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Dog laws need strengthening, county residents complain 

click to enlarge BITING BACK: Victim of dog attack fights for stricter penalties for pet owners.
  • BITING BACK: Victim of dog attack fights for stricter penalties for pet owners.

It’s not lions, tigers, or bears that keep Hilaro Springs residents in their homes. It’s dogs — because, some people say, the animal control laws don’t have the bite they need.

Dog attacks have prompted cities statewide to ban or consider banning pit bulls. Little Rock’s board of directors is considering a ban on pit bulls, as is Jacksonville’s; North Little Rock has already banned pit bulls from the city. Since North Little Rock’s ban was enacted, the number of pit bulls in Little Rock has gone up, and so have the number of pit bull bites, said Tracy Roark, Little Rock animal services manager.

(Most bans aren’t limited to pit bulls, but include pit bull lines, such as Staffordshire terriers and American bulldogs.)

According to Little Rock animal services records, the percentage of reported dog bites from pit bulls in 2004 was 16.5 percent. That rose to 19 percent in 2005, the year North Little Rock’s ban went into effect. In 2006, the percentage of bites caused by pit bulls in Little Rock jumped to 35 percent (47 of 135), and is the same percentage to date for 2007, with 19 of 55 bites coming from pit bulls.

Two residents of Hilaro Springs, a community south of Little Rock, were the victims of dog attacks, and their encounters illustrate the way county ordinances handle dog bite-incidents.

John Swillum, a computer network engineer and early-morning jogger, was attacked by a pit bull while jogging down Hilaro Springs Road in August 2006. According to the incident report, Swillum’s face and shirt were covered with blood from the dog leaping directly at his face.

Eight months later, another jogger, Matt Patton, was bitten by a Great Dane on his right arm and lower right leg. Patton’s wounds were “oozing” with blood, according to the sheriff’s report, which said the animal had not been properly restrained.

Both dogs belonged to Allison Neeld, a long-time resident of the neighborhood. She was charged in Pulaski County district court with failure to control animals, fined $105 in both cases and placed on probation. The dogs were confiscated while rabies tests were run, but were returned.

Swillum sued her in small claims court and won an award of $884.55, but Neeld has not paid the money, which is accruing interest.

Neeld says she had the Great Dane put down, but denies that her dogs are vicious animals. She said her Great Dane was “labeled” as the one that attacked Patton, but that it could have been a neighbor’s dog.

Neeld — who also has another pit bull, a new Great Dane (though neighbors dispute that) and a cocker spaniel — said her dogs would not “bite a hot biscuit” unless they were provoked, and she said the dogs’ veterinarian at East End Animal Care would agree.

However, a clinic official, who asked to remain unnamed, said that one of Neeld’s pit bulls was even-tempered but the second was too aggressive to be walked during its last visit, and clinic workers had to call Neeld to walk the dog herself.

Swillum and Patton both say they think the injuries caused by dogs are more severe than the penalties for dog owners.

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