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Juneau dog owner cited for attack

Three attacking pit bulls classified as 'dangerous'

Posted: December 12, 2013 - 1:11am
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Dogs that are classified dangerous must wear a "danger" collar, a large medal "dangerous dog" license and owners must post a dangerous dog sign at their residence.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Dogs that are classified dangerous must wear a "danger" collar, a large medal "dangerous dog" license and owners must post a dangerous dog sign at their residence.

The owner of three dogs that got loose and attacked another dog being walked on a leash near Hospital Drive last week has been cited for the incident, which injured both the leashed dog and its owner.

Animal Control Supervising Officer Matt Musslewhite said Wednesday that John D. Stewart, 44, was issued three citations — one for each dog — for “objectionable animal, injury to a person” following an Animal Control investigation. The citations are a non-criminal infraction.

The attacking dogs have also been classified as “dangerous” animals, a designation that allows Animal Control to enforce “pages and pages” worth of rules and regulations in order to protect the public from the dogs, Musslewhite said.

“When an animal is classified as either dangerous or potentially dangerous, we monitor those animals pretty much throughout the rest of their lives,” Musslewhite said, noting that while the investigation is now complete, their involvement in the case is just beginning. “It’s a lot of work from here on out.”

The investigation revealed three pit bulls escaped a yard that was not completely fenced in and attacked a 10-year-old mixed breed dog named Otis being walked by Bridget Kuhar, a 43-year-old yoga instructor and musician. The attack took place near the Southeast Alaska Regional Health building on Salmon Creek Lane off Hospital Drive.

Caught in the middle of the fight, Kuhar was knocked down and suffered multiple bite wounds to her hands and arms as she tried to protect Otis. Stewart reportedly tried to get control of his dogs, but was unable to. He sustained injuries as well. A bystander who came to their aid, Dr. Lindy Jones, was finally able to pull the dogs away.

Jones later described the attack as “the most violent, vicious thing I have ever seen,” saying the pit bulls were trying to rip Otis in half. Otis survived but sustained wounds to his head, legs, shoulders and ears.

Animal Control officials previously withheld Stewart’s name during the investigation. Musslewhite confirmed Wednesday Stewart was listed as the dogs’ legal owner.

Stewart could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. His phone number is not listed in the phone book, and his workplace said he was unavailable.

 

‘Dangerous’ dogs

Now that the dogs are deemed “dangerous,” they will be subjected to strict confinement regulations both inside and outside of the home, Musslewhite said.

At home, the dogs must be securely confined inside the premise. They may not be allowed outside in a yard unless they are in a five-by-10 foot kennel or other structure that is secured on all sides, or if their owner walks them on a short leash. They may not be tied up to any inanimate object in the yard.

Outside the home, the dogs must wear a muzzle and be restrained by a leash less than four feet long. The leashes and collars, which are provided by the Animal Control office, have the word “dangerous” on them.

“It makes it pretty blatant and obvious — not to mention, the muzzle — to someone walking near this animal that the animal should be steered clear of,” Musslewhite said.

The classification also means the owner is required to take out a liability insurance policy of no less than $100,000. The owner is also required to post signs at home warning the public about the dogs’ status. The dogs’ vaccinations must be kept up to date and they must be spayed or neutered. Two of the three dogs were unaltered when the attack occurred, and they since have been fixed.

Any violation of the regulations can land the dogs’ owner in court, at which point a judge could order the dogs’ to be euthanized, said Gastineau Humane Society Executive Director Chava Lee. Lee said GHS, which is contracted to perform animal control and protection services by the city, does not have that authority. She said the courts have ordered three dogs to be euthanized during her 13-year tenure at GHS.

An animal hearing board, comprised of five members of the public, also has the authority to order the euthanization of any domestic animal that is classified as dangerous, according to city ordinances. Lee said she has never seen that happen.

Any dog that bites a person or inflicts physical injury without provocation on public or private property is automatically classified as dangerous, Musslewhite said. Another automatic waiver is if a dog kills another domestic animal without provocation.

Another type of classification is “potentially dangerous.” That is reserved for animals that approach a person or domestic animal in a threatening or attacking manner without provocation, such as “chasing kids aggressively down the street,” Musslewhite said. A subsection of that is for dogs that are known to have a propensity to attack.

A dog owner can contest a dog’s classification status through the city’s animal hearing board. The board’s main purpose as an entity, according to the city, is to hear such appeals.

There is also a system in place to allow for dogs to shake their dangerous or potentially dangerous classification, although dogs must pass multiple classes and tests and obtain certain certifications.

“It’s a lot of hoops to go through, but that option is available to owners of dogs that have been classified as dangerous and potential,” Musslewhite said.

Musslewhite said there are currently 14 dogs classified as dangerous or potentially dangerous in Juneau. That’s including the three pit bulls in this case.

GHS has no documentation that the three dogs in this case had attacked anyone before this incident.

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

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