A woman who lives with the pit bulls' owners ran outside and "had her arms and legs around the dog and was screaming and crying for her boyfriend to come out of the house also," Lew said. "She did a fantastic job. She did all that she could to subdue her dog. She was very distraught, crying and very upset."

Once the small dog was free, "I scooped Caper up and ran as fast as I could back to the house," Miller said.

Then, Lew said, one of the pit bulls started to growl at him.

"I had my gun drawn," Lew said. "He bit my barrel at one point. He backed me up and confronted me, which everybody saw. He was literally 1 foot away from my barrel. I didn't want to shoot the dog, and the dog charged me and backed me up onto my property . . . on the porch."

No shots were fired. Several St. Petersburg police officers answered calls to the area, although no official report had been filed Tuesday afternoon.

Miller said he and his wife, Chandra, were babysitting two children, 8 and 5. Everybody packed into the car to take Caper to the Animal Emergency Clinic on 22nd Avenue N.

By then feeder bands from Jeanne were coming in, bringing gusts of wind and sheeting rain.

Because they were out in the middle of the storm, Miller said, a police officer stopped them on the way to the veterinarian's office, but he said the officer was "excellent. Please make sure to say that he was so professional."

Caper is "very sore," Miller said. "He's got a lot of swelling. But fortunately, he didn't have any puncture wounds. Caper's going to be fine, we hope."

Neighbors say the pit bulls are aggressive and frequently get loose.

In August 2003, Abel said, one of them bit his dog, April, a Maltese_poodle mix. Abel calls it "a little dust mop of a dog that sustained some pretty substantial injuries in her midsection."

The pit bull released April after he yelled at it, said Abel, who filed a complaint with Pinellas Animal Control the next month.

Public records show that the property is owned by Kevin O'Keife. The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles lists four people with that address: Kevin William O'Keife, Kevin Casey O'Keife, Garrett James O'Keife and Wendy Renea Parker.

Reached by telephone and asked about Sunday's incident, a man at the residence hung up after saying: "I'm real busy right now. I don't have time for this. Come on, now. Nothing serious happened anyway."

"It seems as though we've had a very colorful history at that address," said Linda Britland, a senior animal control officer with the county. "We have been out to this fellow's house three times since 1999."

County records indicate that four pit bulls, all up to date on their rabies inoculations, are at the address: Bonita, a black female; Kaya, a black female; Rebel, a brown and red female; and Smokey, a black male. Only Rebel has a current county tag.

"I've been trying to identify these dogs," said Britland, noting that the residents don't answer the door and fail to respond to requests for affidavits.

"It's all right to have pit bulls," she said. "There's nothing wrong with pit bulls. But if you can't control them, you shouldn't own them."

That's the point, Lew said.

"They're not out there siccing their dogs on anybody, but they seem to be oblivious to the danger we're in. They say they're nice dogs. They claim that they're great with children. I explain to them, "That may be fine. We see an aggressive side to the dogs also.'

"They've already attacked two of our neighbors' dogs and mauled them. We're all just scared. If you have dogs that are aggressive like this, they should be on chains."