Pit bull spared, but is it the right decision

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Photo above: Gabby, my rottweiler that had to be put down. Photo by Christine Smith

Anyone who has read my previous articles, follows me on Twitter or Facebook, will be surprised by my opinion in this column.

Kevin Vicente, a four-year old child, was severely mauled last month by a pit bull named Mickey. While under the care of a baby sitter, the child went in the backyard where the dog was chained and picked up the dog’s bone. The dog attacked him leaving him with a broken eye socket and jaw as well as torn facial skin. He will need years of reconstructive surgery.

Screen shot from YouTube video of newscast
Screen shot from YouTube video of newscast

Guadalupe Villa filed the vicious dog court petition starting the case against Mickey. Her boyfriend’s mother was watching the child at the time of his being attacked and stated that Mickey had previously killed one of her dogs.

A Facebook page was set up called “Save Mickey.” There is a comment below a photo of the sad looking Pit Bull behind cage bars: “Mickey is facing death because an unsupervised child went into Mickey’s property while Mickey was enjoying his bone. The child tried to take his bone.”

The page has 70,884 likes and over 65,000 people have filed a petition to have Mickey spared from being put down. Over $6,000 has been raised in support of keeping Mickey alive.

Last I checked, there were three lawyers representing Mickey. One said in an interview that he wouldn’t suggest that the dog be adopted by a family with small children, but people who have experience with pit bulls. If an ideal childless couple adopted Mickey, couldn’t this same situation happen again? They could let him out in the back yard and a child could jump the fence to retrieve a ball accidently thrown over the fence or numerous other scenarios.

I love that so many people have come forward in support of a pit bull. As I stated before I’ve chased numerous pit bulls I’ve seen loose in traffic, endangering myself running in front of cars to prevent them from hitting the dog, sometimes chasing them for more than half an hour until I finally caught them and carried them to my car to get them help without an ounce of fear that they would turn on me. I’ve adopted numerous dogs that were supposed to be put to sleep after rescue groups had given up on them for being too vicious. I kept the ones I felt would be too dangerous to be adopted and found homes for the rest.

Mickey, the pit bull (Screen shot from YouTube video of newscast)
Mickey, the pit bull
(Screen shot from YouTube video of newscast)

Most dogs can be rehabilitated. But children’s safety needs to come first. I wanted to explain why I fell putting this dog to sleep is the right decision from my own experience with a Rottweiler I rescued that was supposed to be put to sleep for attacking people.

When I adopted her she had already attacked a woman right before I got there. I convinced animal control let me take her, after signing numerous paperwork declaring that I knew she was a danger to myself and others and wouldn’t hold Animal Control responsible for anything she could do. Like everyone supporting Mickey, I didn’t feel it was fair for her to be put down because her owners made her mean. I felt had to adopt her.

Mine was the “perfect” home for a dog like her. No children, big fenced in back yard, experience with dangerous dogs. I was the type of person Mickey’s lawyer is suggesting he go to.

She always acted like a puppy towards me; she was very sweet, loved tummy rubs and playing fetch. She gently played with my three-pound cat and small dogs, even though the cat would constantly scratch her across her nose. She acted like a mother dog to a pit bull I rescued that was raised to fight. She would pin her like a mom dog would pin her puppies when the pit would play too rough with the other dogs. I loved her very much. But no amount of training or socialization was able to remove her drive to attack other people.

My best friend was staying with me when I got her and had to move out for her own safety. If I were in the room, the dog was just as nice to her as she was to me. The second I left the room she would go for my friend’s throat. Everyone who met the dog was terrified of her and wouldn’t be in my house with her. But she loved me and I wasn’t afraid she ever would hurt me.

When my parents would visit I had to keep a metal leash. Even the “bite proof” leashes she would bite through in one snap of her teeth and go after anyone visiting. She weighed almost as much as I did and I’d have to hold her back with all my strength, she wanted to attack them so badly. She also ate through a bedroom door trying to get to someone who stopped by.

