- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

PARTLOW, Va. — Dorothy Sullivan had been looking forward to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. The 82-year-old widow planned to whip up her family’s favorite Irish soda bread, and as a surprise her daughter made a festive green shirt decorated with shamrocks and a pot of gold for Mrs. Sullivan’s little dog, Buttons.

But the celebration would never happen.

Three days before the holiday, Mrs. Sullivan and Buttons, a Shih Tzu, were buried together in the same casket after they were mauled by three roaming pit bulls while Mrs. Sullivan was out for a walk in her front yard.

Since the March 8 attack, the dogs’ owner has been charged in Mrs. Sullivan’s death, a family has been ravaged by grief and community members who say they have been terrorized for years by wandering pit bulls are wondering why more was not done to prevent the tragedy.

?I’m lost without her,? said Betty Greene, 57, who found her mother’s body when she stopped by for a visit soon after the attack. ?I used to always say, even when I was a kid, if there’s a saint on earth, it’s her.?

Deanna Large, 36, who lives down the road from Mrs. Sullivan, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and three misdemeanor counts of allowing a dangerous dog to run loose. If convicted on all counts, she faces up to 13 years in prison.

It’s just the second time prosecutors in Virginia have sought involuntary manslaughter charges in a fatal dog mauling.

Dr. Karen Delise, a veterinarian who has studied hundreds of such cases for her book, ?Fatal Dog Attacks: The Stories Behind the Statistics,? found that the number of fatal dog attacks nationwide has held steady at an average of 20 a year, but prosecutors are increasingly charging the dogs’ owners.

?Within the last five years, there’s been a significant increase in owners being charged — it’s almost routine now,? Dr. Delise said. ?Law enforcement and the judicial system are realizing that, but for the negligence, but for the disregard [by owners], these things wouldn’t have happened.?

Miss Large, free on $10,000 bond, declined requests to comment for this story.

But many of those who live in this rural, woodsy community between Washington and Richmond did not hesitate to pin the blame for Mrs. Sullivan’s death directly on the negligence of the dogs’ owner — and that of authorities who they say largely ignored repeated complaints about pit bulls roaming the neighborhood.

Sullivan family attorney Ed McNelis said Mrs. Sullivan had called authorities before to complain that dogs had chased her into her house.

?What’s this world coming to when you can’t even walk in your own yard?? said Mrs. Sullivan’s neighbor, Mary Adkins, who said she called animal control several times to complain about roaming dogs.

Citing the criminal investigation, Spotsylvania County Animal Control Director William Tydings said he had to defer comment to Commonwealth’s Attorney William Neely, but did offer: ?It’s not all the way it seems.?

He would not elaborate, and calls to Mr. Neely’s office were not returned.

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