By Margo Rutledge Kissell and Ken McCall, Dayton Daily News
Linda McGaughey of Xenia underwent her fourth surgery Thursday after she was mauled last month by two pit bulls.
If she’d been bitten by any other breed, she would have had a much harder time getting justice.
Ohio has the nation’s only breed-specific vicious dog law. Passed in 1987, the law defines pit bulls as vicious, but includes other breeds in that category only if there is a documented history of an individual animal killing or injuring a person or killing another dog.
A debate has raged over whether the designation unfairly singles out pit bull owners, or provides the only tool dog wardens have to protect the public from vicious dogs. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled part of the law unconstitutional in 2004, and a bill pending in the Legislature would remove any reference to pit bulls as vicious.
A Dayton Daily News examination of dog bites in Montgomery County found pit bulls led all breeds in the number of reported dog bites since January 2009. But boxers, German shepherds and Labradors collectively had more bites reported. All told, 83 percent of the reported bites did not involve pit bulls or pit bull mixes.
The data, obtained from the health department, do not include severity of bites.
But in five cases the newspaper examined — two that did not involve pit bulls — the attacks were so brutal they resulted in the deaths of three dogs, serious facial injuries to a 1-year-old child and, in McGaughey’s case, permanent disfigurement of her left leg.
Severe attacks don’t always bring severe punishment, particularly when the assault doesn’t involve a pit bull.
“It’s all very confusing and disheartening,” said Julie Sheil, whose miniature dachshund was killed by a mastiff mix in her Butler Twp. neighborhood last October. The owner was fined $25 and kept his dog.
The two pit bulls that mauled McGaughey were killed, and Anthony Hill, their owner, faces six misdemeanor counts and possible jail time. Meanwhile, McGaughey feels lucky to be alive. The bites on her left leg required more than 100 stitches, and doctors last week took skin grafts from her left forearm to cover the exposed tendons in her leg.
During the attack, which lasted five minutes, McGaughey, 59, used her body to shield her 4-month-old puppy, Jose, while the two dogs clamped down on her leg, shook it, released their grip, then clamped down again. Police arrived after residents in her apartment building heard her screams and called 911.
“Anybody who came in the vicinity of those animals once they were loose was a target,” McGaughey said. “It just happened to be me.”