Assault worries dog owners

Investigators with the Island County Sheriff’s Office are searching for a man who assaulted a woman at a South Whidbey dog park Friday, but then was chased off by her pooch.

At approximately 11 a.m., a Langley woman was walking with her dog when she was assaulted by a man she did not recognize, according to Sheriff’s Deputy Laura Price.

“She felt somebody grab her left arm and turn her around,” she said.

According to Price, the woman was the only person at the park at the time of the incident. When she had arrived, she and her dog had played in the fenced-in grassy area before taking a walk on a wooded trail in the park. It was on the trail where she was grabbed from behind by a white man, who is described as being 5-feet, 8-inches to 6-feet tall.

The woman’s dog came quickly to her aid.

“The dog growled and latched on or bit his left arm,” Price said.

Price said the man then ran in the direction of Becker and Bayview roads. The woman grabbed her dog’s collar to prevent it from chasing the man, then headed back to the open grassy area near her vehicle.

Unable to get a signal on her cell phone and finding no one at the park, the woman went to her place of work and contacted the sheriff’s office.

The woman who was assaulted — who wishes to remain anonymous — said after the man spun her around she screamed.

“I was so shocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen him before in my life.”

Jan Smith, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said they are following several leads to find the assailant. She said the woman was lucky to have escaped unharmed. “Fortunately she had her dog with her and that’s what scared him away,” she said.

On Monday, several people at the Off-Leash Park said they were not going to let the incident deter them from going to the park.

“I’ve walked that trail many times when I’ve been here alone,” said Bettie Holtby.

Holtby’s husband, Ken, said that of the people he knows who frequently go to the park, none will be deterred by the assault.

“We’re here nearly everyday,” Ken Holtby said.

Other parkgoers are going to be more cautious in future visits. Freeland resident Jackie Petri said the idea of such an assault wasn’t something new to her.

“I’ve thought about that when I’ve come by myself,” Petri admitted.

She said her dog is not aggressive, but forced into a situation where Petri’s safety was threatened, the dog might react in the same way the Tibetan mastiff did. “I think they will do that,” Petri said. “They can feel and sense when something’s wrong.”

Petri said she will continue to bring her dog to the park, but will exercise more caution when she visits.

“It’s such a wonderful place to bring your dog,” she said.

Freeland resident Amber McDonough said she had slowly let her guard down after moving to Whidbey Island a few years ago. But she too will take more precautions when visiting the park.

“If I’m the only one at the park then I won’t stay,” she said. “Now I’m back to being much more cautious.”

McDonough said she feels many other frequent parkgoers will use more caution, and keep a friend with them on walks on the trails.

“We’re just kind of using the buddy system now, and making sure nobody’s alone,” McDonough said.

McDonough’s feelings were echoed by the woman who was assaulted. She’s urged people to keep using the park, but to use caution and have someone else there with you to keep you company.

“I’ve been back everyday,” she said. “The one thing I don’t want to happen is for people to not go to the park.”

According to Smith, the incident is unrelated another recent incident at the park in which a dog owner brandished a firearm.

Help police

The Sheriff’s Office is looking for a white male approximately 5-8 to 6-feet tall. He is described as having a medium build, brown hair and is clean shaven. He was wearing blue jeans, a tan Carhartt work jacket, dark brown boots and a tan stocking cap. Anyone who saw suspicious activity near the park Friday is urged to call the Sheriff’s office at 678-4422.

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