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Pit bull attack revives enforcement issues

The Baltimore Sun

Neighbors often saw Ruby Pulley walking in her East Baltimore neighborhood, even lingering to eat berries from a mulberry tree. And it was there that she was mauled by two pit bulls Monday, according to witnesses who spoke with The Sun yesterday.

Pulley was bitten over 90 percent of her body. Her ear was nearly torn off and she was "covered from her feet to her head in gashes and blood," a relative said.

"They were attacking her like she was a piece of steak," said Lakisha Barnes, 30, a cousin of Pulley's whose backyard faces the yard where the dogs were kept.

Pulley, 53, of the 1000 block of Billie Holiday Court, was listed in fair condition yesterday after surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a spokesman said.

The attack follows recent debate at City Hall over the number of animal enforcement officers needed to control animal breeding and prevent fights and maulings in Baltimore. A 2000 evaluation by the Humane Society of the United States found that the city needed 41 full-time officers, including at least 28 on the street, to handle calls.

Baltimore has 11 animal enforcement officers. Officials are rushing to fill two vacancies as well as two new positions that will be created July 1 with the start of the new fiscal year. When those positions are filled, the city will have 15 officers, less than half the recommended number.

To bolster animal control, the city is trying to revamp its Vicious Dog Hearing Board, created in 1998 to review cases involving threatening dogs or those that have attacked humans. The board showed uneven results in the past and has not met recently because of staffing problems, according to a former member.

"We have had a difficult time finding true experts who were wiling to work on the panel," said Olivia D. Farrow, assistant commissioner of environmental health for the city.

She said the city is reviewing applications from three individuals who have applied to join the independent board, which would increase the number of members to six and could enable more frequent hearings, including some on Saturdays.

'All options open'

Farrow said yesterday that city officials were investigating the attack on Pulley and that the dogs' owner, Dominique Palmer, 17, of the 1000 block of N. Caroline St., had not been charged with any wrongdoing.

"We still have people at the house today interviewing witnesses and the owner," Farrow said. "All [charging] options are still open."

One of the dogs that attacked Pulley - a male named Tekk - was shot and killed by a special police officer. Witnesses said the officer yelled at Pulley to "be still" so he could get a good shot.

City animal enforcement officers took the second dog, a female named Shaday, as well as two other adult pit bulls and three puppies from the house Palmer shares with his mother, sister and other relatives.

The dogs were in quarantine yesterday at the city's animal shelter, where they will probably stay. Palmer said city officials told him he would have to pay roughly $300 per dog to cover licensing, vaccinations and other fees, and that he doesn't have enough money to pay for their release. City officials declined to comment.

Palmer said he did not witness the attack, but that based on experience, he blamed Pulley for teasing the dogs.

"If they feel threatened they will attack," said Palmer, who said he was breeding the dogs for sale to others in his neighborhood. He said he did not use the dogs for fighting but could not say what happens after he sells them.

A neighbor said that shortly before Pulley was attacked, children were seen throwing rocks and sticks at the dogs, who were often kept in Palmer's backyard.

The yard has a 6-foot-high fence, but the dogs apparently tore a hole and were able to escape. Palmer said the owner of the house his family rents was supposed to fix the fence.

Other witnesses provided accounts of the incident.

Tyrone Ayers, 48, of Baltimore, said he was getting into his car when he saw Pulley standing by Palmer's backyard. He said Pulley has a medical condition that requires her to use a catheter and that one of the dogs grabbed the bag and carried it away.

Pulley often talked to herself, Ayers said. He said Pulley took a screwdriver out of her handbag and threatened the dogs. He said he left before the woman was attacked.

"I didn't know she'd been attacked until I heard about it on the news," said Ayers. "Then I said, 'Thank God, I wasn't there to see it happen.'"

The concrete along Wade Court was still splattered with blood yesterday, and gauze and other first-aid items were strewn about.

Pulley "was in a lot of pain," said Barnes, who watched as the police officer shot the dog. Pulley's cousin said the animal staggered down the street before falling in a heap.

Neighbors' regrets

Neighbors said they had worried about the dogs for several months but had not filed any official complaints. They said yesterday that they regret that decision.

"Those people need to be investigated," said Gerald Lane, 49, of Cedonia, whose mother, Dorothy Molton, 72, lives two houses away from Palmer and his dogs. "They are responsible for that woman's condition," Lane said.

Lane said he told his mother, who likes to clean up the block, not to go outside when he learned that Palmer was letting the dogs roam free. Lane said one of the dogs attacked a cat recently and that the animal died under his mother's porch. When he asked Palmer to take the cat away, the teen refused.

"They have got to go," Lane said.

Palmer denied that one of his dogs killed the cat. "I don't know what he is talking about," the teen said.

Palmer said his dogs, including Kane and Mini, which were not involved in the attack, were not vicious. He said Tekk and Shaday had never attacked anyone before. Palmer said he was especially fond of Mini, who recently gave birth to three puppies. Mini was in the house at the time of the attack, Palmer said.

His sister, Martinique Freeman, 20, said Pulley sometimes lingered behind their house and that she would stomp her foot at the dogs.

"She would just keep doing it," Freeman said.

Neighborhood groups recently asked city officials to add two new positions to the animal control division, in part to address an increase in reports of organized dog fights, events at which individuals bet on dogs that fight to the death. In some cases, other dogs are used as "bait" to excite fighting dogs.

"This is very scary," said Chris Muldowney, vice president of the Lauraville Improvement Association, which worked with the Loch Raven neighborhood to gain added funding for the animal control division. "We actually feel that we are more endangered from the pit bull crisis in our city than from gun violence."

Janet Boss, a dog trainer from Ellicott City who sat on Baltimore's Vicious Dog Hearing Board for nearly six years, said she hoped the city would revitalize the panel. She said she resigned from the board in 2004 because she thought it was "a joke."

"The people they put on the board were so unqualified that there was no understanding of dog behavior," Boss said. "I felt they weren't really addressing the problem."

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