By Noah R. Bombard
Laura Lacourse had seen the brown dog roaming her Vernon Hill neighborhood twice before. Sunday, crossing Esther Street on her way to a neighbor’s house, she saw it again. This time she stopped to check it out. It didn’t seem aggressive and as she spoke to it and put her hand out it mostly just ignored her. Until two dogs from a nearby lot started barking. Then it attacked.
“He jumped right up into my face,” Lacourse says.
One tooth made a gash near Lacourse’s eye and another set of teeth sunk into her gums. The dog released, Lacourse stumbled to a neighbor’s lawn with blood streaming down her face and someone called 911.
The incident comes five days before the city’s controversial dangerous dog ordinance goes into effect. The ordinance is designed to target pit bulls and other dangerous dogs through increased licensing and registration requirements and mandating that dogs meeting the definition of pit bull must wear a muzzle when being taken off an owner’s property. Opponents say the ordinance unfairly targets one breed of dog. Many proponents point to city statistics showing that, as of last September, 46 percent of all reported dog bites in the city were caused by dogs identified as pit bulls — a term used to describe several breeds of dogs as well as mixed breeds with similar characteristics. It’s a statistic that’s been increasing.
Lacourse says the dog that attacked her was a pit bull. She’s familiar with the type. She owns one herself, though it wasn’t with her at the time that she was bitten.
Lacourse’s roles as both bite victim and owner in many ways exemplifies the complexity behind trying to create ordinances to deal with dangerous dogs. She agrees that safety boils down to people being responsible dog owners and not abusing their animals. But she also supports the city’s new regulations.
“You can take an animal away from its normal habitat, but you cannot take the animal out of the animal,” she said Sunday afternoon after returning from the hospital where she was treated for her injuries and received a tetanus shot following the attack. “We can’t read their minds.”
Lacourse says she is lucky the dog released her and she was able to get away.
Lacourse’s own dog is friendly, she says, but she muzzles it when off her property. No one she’s talked to knows who the dog that attacked her belongs to. If they see it again, she says, they’ll call Animal Control.
But one of the issues surrounding setting dangerous dog ordinances is enforcement. The dog that attacked Lacourse was not muzzled, but it was also off leash and roaming the neighborhood, a clear violation of current ordinances. Then there’s the issue of targeting pit bulls.
Christine Wardell lives down the street from Lacourse. She’s also a pit bull owner, but opposes the new city ordinance. She doesn’t oppose muzzling, but objects to the targeting of a specific breed.
“I just think it should go across the board,” Wardell says. “There are two rottweilers down the street that are twice the size of my 14-year-old.
“I was attacked by my own dog when I was 8 years old and my dog was half lab, half German shepherd and it tore my jacket to pieces.”
The one regulation for all idea, however, runs afoul of some pit bull owners who say their sweet-natured dogs shouldn’t be penalized for bad owners and other dogs’ actions. And no one really wants to see a Yorkie with a muzzle.
As the city tries to weed out bad dogs from good ones, even owners can’t always tell the difference. Wardell admits that when she sees a pit bull she doesn’t know walking down the street, she’ll cross to the other side.
Lacourse says she doesn’t think the dog that attacked her has been located. A call to the animal control officer Sunday afternoon was not immediately returned. Lacourse says the dog that attacked her was brown with a white neck, was wearing a collar and appeared to have tags.