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Pit bull involved in owner's death had bitten before

City animal control officers had seized the pit bull earlier this year that was involved in a fatal attack on its owner early Friday, but returned the dog because they "did not feel the dog was a threat to the public," according to a statement from officials Sunday.

After the previous attack, the dog owner who died Friday, 56-year-old Terry Douglass, "was adamant in getting the dog back, so after vaccinating it for rabies, we returned the dog after the quarantine period was up," said a statement from the Baltimore City Health Department, which oversees animal control.

Animal control officials said the incident in April occurred after food was dropped on the floor. A nephew of Douglass' went to pick it up and was bitten, and Douglass was bitten when she tried to intervene.

There was no dangerous/vicious dog hearing conducted. According to policy, such hearings are scheduled only when investigators find certain circumstances, such as a bite history, the animal appears aggressive or the animal is considered a danger to the public.

Officials said they do not have special rules for pit bulls, noting that any breed has potential to bite.

"Baltimore City Animal Control supports responsible pet ownership and not laws that single out a specific breed," a statement read. "According to the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], nearly 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. Dog attacks often result from multiple factors; it is not necessarily the breeds themselves that are dangerous. This is a tragic situation for Ms. Douglass and her family."

Douglass' daughter Tamathia Davis said other family members did consider this animal a threat and pleaded with animal control not to return Boosie, a 4-year-old male pit bull that Douglass had raised from a puppy.

To get her mother to give up the dog, Davis said she wouldn't let her 1-year-old son visit from their home in Pennsylvania. She also said she asked the landlord to ban the dog.

"She loved that dog unconditionally," said Davis, who said Friday's incident was actually the third time the dog had attacked her mother.

Douglass, of the 2000 block of E. 30th St. in the Coldstream Homestead Montebello neighborhood, had cerebral palsy and had been using a wheelchair for the past two years because of knee and back problems.

Although Douglass hadn't previously been a dog lover, she quickly grew attached to Boosie, Davis said.

"My mom had gotten to a point in her life when she felt like her kids didn't need her any more, and she latched onto this dog," Davis said.

Davis said the dog first attacked her mother about two years ago, biting her face so savagely that "whenever my mom would open her mouth, her cheek would open with it."

Torian Wellsey, Douglass' nephew, said he was once attacked by the dog, which his aunt originally got for protection.

"The dog was a vicious dog," Wellsey said. "She thought she could control it and she couldn't."

In the most recent attack, Davis said, her stepfather was home but couldn't stop the attack. He tried unsuccessfully to revive her with CPR, she said.

Wellsey said his aunt tried to stand from her wheelchair to reach for a glass of water but fell onto the ground when the dog attacked.

"He ripped her apart," he said.

Davis could not explain why the dog would turn on the woman who had raised it with tenderness.

"I know that my mother has been nothing but good to this dog," she said. "My mom loved this dog so much, this dog would sleep in the bed with her."

The family does not know how it will pay for the funeral, Davis said, because Douglass had been unable to keep up with payments on her life insurance policy.

Still Davis said she hoped that people would not judge all pit bulls as a result of this attack.

"I don't hate all pit bulls because not all pit bulls are bad," said Davis, who added she owns and loves her own pit bull that she also raised from a puppy. She said the dog has never been anything but gentle, even with her young son. She said she does look at him a bit differently now, and probably will take new precautions or consider finding him a new home.

Davis said her mother feared the dog would be destroyed if she gave him up, and she loved Boosie like her family. "She's probably in heaven saying he didn't mean to do it," Davis said.

Wellsey said his aunt loved children and raised Davis, himself, his mother, and his mother's other two children. She had three grandchildren, Wellsey said.

"That's what she lived for, she lived to raise her kids," he said.

University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center, where the most serious trauma victims are taken, reported that in fiscal 2013 there were fewer than 10 dog or human bites, but couldn't separate out pit bulls.

Many large breed dogs can do extensive damage when they bite, said Jennifer Brause, executive director of the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, the nonprofit animal shelter that shares a building with animal control and cares for seized dogs in Baltimore.

Boosie was housed at BARCS' facilities during the quarantine period, but the city's animal control department made the decision to return the dog.

Brause said pit bulls make the news most often because they are the most popular dog in the city and they are large enough to cause serious harm.

She did not know Boosie and said she did not know why the dog bit its owner.

"There is usually a reason," she said. "If the dog is possessive of food, you know you have to be careful and watch the dog. … I hope people remember that any animal can bite. You need to know the boundaries for your dog and make sure they are cared for properly.

"We see thousands of pit bull-type dogs at our shelter and they're wonderful," she said. "We don't want people to look at that dog and say they bite."

In this case, the dog was tranquilized by police and died shortly after.

Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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