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When Pets Attack

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The author and Bonny.  

“What you’re dealing with is selective law enforcement,” says Marie Mar, an attorney and a board member of the animal-welfare agency United Action for Animals.

And here’s the unsettling thing: Dog experts will tell you that dogs who attack other dogs often go on to attack people around them as well. “Dog packs hone their hunting skills in a series of escalating attacks,” says Kenneth Phillips, an attorney and the author of several books on dog-bite laws. “They start with other animals, then often turn to humans, which means this could easily result in a dead adult or child and probably will.”

My neighbor Andrew Lauffer is the man who filed the bite complaint against Harry’s dogs with the Health Department. “There were so many of them I couldn’t see the ground around me,” he says. “They were all biting me, biting my dogs.” Harry’s pack cornered Bob Lee on an icy sidewalk, and ripped his dog’s flank. And 67-year-old Richard Foster was surrounded on his stoop. “Fourteen of them came out of nowhere,” he says. “They knocked me over and pinned me down so I couldn’t move.” Then they went after his dog. In response to the attacks, Bob, Richard, and at least ten other neighbors formed a group called the Neighbors Concerned With the Dog Pack Attacks. They spent two and a half years fighting to get Harry’s dogs taken away. They complained to the city and testified at community-board hearings in front of the Health Department (and Harry), but in the end they got sent in the same circles I did. Eventually they gave up.

One morning after Bonny came home from the hospital—after 87 stitches, more than a week in intensive care, and $7,000 in vet bills—my doorman called and said, “Don’t come downstairs—Harry’s dogs are pacing out front.” I grabbed my cell phone and ran downstairs, but they were gone. I called Animal Control. “Where are the dogs now?” the dispatcher asked. “I don’t know, but they can’t be far,” I said. “They’re probably headed for the lot.” Sorry, he said, “We can’t come pick up the dogs unless they’re loose and you know where they are.” Bonny was covered neck to tail in bandages, bruises, and stitches; she couldn’t walk; my neighbors were afraid to let their children outside, but no one would do a damn thing about the dogs.

That’s when I ran back to my apartment and did something most people can’t do. I called press offices, saying, “Hi, I’m a reporter writing an article about a pack of dangerous dogs that’s been roaming the streets attacking people and dogs for years. Numerous people have filed complaints with your organization, and I’d like to find out why nothing has been done.”

Suddenly, people paid attention. Sort of. Mainly, they made excuses: Budget problems. Not enough officers. Not our jurisdiction. When I called Ed Boyce, head of the veterinary branch of the Department of Health, I mentioned the relevant law, and he said, “I’m aware of it. I can only tell you that dog-to-dog attacks are not enforced by the Department of Health.” Who does enforce them? “No one enforces dog-to-dog.”

Okay, I said, so how about going after dogs because they bite people? Nope, he told me: The people who were bitten don’t count because they were with dogs, so the pack was probably going after their dogs and the people just got in the way.

“So you’re saying you’d rather wait until they maul a person?”

“That’s what you’re saying,” he told me. “That’s not what I’m saying.”

Elizabeth couldn’t talk about the attack until weeks after it happened. She and Bonny had been walking down 36th Street when three big brown-and-white hound dogs pushed open the gate of Harry’s lot and charged them. One grabbed Bonny by the head and lifted her off the sidewalk; the others took her hind legs and pulled in opposite directions. Elizabeth kicked the dogs and pounded their faces, yelling, “Somebody help—they’re ripping her in half!” No one responded. Five other dogs ran from the junkyard and latched onto Bonny’s face, tail, stomach, and throat. Harry eventually hobbled from behind the fence saying, “Don’t make trouble for me, I have a bad heart.” Somehow Bonny slipped away, flying up 36th Street toward home, her body torn open and bleeding, with eight dogs on her tail. That’s when she ran into the courtyard, where the pack cornered her until Ralphie came along with the two-by-four.

I replayed that scene in my head for weeks as I watched Harry’s lot, hoping his dogs would get loose so I could call 911 like everyone said I should. But it didn’t happen.

So instead I called Channel 2, the local CBS affiliate. That night, the evening news showed pictures of Bonny after the attack and me lamenting the city’s inaction. It showed the rickety latch on the junkyard and Harry saying the reason his dogs attacked Bonny was because “somebody opened the gate.” Most important, it showed Harry, standing in front of his lot, smirking and saying this: “If somebody opens the gate by mistake, they might attack somebody else.”

Still nothing changed. I called the mayor’s office again, the community board, the city council, you name it. They told me they’d look into it and call back. They didn’t. People started saying I should sue Harry. But for what? His rusted hot-dog carts? An injunction that would take years to get, and that he’d probably ignore?

So Harry’s pack is still going strong. A few weeks ago, a neighbor told me they cornered a group of children playing in front of the Javits Center. They barked and lunged until people heard screams and ran them off. A few days later, they tore apart another dog and attacked its owner, Hal Caplin, who ended up in the emergency room with twelve stitches in his face. He called the Health Department and the police and got the same old story. As have others. The Times recently ran an article about a group of neighbors on the East Side who’ve seen their dogs get attacked and beheaded by two Rottweilers, but the city gives them the same we-don’t-do-dog-on-dog line they give me. Maybe I’ll call them next, to see about challenging the city together.

So yes, I’m still obsessed with Harry and his dogs. I’m furious about what they did to Bonny, but this is about more than my dog. It’s about the city needing to fix a law—and a law-enforcement—problem. (Last week, City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz introduced a bill that would close the dog-on-dog loophole, but it remains to be seen if it will be voted into law.) It’s also about an autopsy I did ten years ago on a Rottweiler who killed a young girl. I had to sort through that dog’s stomach and take inventory: One long blonde braid with scalp attached. One child’s ear. That dog had a history of mauling other dogs. Just like the Florida pack that killed 81-year-old Alice Broom in her front yard days before Bonny’s attack. They’d terrorized Alice’s neighborhood for months, attacking people, mauling other dogs. Neighbors complained to authorities but got nowhere.

A few weeks ago, as Bonny and I walked up Ninth Avenue with my friend David, I saw four of Harry’s dogs trotting toward us. They were two blocks away, weaving through pedestrians during rush hour. Harry was a good half-block behind the dogs. Bonny didn’t see them; if she had, she’d have been gone. Because here’s the thing: After months of nursing, she walks and runs just fine. She may never regain full use of one hind leg, but other than that she’s fine, physically. Mentally is another story: She recently started wrestling with me again, but full contact terrifies her. And dog barks send her into a panic—she screams and flails, struggles to escape from her collar or bite through her leash so she can run home. So when I saw Harry’s dogs coming toward us, I handed David the leash. “Those are the dogs,” I said. “Take her across the street.”

As David and Bonny crossed Ninth Avenue, I stood in the middle of the sidewalk, facing Harry’s dogs, watching them run toward me. And I did what every city official said to do: I called 911.

“Are they attacking anyone right now?” the dispatcher asked. “No.”

“Sorry,” she told me. “Try Animal Control.” I called Animal Control, the Health Department, and the mayor’s office. I talked to a traffic cop, then called 911 again. Guess what they said: “Are they attacking anyone right now?”

“No,” I said, as Harry’s dogs ran past me toward the junkyard. “Would you rather wait until they do?”


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