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Animal Attack

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    Policy on vicious dogs is working, officials say

Monday, August 28, 2000

Following two pit bull attacks last week, city officials say they're sticking to their strategies for combatting vicious canine behavior in Boston neighborhoods.

A Boston police officer shot and killed a pit bull near Franklin Park Saturday night, after the dog attacked a woman, turned on its owner, and then lunged at the officer, according to police and witness accounts.

Boston Police spokesman Thomas Sexton said the incident, the second in a week, is still under investigation.

But Carol Brennan, a spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said, ''The city is not concerned at this point that there's any increase in vicious dog attacks.''

On Tuesday, an attack by two pit bulls on Helen Street in Dorchester sent three sisters to the hospital, including Chantay Sylvia, 18, who gave birth prematurely to a baby girl following the attack.

Last week, Steve Crosby, the head of Boston's animal control unit, said the owner of the dogs in Tuesday's attack could be charged and the pit bulls could be euthanized. A hearing will be held in the next few weeks, Sexton said.

Despite last week's attacks, Brennan said, the ''vicious dog'' ordinance passed in 1996 has taken hundreds of dangerous dogs off the streets.

''It's unfortunate that two of these happened within the space of a week of each other,'' Brennan said. But, she said of the ordinance, ''I don't think it could get much stronger than it is.''

Brennan said the ordinance gives animal control officials the right to seize any dog perceived as a potential threat to anyone.

The recent dog attacks prompted Lynn resident Peter Wilson, whose 2-year-old son P.J. was badly mauled in June by a pit bull at the home of his day-care provider to work harder for legislation to protect children from attacks.

Wilson said yesterday he would ask state Representative Steven V. Angelo, Democrat of Saugus, to file a bill in the fall legislative session that would ban all dogs except guide dogs from home day-care settings.

''We're not doing anything about an obvious problem,'' he said. ''I know what it can do to a family.''

Owners often have no idea how to handle vicious dogs, said Wilson, 26. ''I think people should be trained as to how to train them. ''

Though these are the first serious dog attacks in Boston in several years, Crosby noted, data show that pit bulls have accounted for a large percentage of fatal dog attacks across the country.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta found that pit bulls were involved in 70, or 35 percent, of the 199 fatal dog attacks that occurred in the United States from 1979 to 1996.

Boston was not alone in pit bull attacks last week. In New Jersey, a pit bull bit an 83-year-old woman's ear off and caused her to break her hip. A 7-year-old girl needed 400 stitches in her face after a pit bull attack near Portland, Ore. And a 71-year-old man and his dachshund were mauled by two pit bulls as they walked outside a senior citizen center near Washington, D.C.

The debate over what to do about the aggressive breed also rages in Europe. Britain banned pit bulls in 1991, and France has strict rules as to where pit bulls are allowed and how they are controlled.

© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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