Two months ago, Deisy Cardenas’ 10-year-old son and his new puppy were attacked by a pair of pit bulls.
The puppy, Drake, is dead and her son, Max, has recovered, but she still has a question: Why did Animal Control later release one of the dogs involved in the attack?
“These dogs are very dangerous,” she said. “I’m concerned why the officers are letting this dangerous animal leave like that.”
Max took Drake for a walk on Oct. 6, while visiting his grandparents on Quail Woods Drive in Germantown, when the two were attacked by Shadow and Legion, two pit bulls. The dogs, according to police documents, belong to Joseph and Marina Martin, who according to the same documents, are unemployed and homeless.
Drake’s jaw and two legs were broken. After surgery to repair his jaw, he suffered a heart attack and needed to be euthanized. Max has recovered from the bites and scratches he received while trying to protect the puppy in the attack. But he is not the same.
“At this point, he is scared of every single dog he sees on the street. I can see how scared he is on his face,” Cardenas said.
Even now, Max doesn’t talk about what happened to him, preferring to play with the train ringing his family’s Christmas tree. His mother spoke instead.
“I feel so bad for people around this dog,” she said referring to Shadow, the dog that Animal Control later released.
Of the pair, Legion, was euthanized. Animal Control returned Shadow to the Martins’ son in Frederick County, with the designation of “potentially dangerous.” The designation means that it must be muzzled anytime it is off its owners’ property and an adult capable of controlling the animal must accompany it at all times.
As to Cardenas’ question, “that was a discussion I had with the County Attorney’s Office at the time of this incident,” said Capt. Michael Wahl, director of Montgomery County Police Animal Services Division.
Wahl said the dogs were staying with another person when they attacked Max and Drake, and that the owners showed they were acting responsibly and would comply with police restrictions in part because they relinquished the more aggressive of the dogs to be euthanized.
“Probably the most overriding circumstance that went into this was that this was the first incident involving this particular dog,” he said.
Cardenas said she and her lawyer have scheduled two hearings with the Montgomery County Animal Matters Hearing Board — one to review Animal Control’s decision to return the second dog, and another to determine damages from the Martins.
The Martins have been fined $500 for the incident, and charged another $532, the cost of impounding, transporting and boarding the two dogs.
“Why are these people allowed to have these dogs back?” said Steven VanGrack, Cardenas’ lawyer.
“The owners don’t even have the resources to pay for the injuries [they caused],” he said.
Police also issued six civil citations, totaling $2,200 to Christiana Ngozi Ikpemgbe, of Quail Woods Drive, who according to police was taking care of the animals when they attacked Drake and Max.
The hospital bills for Drake ended up costing more than $5,000, she said. Before Drake died, the family had raised several thousand dollars through an online fundraiser.
In 2011, there were 556 reported dog bites in Montgomery County, 58 of which were by pit bull breeds, Wahl said. However, 225 of the bites did not have a breed listed, so the number may well be higher, he said.
Pit bulls have come under earlier fire in Maryland after the state’s highest court ruled in August that a victim in a dog attack did not have to prove the animal had a history of vicious behavior, saying, in effect, that pit bulls and pit bull mixes are inherently dangerous.
The ruling made owners and anyone in a position to control the animal (including landlords) liable in case of an attack. The court later backed off part of the decision, removing pit bull mixes from the ruling.
Both houses of Maryland’s state government introduced legislation to try to address the ruling in last year’s special session, but were unable to find a compromise.
Maryland State Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase said he would be taking the issue up in next year’s regular session.
He called Maryland’s current law “antiquated,” adding, “We want people to have pets, but responsible pet ownership.”
The current law puts too much responsibility on the victims of bites, and not enough on the owners of dogs that attack people.
Del. Curt Anderson (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore said a special task force on the issue was scheduled to meet soon to try to find common ground between the two bills.