The owner of two pit bulls that attacked a 16-year-old girl near her home in Park Heights this week said yesterday that the dogs got out by digging under a 6-foot fence.
Remus Medley, 37, said he and his girlfriend had never had any trouble with their 5-year-old female pit bulls named Eva and Lady -- house dogs, he said, that grew up peacefully around his girlfriend's children.
But about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, the dogs jumped on a 16-year-old girl who had been walking in an alley behind the 2600 block of Loyola Southway, where Medley's family lives.
The girl was bitten on her head, face, neck and arms, health officials said. Medley, who said he and his girlfriend were not home at the time of the attack, said his girlfriend's 17-year-old daughter was able to call off the dogs and alert emergency workers.
Yesterday, the 16-year-old was alert and talking at Sinai Hospital, health officials said.
"This is just overwhelming for us," Medley said. "My heart goes out to the little girl. I don't even know how to face the parents."
Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the city's health commissioner, called the incident "by far the most serious attack" he'd seen in his year and a half at the post, prompting him to call a news conference yesterday to discuss pet owner responsibilities.
"We want people to know we take these cases very seriously, and we will investigate," Sharfstein said afterward. "Owners need to make sure their dogs are well-trained and not running loose."
This particular case seems more complicated, said Bob Anderson, director of animal control.
Anderson said that Medley had no previous contact with city animal control. There were no signs of cruelty, and the dogs were in good health, Anderson said -- unusual characteristics for animals that turn vicious.
"It's difficult to point a finger and say they are evil people," Anderson said. "There's a big question mark right now as to why did the dogs get out and why did they attack."
Animal control officers are investigating, and criminal charges could be filed. Medley faces six citations carrying a total fine of $350, Anderson said. The citations are for improper restraint, failure to have city dog licenses and failure to have the dogs vaccinated against rabies.
The lack of rabies information prompted Anderson to have the dogs euthanized Thursday morning. Test results that afternoon showed the dogs were not rabid, he said.
Before the Medleys moved into their house on Loyola Southway this year, they had a 6-foot fence professionally installed. Medley said yesterday that he believes the $1,800 fence was improperly installed.
Health Department statistics show that animal control has investigated 350 dog-bite cases since July. In that time, more than 2,500 residents have called 311 to complain about animals at large, and almost 3,000 residents have called to report aggressive animals.
Penalties for allowing dogs to run loose range from a $100 citation to a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000.