Woman mauled by pit bulls remains in critical condition

A Westwego woman remains in critical condition after a devastating dog attack that authorities say caused her heart to stop at least once on Wednesday.

The 54-year-old woman, who was mauled inside the home she shares with her boyfriend in the 300 block of Avenue A, is on life support, according to Councilman Glenn Green, who visited the woman in the hospital after hearing about the attack in his district.

Westwego Police Chief Dwayne Munch Sr. said the victim has had several surgeries, and her injuries are even more extensive than officials initially realized.

“It’s bad,” said Munch, pausing to collect himself. “It was unbelievable.”

Police say the woman was attacked Wednesday afternoon after she returned to her home where multiple dogs lived. The exact circumstances of the attack remain unclear, but neighbors reported hearing the woman screaming shortly after she entered the home.

Munch said that when officers arrived on the scene, they found three pit bulls gnawing at the woman as she tried to fight them off. Those three dogs were killed, and a fourth dog was also killed after it tried to attack officers, Munch said.

Munch has said that officers found a litter of very young puppies at the home, and he speculated that the female dog attacked the victim because of those puppies.

“We may never know unless she gets better and talks to us,” Munch said.”

Green reported that the woman’s injuries were so severe that she had lost a limb and the use of an eye.

“That’s the most vicious attack I’ve ever seen,” Green said.

An attempt to contact the victim’s boyfriend was unsuccessful Thursday, and a neighbor who had known the couple for decades declined to discuss the incident on the record.

Not only did the attack shock Green and Munch, both veteran lawmen and military veterans, but it also stunned animal rights workers in the metropolitan area. Although pit bulls have a reputation in popular culture for being aggressive, an attack of this severity is rare, said Robin Beaulieu, the director of Jefferson Parish’s animal shelter. Jennifer Abbrecht, the communications director for the Louisiana SPCA, said these types of incidents contribute to the unfair reputation pit bulls have developed.

Abbrecht said that many of the concerns regarding pit bulls are unfounded, adding that the breed is no more vicious than any other. However, New Orleans has an extremely large population of pit bulls, and that means that when an attack occurs it is far more likely that a pit bull is involved, Abbrecht said.

“There is a large population of pit bulls, so there are going to be more attacks,” she said, adding that the dog’s reputation makes them extremely hard to find homes for as adults. “They’re a hard breed to adopt out because they have a negative reputation.

The New Orleans City Council just last week adopted a revamped animal ordinance that would allow animals seized for fighting to find adoptive homes if specific conditions are met, including spaying or neutering of the animal and an evaluation by a certified animal behaviorist or vet that has experience with abused or fighting dogs. The adopting owner must be notified of the dog’s history, any recommendations in the evaluator’s report and a copy of the report. Previously, dogs seized under such circumstance were considered “vicious” under the law and were euthanized.

Abbrecht said it’s hard to speculate about what led to Wednesday’s attack but noted that it can be dangerous to approach dogs when they are eating, chewing on toys, sleeping or around newly born puppies. That danger is present regardless of breed, she said.

“There are a million pit bulls out there that are great parts of families,” Abbrecht said, noting she’d just read about a pit bull that saved its owner from being struck by a train.

However, statistics compiled by Animal People News, an online news group dedicated to pets, finds that pit bull attacks are more frequent and serious than other breeds. The group has been tracking attacks reported in the media and found that more than 60 percent of fatal and disfiguring attacks involve the breed.

But Beaulieu noted that these types of attacks are exponentially less likely to occur when animals are spayed and neutered because that reduces their aggression substantially. Beaulieu added that the sheer size of pit bulls means that when attacks occur, they cause more damage than say the attack of a chihuahua, which she described as a more aggressive breed.

One fact that contributes to attacks is the training animals receive, and their role in families. Animals that are “integrated into a family,” typically have less aggression than those animals that are left tethered in a yard. Beaulieu said the parish is targeting areas with high pit bull populations, like the Lincolnshire subdivision, for free vaccinations and spaying and neutering services to head off some problems. She is considering expanding those efforts to Westwego.

“What I’m trying to do is really education the public,” she said. “I think they want the services, but they don’t know how to go about getting it.”

These types of attacks can often lead to new laws making it harder to own pit bulls, something Abbrecht said the SPCA opposes. Westwego already has laws that require the breed to be kept in kennels in backyards and be walked on a leash. The city of Gretna has similar rules.

However, there are no laws in any local jurisdictions that govern how the animals can be kept in homes besides those rules that govern the proper care and maintenance of animals. Green said he’s disturbed that the victim, who had some vision problems, was caring for so many dogs alone. He added that he doesn’t know what type of law would help address this issue, but he’s committed to doing something.

“I’m going to have to be creative,” Green said.

The Louisiana Humane Society does plan to contact Westwego officials in the upcoming days to discuss the possibility of training on how to handle attacking dogs without using lethal force, executive director Jeff Dorson said.