- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 11, 2012

Four pit bulls attacked a District Heights woman Saturday in a Northeast apartment, according to a D.C. police report, sending her to the hospital with “multiple bite marks, scratches, and bruising.”

The attack sheds more unflattering light on a breed that has caught the attention of advocacy groups and legislators for reports of bad behavior.

The attack occurred at about 5:15 p.m. in an apartment in the 1200 block of 16th Street Northeast. The 30-year-old victim told police that she was alone in a bedroom when she opened the door. According to the police report, four pit bulls entered the room “and attacked her by biting and scratching.”

The woman fell to the ground and fought off the dogs, but not before her legs and upper body were injured, according to the report. She was found conscious, but bleeding. She was able to walk to the ambulance. The dogs were taken into custody by animal control officers.

A phone number listed for the victim was out of service, and the owner of the dogs was not at home at the time of the attack.

The pit bull attack was one of several reported in the D.C. area this year.

In October, a cocker spaniel mix was attacked by two unleashed pit bulls in the Petworth neighborhood of Northwest. A 10-year-old boy and his puppy also were attacked last month by a pair of pit bulls.

Early this summer, a 74-year-old man was attacked by two pit bull mixes as he walked past a towing company’s chained parking lot in Northeast. In the spring, several children were menaced by a pit bull while they waited for their bus in Chesterfield County, Va.

The District is one of more than 30 states that enforces strict liability for dog attacks, but it was in Maryland this year that a decision handed down by the Maryland Court of Appeals that deemed the breed “inherently dangerous,” that spurred pit bull advocates into action and has kept the breed in headlines.

“People are looking at pit bulls and so consequently you’re going to hear about everything that happens with pit bulls. [This weekend’s attack] is not helping anything,” said Frank Branchini, a member of the Maryland Votes for Animals board of directors.

In Maryland, legislators have been working to put together legal guidelines regarding pit bulls as pets and the potential liability of their owners if the dogs attack.

Maryland Votes for Animals is one of several advocacy groups that have taken a stand against what they say is unfairly labeling a breed, burdening not only the dog, but owners who could find themselves choosing between their dog or home because of expensive insurance policies mandated by landlords or apartment management.

As the Court of Appeals ruling stands, only pure-bred pit bulls are considered “inherently dangerous,” meaning that regardless of a pit bull’s temperament or history of biting, an owner is liable if his dog bites someone.

The problem with the ruling — which was amended by taking pit bull mixes off the list of dangerous dogs — is that “there is no legal definition of a pit bull,” Mr. Branchini said. “There are seven pit bull types recognized. The revised decision didn’t specify which of the seven breeds they are talking about.”

Regardless of the type of pit bull the court was referring to, Mr. Branchini said, the problem now is that pit bulls are in the news and “people are saying they have a questionable temperament.”

“If something happens, people go, ‘Was it a pit bull?’” Mr. Branchini said. “The real issue here is that dogs are capable of seriously injuring people, and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed in a more productive way.”

The skepticism surrounding pit bulls is not lost on Adrianne Lefkowitz, executive director of the Maryland Dog Federation, who explained that “there is no over-arching breed trend or issue,” but rather, the blame for a dog’s behavior lies with its owner.

“If you allow a dog to behave inappropriately or not respect people, that’s what you’ll have,” Ms. Lefkowitz said. “If you teach it what is expected, you’ll have a mannered dog. It has nothing to do with the breed. A dog is ultimately its owner’s responsibility and not a reflection of other dogs.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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