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Woman, dog survive 'vicious' pit bull attack

Animal Control conducting investigation

Posted: December 9, 2013 - 12:04am
Otis, a 10-year-old mixed breed dog, and his owner Bridget Kuhar wait to see a veterinarian for a follow-up appointment at Southeast Alaska Animal Medical Center Saturday afternoon. Both Otis and Kuhar sustained injuries when thee pit bulls attacked Otis on Wednesday.  Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Otis, a 10-year-old mixed breed dog, and his owner Bridget Kuhar wait to see a veterinarian for a follow-up appointment at Southeast Alaska Animal Medical Center Saturday afternoon. Both Otis and Kuhar sustained injuries when thee pit bulls attacked Otis on Wednesday.

After meeting her husband to bring him his guitar for his weekly performance at Wildflower Court on Wednesday, Bridget Kuhar decided to go for a quick walk with her dog Otis.

“I was going to meet my husband when he was done in like 30 minutes, and just go for a little walk to Twin Lakes and back and then go home,” the 43-year-old yoga instructor and musician said.

She had no idea that in a few moments she was going to be knocked over in a dog fight, lying down in a ditch and fighting to save her and her dog’s lives. They were attacked by three pit bulls that had gotten loose. It was such a brutal attack that one bystander who helped them described it as “the most violent, vicious thing I have ever seen.”

Kuhar said the incident began shortly into her walk with Otis, who was on a leash, as they neared the Southeast Alaska Regional Health building on Salmon Creek Lane off Hospital Drive. The three unleashed pit bulls were on the move, spotted Otis and began running toward them.

“I saw three dogs across the street and I knew that they were interested in my dog by their posture. They were moving as a pack sort of,” Kuhar said. “They started running toward us, there was a fence, I turned away and there they were and they were on him.”

Caught in the middle of the fight, Kuhar yelled at the dogs and tried to get them off 10-year-old Otis, a mixed-breed dog with Shepherd qualities that weighs about 55 pounds. Kuhar’s hands and arms were bitten in the process. She told herself to stay on her feet, but she was soon knocked to the ground.

“I was knocked off my feet, ... I could hear someone yelling, the owner, in the battle,” she said. “And it got pretty blurry after that. But I do know we were losing.”

In addition to the pit bulls’ owner, who was trying to help pull his dogs off Otis, the commotion attracted multiple people to the scene who were “freaking out” and calling 911 on their phones, Kuhar said. One person stepped in to help, Dr. Lindy Jones, a physician at Valley Medical Care, which is located about an eighth of a mile down the street.

Jones had been driving home from work and saw a car parked in the middle of the road. He stopped his vehicle, then saw the woman in the ditch on the side of the road “laying on top of her dog, screaming, and three large pit bulls aggressively attacking.”

“Two pit bulls were trying to rip the dog in half,” Jones said. “It was the most violent, vicious thing I have ever seen. And so the only thing that I could do was to try to pull the two pit bulls off the dog’s head and the woman’s arm.”

Jones said that, fortunately, the pit bulls had collars on. He was able to grab each of them by the collar and pull them off.

“I was very fearful of what was going to happen to me when they let loose of her and me,” he said. “But the other alternative was to let them rip apart the dog. I wasn’t sure if they were ripping her, too.”

Once the dogs were pulled away, Kuhar was able to get on her feet. Jones instructed her to run to his car for safety. She got in the car and closed the door. The pit bulls broke free from Jones and ran away, he said.

Blood was everywhere, and Jones rushed Kuhar — a stranger to him — to his clinic. He examined Kuhar, who had multiple major punctures on her hands and arms, placed gauze on her wounds and then took her to the emergency room. Otis, too, had multiple lacerations and was taken to a veterinarian.

“I was very worried about her because the implications of, one, being right in the middle of such a brutal and violent (attack) — it was very, very traumatic, I’m certain, for her — and two, her hand. She had multiple puncture wounds to her arms and hands,” Jones said.

In a phone interview this week, Kuhar said she took a few days off work to rest and that she is recuperating.

“Physically, I’m great,” she said, though her hand still hurts. She said psychologically, she is still shaken up.

Otis was “chewed up pretty badly,” she said, with bone exposed on his front leg, a ripped shoulder and several wounds on his head and ears, which have since been stitched up. But he is on the mend and doing great, she said. On a recent trip to the vet on Saturday, she called him a “superstar.”

“He had no major damage done, his organs were OK, nothing major,” she said. “I’m really grateful by that and surprised.”

 

The Animal control investigation

Gastineau Humane Society Executive Director Chava Lee said Animal Control began investigating the incident immediately. The investigation is now coming to a close, she said.

“Yes, there will be citations, and there will be sanctions put in place in order to protect the public,” Lee said. “And the owners of the dogs have been talked to and they know what’s going to happen.”

The investigation revealed that the three dogs escaped their enclosure on a business’s property — a fenced-in yard at Reliable Transfer Corp., a residential moving company. Lee said the fence did not completely confine the area and the dogs found their way out.

