Girl, 12, mauled by three pit bulls in Oak Harbor | Corrected

Coby, Tank and Nana - Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Coby, Tank and Nana
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

A 12-year-old girl was mauled and seriously injured when three pit bulls attacked her outside an Oak Harbor apartment on Feb 5.

Oak Harbor Police Chief Rick Wallace said the girl was driven to a residence on SE Midway Boulevard. The girl knew the 25-year-old woman and was there to pick up a vacuum.

But when the woman opened the door, her three pit bulls charged out the door past the woman and attacked the girl in front of the doorway. They bit her on the face, hand, chest and feet.

“She was seriously injured, but it wasn’t life threatening,” Wallace said.

Terry Sampson, the city’s animal control officer, said the dogs’ owner and a couple of other people who were in the home rushed out and managed to get the dogs away from the girl. He said one of the adults was also bitten and the owner reportedly suffered a muscle strain in the melee.

“Not to make any less of it, but it could have been much worse than it was,” he said.

Sampson was called to the scene to handle the extremely aggressive dogs.

“They weren’t very nice,” he said of the dogs. “The owner wanted the dogs out of the home too. She feared for her safety.”

Sampson said he heard that the girl is doing OK after the attack. He said the woman who owns the dogs was extremely upset.

“It’s a scary thing,” he said. “When three dogs get on something, it can be quite devastating for everyone who witnesses it.”

The three dogs were so aggressive that they had to be taken to the larger animal shelter in Coupeville where they could be more safety handled. Shari Bibich, the shelter manager for Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation, said the dogs are in a 10-day quarantine period to check for rabies.

“The dogs are very reactive and very stressed,” Bibich said. “The shelter is taking extreme precautions to keep the staff safe.”

Bibich said the dogs are two unaltered males and a female. She said the owner’s relative identified them as two pit bulls and a pit bull mix. The woman claimed the female dog, Nana, had been abused by a former owner.

The large male, named Tank, is the most aggressive and may have instigated the attack. The other male, Coby, is a young adult and is the calmest --- and friendliest --- of the dogs.

The dogs’ future is unclear. The owner could have the dogs euthanized. Otherwise, the animal control officer would likely deem the dogs as “dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs” under the city’s ordinance; that would require the owners to purchase special insurance, keep the dogs in a proper enclosure, put up a sign warning that a dangerous dog is in the area and microchip them.

Wallace said the incident is still under investigation, but the owner of the dogs could possibly face a civil infraction or even a misdemeanor criminal charge for failing to secure the dogs. He said there were no previous problems with the dogs reported to police.

The city of Oak Harbor abandoned its pit bull-related ordinance just over two years ago, but it appears unlikely that the controversial breed-specific ordinance would have prevented the attack. It required people to house pit bulls in a secure pen and muzzle the animals while on leash; the rule probably wouldn’t have prevented someone from having pit bulls in their home.

Yet South Whidbey resident Merritt Clifton, the editor of an animal-protection periodical called Animal People, took the opportunity to send the city administrator information about the prevalence of pit bull attacks. He said he’s been collating breed-specific dog attack data since 1982. He said his data clearly shows that pit bulls are consistently and disproportionately involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks, though critics have argued that such statistics are questionable because of the difficulty in identifying breeds.

“Pit bulls and close pit mixes have, since 1982, accounted for 45 percent of all U.S. and Canadian fatalities from dog attacks on humans, a total of at least 207; 51 percent of all dog attack disfigurements of children, a total of more than 850; and 66 percent of all dog attack disfigurements of adults, a total of more than 700,” he wrote in an editorial in his publication. “Since 2005, pit bulls have also accounted for 51 percent of all reported fatal dog attacks and disfigurements of pets and livestock.”

Clifton noted that Rottweilers also account for a disproportionate number of dog attacks.

Clifton said that the reason behind the prevalence of pit bull attacks is largely due to the dog’s breeding. The pit bull’s ancestors were bred to lack inhibitions in attacking larger animals, to attack silently and shake their victims.

“They were created in the first place to be dangerous,” he said. “They were created to fight.”

Clifton suggested that the city of Oak Harbor could look at Army and Marine Corps policies that certain breeds of dogs — including pit bulls and Rottweilers — are banned from military housing.

“The Army wanted to make sure that soldiers’ families were safe,” Clifton said.


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