Debra Stoltenberg rushed to her house in Parkland to find out if her dog Bubbles was dead or alive after she was attacked by the next-door neighbor’s pit bull.
“Blood and drool was dripping everywhere,” said Stoltenberg, who found Bubbles lying inside in shock, having crawled through the dog door. “I was very scared.”
Nearly two weeks later, Stoltenberg is relieved that her 12-year-old chow/German shepherd mix will survive after surgery for a ruptured jugular vein and other medical care that cost $1,635.
But Stoltenberg is upset that a Pierce County Animal Control officer did not cite the attacking dog’s owner or declare the dog dangerous.
The incident shows that the county’s use of its dangerous animal code is not always clearcut, even when the circumstances appear to be.
No one disputes Bubbles was attacked by the neighbor’s pit bull on the front porch of Stoltenberg’s three-bedroom rambler. Scabs cover wounds on Bubble’s head where her golden hair was shaved. Several inches of stitches are visible on her neck where the vein was ruptured.
The attacking dog dug under a fence to get onto Stoltenberg’s property, according to the responding officer’s report.
But prosecutors need a witness and enough other evidence that a dog bit or severely injured another dog before they can declare it potentially dangerous or dangerous, said deputy county prosecutor Cort O’Connor.
In the case of Bubbles, Animal Control supervisor Brian Boman said his department can’t take either step because the one person who observed the attack – who also called 911 – would not give his name to the responding officer.
Without a witness, legal action wouldn’t hold up to a challenge in court, Boman said Thursday.
“If that person would have stepped forward, this one would have been an easy case,” he said.
The owner would have received an infraction, perhaps for having an animal at large, which carries a $246 fine. And the dog would have been declared potentially dangerous or dangerous, he said. Both designations have strict requirements, including liability insurance and a permit.
In Pierce County, there are only 10 active cases where dogs have been declared potentially dangerous and six cases of dogs declared dangerous. Oftentimes, owners surrender their dogs to Pierce County rather than complying with the restrictions, Boman said.
On Friday, a father and son told The News Tribune they witnessed the attack on Bubbles and said they would testify.
Lamar Mapp said he called 911 and Animal Control after his son, Ramal, told him the neighbor’s pit bull and Bullmastiff were attacking Bubbles.
Lamar Mapp, who lives in the house on the other side of Stoltenberg’s, said he saw the last minute or two of the attack.
“The pit bull was clamped down on Bubbles’ neck, killing him,” Lamar Mapp said.
He said he told the responding animal control officer what he saw and gave her his name.
Ramal Mapp, 17, said he saw the attack under way while walking home from school and tried to stop it by yelling and throwing rocks. He said the animal control officer didn’t talk with him.
When told about the Mapps’ comments Friday, O’Connor asked Animal Control to contact them as possible witnesses.
The officer who responded to the attack on Bubbles did not issue an infraction in part because of the pit bull owner’s willingness to take responsibility.
The owner said she would pay for Bubble’s medical care, the officer wrote. The owner also said she would keep the pit bull in a kennel until the fence was fixed.
“I do not believe that issuing an infraction would serve any purpose other than being purely punitive,” the officer wrote. She could not be reached for comment.
The News Tribune isn’t naming the pit bull’s owner because she wasn’t cited or charged with a crime. She did not respond to a message left at her house.
Stoltenberg said the pit bull’s owner, who moved into the rental house just a few days before the attack, has refused to pay the medical bills. Stoltenberg also can’t afford to pay them, she said. Her son stepped in to cover the cost.
“It just infuriates me she gets to keep the dog ... and that she’s not fined,” said Stoltenberg, 53, in an interview at her house. Bubbles rested quietly nearby on the living-room rug.
Stoltenberg said she plans to go to court in an attempt to force her neighbor to pay the bills.
When Stoltenberg arrived home around 6 p.m. on Dec. 10, seven people were out in her yard after the attack.
“The neighbors said she was getting shook like a rag doll,” Stoltenberg said.
Bubbles is now scared to go outside and won’t if she hears the neighbor’s four dogs are out of their pens, Stoltenberg said.
But Stoltenberg was relieved to learn Wednesday that Bubbles won’t need more surgery. Drains to relieve swelling were removed. Her stitches will be taken out Monday.
There are other good signs.
“She’s got her appetite back,” Stoltenberg said.
“She’s a car dog,” her owner said. “She wants to go back to riding in the car.”