The owner of Reliable Transfer did not return phone calls seeking comment. One manager who answered the phone said one of their employees had been “staying here” at the time of the incident.

GHS, which is not a government entity but is contracted to perform animal control services for the City and Borough of Juneau, is not releasing the name of the owners of the pit bulls due to the ongoing investigation. Lee said the dogs are owned by a local couple, who are extremely upset over the incident. She said they are taking full responsibility.

“The owners of the three dogs who were involved in the attack, they are very upset about what’s happened, and they’ve come forward and they’re taking responsibility,” Lee said. “They’re trying to figure out what all their options are, how they’re going to deal with this is in the future and what they’re going to do.”

Lee said she does not want to diminish the seriousness of the attack, but that she wanted to credit the male owner of the dogs, who stepped in and put himself at risk trying to save Kuhar and Otis, much like Jones. She said the owner and Jones were “instrumental in breaking up the attack” and was courageous to step in. She said the owner of the pit bulls was also injured in the attack and has severe bite marks.

“The people who stepped into help her were pretty darn brave, including the owner of the dogs,” Lee said. “The attack went on for quite some time, almost five minutes. If you can just imagine how horrifying that must have been, that’s just an incredibly long period of time. ... They’re really heroes to protect her, and then in the end, once they got into it, they were having to protect themselves as well.”

“You don’t want to see a dog fight,” Lee added. “It’s loud, it’s scary and when dogs get into a frenzy, they’re getting serious about fighting.”

There was no single impetus for the attack, Lee said. She speculated it might have had something to do with the fact that some of the dogs involved were not spayed or neutered. Two of the three attacking dogs were unaltered. Otis is not neutered either, Lee said.

“From what we’ve been able to determine so far at this point, there doesn’t seem to be any single factor that caused them to attack other than they were off leash and unaltered, and this dog (Otis) was unaltered and possibly going to an area they thought was their territory,” she said.

“The dogs aren’t talking,” she said. “It could have been ‘wrong place at the wrong time.’ Who knows, but the point is here, had the dogs been on a leash or confined this wouldn’t have happened.”

 

Repercussions

The three dogs are currently being quarantined for rabies, which means they are being held at a private location and monitored by Animal Control officers for a period of 10 days. Two of the three dogs were already vaccinated; just one received its vaccination.

The location is not being disclosed for the dogs safety, Lee said.

“Obviously, this is really emotional,” Lee said. “We’ve got pit bulls involved, and there have been people who are in the community who are very anti-pit bull because they have a bad reputation. But they have an equally positive and loving reputation for people who own pit bulls who raised them as wonderful and loving dogs.”

Animal Control officers are reviewing regulations that may be enforced under Title 8, CBJ’s Animal Control and Protection Code also known as the “Dog Ordinance.” For example, there are regulations that allow for signs to be posted warning the public about the dogs. Other regulations can include ensuring the dogs are leashed at all times when they are not at home, or muzzled at all times when they are outside.

Animal Control itself does not bring criminal charges in such scenarios, Lee said. That option, however, is available to the victim if she decided to pursue it. Hypothetically, if that were to happen, Kuhar would file a complaint with the Juneau Police Department, which would investigate the case and make a recommendation to prosecutors, who would then decide whether to pursue charges.

The victim also has the option of pursuing payment of medical costs and veterinarian bills through civil court. In this case, though, an Animal Control officer said she was under the impression the owners of the pit bulls have already agreed to cover the medical costs.

GHS does not have the authority to decide whether dogs should be put down, Lee said, noting only a court has that authority and can make that decision. Lee said she’s only seen that happen three times in her 13 years at the shelter.

On Friday, Kuhar said she was not up for discussing what she would like to see happen going forward.

Jones expressed belief that these three dogs exhibiting pack behavior were a menace to society and that they present public health and safety concerns.

“This is a clear demonstration that it is unsafe for an individual to have three animals that are known to... show aggressive behavior by themselves,” Jones said. “It is unsafe for the community to have something like that going on. I think this individual needs to question, and us as a community need to question, whether owning multiple animals of aggressive breeds in such a way that it’s a danger to public safety. This was a totally unprovoked attacked. As bad as it was, that could have been a mom and her baby.”

“Some pit bulls are lovely,” he added. “But to have three of them is very dangerous for society. This is a clear example of that.”

 

More common than you think

Lee said this was the second dog attack in Juneau in a week’s span.

Six days earlier, on Thanksgiving, a person was walking four dogs off leash in the Douglas area. One of the dogs attacked a smaller dog — either a Shih Tzu or Pomeranian — that was being walked on a leash. Lee said the dog sustained serious injuries and died.

While the investigation into that case is still ongoing, Lee noted that dog attacks are more common than one would think.

“People have said to me, ‘Well, this sounds really strange that these two attacks happened,’ and it’s actually not as strange as it sounds,” she said. “Dog-on-dog attacks happen fairly frequently, and people get bitten when they’re trying to put their hands in between them and break up the fight. ... When dogs haven’t been socialized and they’re off leash and almost always unaltered, fights occur.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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