Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Diesel, a year-and-a-half-old pit bull, has been declared a dangerous dog ó a designation upheld Thursday by a three-person appeal board in Salisbury.
Animal Control Officer Ann Frye of the Salisbury Police Department declared the white and brown pit bull a dangerous dog after he bit a 7-year-old boy about the ear, head and neck, requiring 15 stitches.
The incident happened May 7 outside apartments in a common area at Colony Gardens, located off Statesville Boulevard.
Diesel’s owner, Whittney Smith, told the appeal board Thursday that her dog had been aggravated into the attack by the youngster, who earlier had been shooting and throwing plastic BBs at the animal from an upstairs balcony.
Later, she said, the boy walked downstairs to pet Diesel and was bitten after he grabbed the dog’s toy ball. She said the dog had been tethered to a pole on a flexible leash in a locked position.
“Diesel has never bit anyone before or, better yet, had any experiences like this before,” Smith said in a statement to the board. “I am very aggravated with what has happened because I believe that Diesel deserves another chance. He is a loving, playful, family dog.”
“I know that the animal shelter sees how friendly he is.”
Smith became emotional during her testimony Thursday afternoon before the City Council-appointed board, which included Councilman Bill Burgin; Dr. Cindy Almond, a local veterinarian; and Richard Kelly, risk manager for the city.
The appeal board is only appointed when someone challenges the animal control officer’s declaration of a dangerous dog. It voted 3-0 to uphold Frye’s ruling.
Frye said accounts differ on whether the dog had been tied up when the incident occurred.
“It depends on who you talk to,” she said. Even if the dog had been tied up, she added, the flex-leash would not have been heavy enough to serve as a “proper restraint” for a dog Diesel’s size.
The young dog is well-maintained and weighs about 45 pounds, she said.
Frye told the board that even though the dog has behaved fine at the shelter, the dog had a previous history with children. Smith also had been told by management at Colony Gardens that the pit bull, because of its breed, should not be on the premises, Frye said.
Frye expressed particular concern about the dog’s reaction to children.
“What’s going to happen next time?” she asked.
Smith described Diesel’s biting of the boy as “a fast reaction” because of his aggravation with the boy. Declaring him as a dangerous dog ó and all that goes with it ó is too harsh of a sentence and something she can’t afford monetarily, Smith added.
“I understand what he did was wrong,” she told the board.
Almond said it was unfortunate the dog was teased. But it’s also unfortunate, she said, that Diesel probably won’t be able to differentiate between children and will have memories of being teased, making it dangerous if not properly confined.
Kelly said he also was concerned that a trend seemed to be developing with children and, if the opportunity presented itself, Diesel might attack again.
Burgin said 15 stitches are a serious matter. If that were the dog’s first attack, he said, he would hate to see a second. Rules and bounds must be maintained between residents of a city and animals, Burgin added.
Any dog declared dangerous is required to be confined within a secure building or enclosure. A dwelling does not come under the definition of a secure building, according to Salisbury’s code.
Rather, a secure enclosure must consist of a chain link pen with a concrete bottom and secure top, and its door must be padlocked shut.
The pen must be posted on all four sides with visible warning signs to inform the public of the presence of a dangerous dog.
Warning signs must also go on the property as designated by animal control officers. Failure to comply could result in a $500 fine.
The owner has three weeks to comply with the requirements for confining the dog. In the process of meeting those requirements, the owner must keep the dog at a veterinarian’s office or the animal shelter, where Diesel has been staying.
Any dangerous dog cannot go beyond an owner’s or keeper’s property unless it is leashed and muzzled. Even in the presence of an owner and while on the owner’s property and not in a secure enclosure, the dog must be muzzled.
Any dangerous dog also must be identified with a permanent mark or microchip and at all times wear an orange collar marked “danger.” When off the owner’s property, it must be walked on an orange leash marked “danger.”
Testimony revealed that Smith hopes to transfer Diesel to her mother’s residence in Hickory after the dog has its appropriate rabies shot and a microchip.
But a transfer of the dog would not free it of the designation as a dangerous animal.
General statutes require Smith to provide written notice to the animal control officer in Hickory stating the name and address of the new keeper and a description of the dog’s past dangerous behavior.
Frye said Smith’s mother also would have to abide by whatever requirements Hickory has for the confinement of a dangerous dog.
After her investigation, Frye declared the dog dangerous on May 18.
Smith has 10 days to appeal the board’s ruling Thursday. Any further appeal would be heard in Superior Court.
“I don’t want this to happen to my dog,” Smith wrote the board. “He’s my world, and I don’t want to lose him.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka