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from The Washington Post

    Mute Youth Couldn't Scream For Help as Pit Bulls Attacked
Teenager Had Taken Care of the Dogs Before, Owner Says

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Elijah Campbell couldn't yell for help.

When two pit bulls attacked the 13-year-old Sunday, he was tending to the dogs to help a family friend. The youth, who is deaf and mute, often helped take care of the dogs after dropping by Aaron Harris's business, Black Enque Tattoo & Piercings on Capitol Hill.

Harris, who owned the four pit bulls that lived in a pen behind his parlor, said he left Elijah alone with the dogs for a few minutes and was horrified to find the youth bruised and bloody on his return. A police officer later saw one dog with the boy's ear.

(continued below)

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Elijah remained in critical condition yesterday at Children's Hospital. Reports that surgeons had reattached the boy's ear could not be confirmed because his family requested that no additional information be released.

Sgt. Joe Gentile, a D.C. police spokesman, said officers are investigating the incident, which renewed debate over regulation of pit bulls in the District.

Harris, 29, said Elijah often stopped by his store.

"He'd come by twice a week or so," Harris said of the youth. "He'd bum some cash or help out around here."

Harris said that Sunday, he and Elijah fed the dogs and cleaned their pen. He added that he then left the boy alone while he ran through the tattoo parlor to retrieve Elijah's bicycle.

When Harris returned with the bike, "the dogs were just standing around him," Harris said. Elijah "was just standing there, bleeding."

Harris said he grabbed the youth and ran into his shop to call 911. Emergency workers who responded found the boy bleeding from lacerations to his legs and scalp and puncture wounds on his neck.

After Elijah was taken by U.S. Park Police helicopter to the hospital, an officer retrieved the ear, packed it in ice and sent it to the hospital, police said.

Harris turned in the four dogs to the District's animal control unit, and they were euthanized.

The incident is reigniting interest in restrictions on pit bulls, said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who introduced a bill in January that would ban the importation, sale and possession of new pit bulls in the city.

The bill, which awaits a hearing, would require pit bull owners to register their pets.

"It's a real tragedy that we have to wait until some little boy gets his ear ripped off until we take another look at this," Graham said. "These dogs are basically lethal weapons."

Pit bulls have a predeliction toward violence, Graham said, and safeguards are needed to prevent abuse.

Harris and other pit bull owners say the dogs have wrongly gotten a bad reputation.

"A lot of people want to portray pit bulls as mean and nasty, but they're not really that way at all," said Harris, who had owned the dogs for about three years. "These dogs are well known throughout the whole area here. I've never really had any problem with them before."

No one knows how many pit bulls are in the District, but Victor Chudowsky, an organizer of the DC Dog Coalition, estimated that there are 4,000 to 7,000. Chudowsky, who formed the coalition to oppose Graham's bill, said pit bulls -- a category that encompasses several kinds of dogs -- are usually well-behaved.

"A well-trained, well-socialized pit bull makes a good pet," he said.

Police and Harris said they didn't know why the dogs attacked the youth.

"I'm upset that this happened," Harris said. "I'm upset that this happened to a friend of mine."

Peggy Keller, chief of animal disease control at the D.C. Department of Health, said pit bulls accounted for 18 to 23 percent of dog bites reported to the city from October 1999 to September 2000.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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