Special Report filed by AAF Correspondent: Scott TingleyAnimal Attack Files Special Report
from the Bergen County Record

      Pit bull attacks 2 West Paterson girls

Friday, October 5, 2000


WEST PATERSON -- One moment, Christina Scala was petting a docile pit bull that had been found on the street. The next, the dog had locked onto the 12-year-old borough girl's left leg and was not letting go.

And in that frightening moment Thursday, a swift chain of events began that left Christina and a friend badly bitten, a residential street terrorized, and the dog shot dead by shaken police.

"All of a sudden, he started biting me," Scala said. "I was trying to walk out of the basement. He was holding on my leg and made a big gash. Everyone was hitting the dog with broomsticks and chairs. But it wouldn't let go. I thought it was going to eat my leg."

Scala and her friend, Lorissa Hebblinck, 11, were both treated at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center for multiple dog bites. Scala received 27 stitches and Hebblinck four.

The near-tragedy was eerily similar to an attack Sunday night in Hackensack, in which two 8-year-olds were bitten by a pit pull. The two youngsters remained in Hackensack Medical Center on Thursday. Bergen County authorities quarantined the dog because of a concern about rabies, and the owner may face a court hearing if she does not agree to have the dog humanely destroyed.

Scala, the daughter of Christina Scala of McBride Avenue, said Thursday night from her home that she had gone to Hebblinck's home a few doors down to catch the bus to school just after 8 a.m. The pit bull, picked up by a Hebblinck family member Wednesday in Paterson, was being kept in the basement until the family could find it a good home. The two girls decided to check on the dog.

But without provocation, Scala and Hebblinck said, the pit bull attacked. They tried to run from the basement, but the dog -- latched onto Scala's leg -- came along. At that point, Hebblinck's mother and sister started hitting the dog with anything they could get their hands on.

"At first, I heard the girls screaming," said Hebblinck's mother, Anita Rosenkrantz. "I thought they were playing. Then I heard a curdling scream and [Christina] yell for help. Then, I saw the dog latched onto her leg. My older daughter [Trisha] was kicking and punching to try to get it off. But it wouldn't get off."

Rosenkrantz said family members, using a broom, eventually were able to pry the dog from Scala's leg. Then the panicked group fled the house and tried to close the dog in, but it ran out the door, prompting the girls to jump into the family car.

The dog, however, managed to bite Hebblinck as she ran and then threatened the others before running across the street. There, according to police accounts, it tried to attack the owner of McBride Auto Body, Joseph Carioti, but Carioti retaliated by hitting the dog with a bat.

The dog then returned to Hebblinck's house and tried to get into the car, where the two bloodied youngsters were holed up. By that time, police had arrived. They said they managed to distract the dog long enough to scoop up the girls. They then shot the dog.

"This was a very harrowing experience for the officers," police Lt. Robert Reda said. "They saw these kids and saw they were bloody. They knew they had to get them out of the car."

Family members said they initially had been hesitant to take the dog for the night. But after Rosenkrantz's sister couldn't get the Paterson police or shelters in the area to take it, they said, she persuaded Rosenkrantz's son to take the dog for the night. Anthony Villanueva, the son, ended up with a summons for owning an unregistered dog, police said.

Rosenkrantz said the dog appeared to be a "cute puppy" on Wednesday night. The family fed the malnourished animal, and one family member even played fetch with it in the back yard.

But after it attacked Christina, Rosenkrantz said, nothing seemed to calm it down. It just kept attacking, she said.

"I was really scared," Rosenkrantz said. "I was throwing up, and my other daughter couldn't breathe. If the dog let go, I knew it would go after another person. I had three little girls here, and I didn't want any one of them to get bit."

Paterson Animal Control Officer John DeCando said later that residents should never take home a stray dog. It could pose a danger, and it's not their dog.

He advised them to turn the dog over to a shelter and then wait for seven days to see if the owner claims it. If not, they can adopt the dog. He said he received no call about the dog Wednesday.

"When you're dealing with a stray dog, you don't know its temperament," DeCando said. "The dog could be sick, and you could catch what the dog has. Let the professionals handle it. It could be nice one moment and then bite you the next."

Copyright © 2000 Bergen Record Corp.

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