When 5-year-old Ashley Ball tried to pet Brutus, a normally friendly Rottweiler walking past her Lansdowne row home on a leash three weeks ago, the dog attacked, grabbing her head firmly in his jaws, dragging her down and biting her scalp and left ear.
Ed Smith, Brutus' horrified owner, yanked the dog's leash as hard as he could, hoisting Brutus onto a parked car to free Ashley. But the child's bloody head and torn ear required 32 surgical staples to repair, her parents say, and she suffers from nightmares.
Today, the dog's fate rests in the hands of the county animal control board, which -- under the county's 4-month-old dangerous animals law -- has the authority to order remedies ranging from higher fencing to death for the animal.
Tougher laws are a trend locally and nationally, especially because of problems with poorly controlled, hostile pit bulls and Rottweilers -- descendants of dogs used by Roman legions to herd cattle and fight attackers.
Baltimore City last week enacted a tougher animal control law, prompted by several pit bull attacks.
Rottweilers and pit bulls were responsible for nearly half the 199 dog-bite related fatalities in the United States from 1979 to 1996, according to figures from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Baltimore County's shelter reports a six-fold increase in the number of those two breeds since 1994.
The first hearing under the new county law, April 21, resulted in banishment from the county of a chronically roaming, hostile Essex pit bull named Angel -- the subject of at least 12 reports to county police in the previous six months.
Brutus' case could pose a dilemma for the board, however, because Smith said his 5-year-old dog is well-trained, stays in his yard, and has never been a threat -- even to Smith's 5-year-old grandson, Justin.
Smith wants his dog back, plans to install a higher fence, and has notarized letters from nine neighbors praising Brutus and his owner.
Smith said the child ran up from behind, startling Brutus, while the girl's parents said the attack was face to face and unprovoked, occurring after the dog allowed other neighborhood children to pet him.
"I'm sick over it," said Smith, a 56-year-old welder who has offered to pay medical expenses and to fix the scratches on the neighbor's car. "He's not an attacker. I raised him to be a community dog."
Yesterday, Ashley played happily at home with her family's two large puppies -- offspring of the family's black Labrador retriever and another neighborhood Rottweiler. Her long blond hair concealed the healed scars barely visible on her head.
But Ashley's parents say her nightmares and new fear of animals other than the family's two puppies are proving harder to erase. Brian Ball, her father, said a recent family visit to a friend's rural house was punctuated by Ashley's terrified cries as she stood, trembling, on the host's dining room table, screaming in fear of a docile family dog.
"This is a child who had no fear of any animals," Ball said.
Her parents also remain shaken by the incident.
"It's been three weeks with no sleep for me," Ball said of himself and his wife, Charlene. "A few more seconds," he said, and his only child might have been killed or permanently injured.
Pub Date: 6/09/98