MASTERSON ONLINE: More death and mauling

A 20-year-old Louisiana man was charged with negligent homicide after allowing his pet mountain lion to roam unrestrained in his Baton Rouge neighborhood until it it mauled and killed a 7-year-old girl playing 150 yards down the street.

Yes, you read that correctly. It's true ... if you substitute pit bull for mountain lion. Yet what possible difference would it make?

It seems we are reading almost daily of these savage, often fatal attacks by unrestrained large dogs (primarily pit bull and pit mixes). Yet local and state governments do nothing to effectively stem the tide.

Instead, they believe it's sufficient to slap the grossly negligent owner's wrist and euthanize the animal, as if that somehow cleanses all hands.

Yet by now we certainly know better--far better--and should act to actually end the mauling and killings of adults and children like little first-grader Sadie Davila of Baton Rouge.

Bond for this violent dog's irresponsible 20-year-old owner, Erick Chinchilla Lopez, was set at $7,500. Now, thanks to a law proposed in 2009 by a Louisiana state legislator which was unanimously passed by both chambers for unrestrained dangerous dog cases exactly like this one, Lopez faces the prospect of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Kudos to Louisiana for its foresight and concern, but we continue to live with this scourge across America while few legislative bodies display the courage to tackle the serious situation on behalf of the public they supposedly serve.

It had to have been painful and terrifying in Sadie's final moments of consciousness as the pit bull wildly shook and tore into her. She was rushed to a local hospital, where she later died.

A relative said he tried to beat the dog away with his cane. It did no good, so he had to hear her screams and helplessly watch the unbelievable horror unfold before him. It had to have been the stuff of PTSD.

Medical examiners ruled her death accidental. Oh, really? Was it accidental that this dog's owner released it on his neighbors?

The East Baton Rouge Parish coroner said Sadie died from a combination of blunt- and sharp-force injuries to her head and skull caused by the dog attack (rather than any accident). "My sincere condolences are extended to Sadie's family and friends," the coroner said in a statement.

The attack triggered several community leaders to release statements eulogizing Sadie. The East Baton Rouge Parish Schools superintendent, in an email to parents, described the incident as "devastating to our entire school community."

All because of one irresponsible owner who chose not to effectively restrain his killer "pet."

After bond for Lopez had been announced, the public defender representing him said Sadie's death was tragic for everyone involved. Sounds all lawyerly and appropriately generalized, a one-size-fits-all lamentation.

I do see this as a definite tragedy for the girl's family and friends and much of the community. But for the dog's owner, it was the consequence of his own negligent behavior despite the state law in place for over a decade warning all who choose to own these "pets" of a possible prison sentence and fine if it should harm or kill someone while unrestrained.

If the above story weren't bad enough, I read about yet another irresponsible pit bull owner in Appling, Georgia.

An 11-year-old boy there, Justin Gilstrap, was set upon by a gang of three pit bulls who dragged him from his bicycle into a ditch. The child's ear was mangled and scalp ripped halfway off, along with other injuries including deep puncture wounds to his legs.

The dogs' owner was quoted as admitting to police that his dogs regularly chased people on bicycles. Concerned neighbors said they were often allowed to roam freely; they said they'd previously reported the unrestrained dogs running throughout the area to authorities who did nothing.

Justin easily could have died. Just ask that grieving Louisiana family who lost their sweet little daughter.

Suppose we will ever get to the point when we begin saying exactly what is behind all this mayhem and death? We can hope.

Here it is: Some breeds of large canines are prone to violent, sometimes unpredictable forms of behavior, including killing people and other animals. Pit bulls lead that list by a wide margin. Those who choose to acquire these also acquire their history and the somber and legal responsibility to keep them safely away from others they could turn on and harm or kill. Failing in that responsibility should result in serious penalties for the owner. Euthanizing a dangerous canine who doesn't understand why it's being euthanized, since it has acted predictably, changes nothing.

Now go out into the word and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected].

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