Kevin Vicente (Photo from Facebook)
Kevin Vicente
(Photo from Facebook)

For years I was able to keep her from hurting anyone. When she was older she was diagnosed with cancer and her aggression turned worse. I let her out in the back yard to go to the bathroom. When I went to let her back in I saw she had knocked down the fence and was gone. I can’t tell you what a horrible terrifying feeling it is driving searching for your dog praying with all your heart she hadn’t found a child or person to injure or worse. My dog would have injured a child or adult like Mickey did in a second given the chance.

Twice more she head butted the fence so hard the whole panel fell. She saw a neighbor outside and wanted to go after them. Every time I let her in the backyard I stayed with her the whole time after her first escape so I caught her instantly, but if she had wanted to run I wouldn’t have been able to catch her in time if a child was next door or across the street.

The third time I had to take her to the vet to get her head stitched. The vet asked, “You have children in your neighborhood right?”

It was heartbreaking. I knew for the safety of the children there was no choice but to put her down. I couldn’t live with myself if a child was disfigured or killed because I loved my dangerous dog too much to think about living without her.

It still took me at least a month of watching neighborhood children run through my front yard and numerous times she almost escaped when she’d try to push past me to get out the front door, for me to finally accept she needed to be put down.

Christine with a rescued pit bull. (Photo by Christine Smith)
Christine with a rescued pit bull.
(Photo by Christine Smith)

For days I stayed home to be with her before taking her to be put to sleep. I was so upset she knew something was wrong and she wouldn’t get out of the car. The vet had to come outside and put her down, with me holding her head in my arms. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. But I thanked God I wasn’t putting her to sleep after her attacking someone if she had succeeded all the times she tried. I couldn’t imagine facing the parents of a child my dog would have eventually severely hurt. I would have never been able to forgive myself knowing a child was injured and it would have been my fault.

That is why the story about Kevin Vicente touched me so much. I’m not saying this dog tried to get away to hurt people. He was chained in his yard. But when he did have access to a child he severely hurt him. Yes the child took the dogs bone and people are saying Mickey “did what dogs do.” But that’s not what dogs do. Dogs don’t grab a child by the head and shake him.

There are so many pit bulls in every shelter across the US that have been proven to be safe, but are put to sleep every day. The money people generously donated to help Mickey would be better spent helping find homes for all the wonderful and safe pit bulls. Or to help raise awareness of what a great breed they usually are and help the pubic be aware that in general, they are wonderful family dogs. It’s just the few who make the news from bad owners that make so many people afraid of this breed.

I don’t know what the outcome could be if he is allowed to be adopted out. Is our legal system going to have to keep track of him, that he is with the family that adopted him the remainder of his life? Would that family be legally liable if he injured a child again? Or worse, will his life be spared only to have to stay confined in a shelter the remainder of his life where quantity of years will matter more to people than quality of life?

So many people are blaming the poor woman who was watching the child, saying that it is her fault the child was attacked. He was playing outside with a friend. How many people with children let them outside without visually watching them the entire time? And just rely on hearing them play as a sign they were safe.

Screen shot from YouTube video of newscast
Screen shot from YouTube video of newscast

It’s a horrible situation for everyone. She is going to feel guilty the rest of her life. The child is disfigured, in pain and will have to endure multiple surgeries. The dog, who spent his life chained in a yard, is now caged in a shelter waiting for his fate to be decided. The safest outcome for this dog is to be put down so this doesn’t happen again. The outpouring of love from people towards him can be used to help other pit bulls.

********* Update *********

I wrote this column earlier this week. Yesterday I read online a judge decided Mickey will live the rest of his life in an animal shelter without the possibility of adoption. His canine teeth are going to be pulled out, but now the judge decided his teeth will be ground down. An animal rights group has 30 days to find a rehab center or animal shelter for Mickey to live. After living his whole life outdoors, even though he was on a chain, he will now live the rest of his life in a cage.  Is this a win for anyone?