Attacks from dogs generate tension

Mike Lewis

Since the first attack in March, Tywan Dowdell and his pit bulls remain a topic of public discussion. Fearful the dogs might attack a child, neighbors in the Thomas-Anderson Development Corporation banded together to enforce Kent’s “dangerous dog” ordinance.

The members of Ward 3 held a Neighborhood Watch meeting on Sept. 26 at the Union Baptist Church in Kent. Board Chair Doria Daniels said the meeting was called to discuss the situation of an irresponsible owner who let his dogs terrorize smaller dogs in the community.

“I’m seeing a pattern where (pit bulls) go after Pomeranians, little cats or other dogs under 30 or 40 pounds,” Daniels said. “This has got to come to an end. That’s why we’re here.”

Perhaps a more violent, unexpected twist occurred not long after the meeting. Late Wednesday night, Dowdell, the owner of the pit bulls, allegedly had a knife pulled on him. Early Thursday morning, Judge Barbara Oswick issued an arrest warrant for Criss Beckwith on the charge of aggravated menacing. There is suspicion the menacing took place because of the neighborhood outcry against Dowdell’s dogs.

“My dogs have never bitten anybody,” Dowdell said. “The only thing that truly occurred was my dogs got a little rough with those little dogs and it was the two puppies, never the full-grown mother. They were playing.”

Nibbles, a 15-pound Pomeranian, was attacked on March 30 by Dowdell’s pit bulls. Apparently, the little dog was tossed around like a rag doll. The owner, Debra Harvey, said Nibbles is “lucky to be alive.” Dowdell paid more than $1,000 to the veterinarian for the surgery to repair Nibble’s stomach.

“It’s not like I have anything against the dogs, but when the owner doesn’t have control of those dogs, then it’s an issue,” Harvey said. “Something needs to be done.”

Chuck, a black Labrador Retriever, was also on the losing end when he got mixed up with the pit bulls in May.

“Three pit bulls jumped my 32-pound dog and damn near ripped him to pieces,” owner Donna Craver said. “Each pit bull had a rear leg of my dog in its mouth and was just pulling him, dragging him while my dog was screaming. I don’t know how I did it; I finally got the pit bulls off him and I also got bit in the melee.”

William Lillich, safety director for the city of Kent, said the city ordinance could not be applied at the time.

In a recent Supreme Court ruling, the Ohio “dangerous dog” ordinance was declared unconstitutional since it denied dog owners due process by banning breeds, even if the animal never attacked a human or another animal; in the case the dog was also a pit bull.

Since Kent’s dog ordinance mirrored the state’s, the city had to rewrite its ordinance. That meant no laws were on the books when the second, third or fourth pit bull attack occurred. Dowdell could not be prosecuted without liability to the city.

“A new city ordinance took effect at the end of summer,” Lillich said.

The new ordinance defines “dangerous dog” as “any dog with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack unprovoked;” a “dog which attacks a human or domestic animal without provocation;” or dogs owned or harbored or trained “for the purpose of dog fighting.” Dogs who bite trespassers on the property of the owner or who harm anyone who has abused it shall not be declared dangerous.

According to Portage County Dog Warden Beverly Kirkhart, the Supreme Court ruling “made a mess.” She said dog laws are a great thing, but give officials no power.

“Normally after ticketing, it goes to the judge,” she said. “That puts the judges and the courts in control.”

On the other hand, the unconstitutional ruling declared open season for dog attacks throughout Ohio in other cities with laws similar to the state, like Kent.

“If a city ordinance is not written properly and safely, it’s a liability for the city and it could become a big legal issue,” Kirkhart said. “People might think police aren’t doing their job, but they have their hands tied.”

After the fourth incident with the pit bulls, the Kent Police Department issued a ticket ordering Dowdell to pay $100. During the Watch meeting, Lillich said Dowdell’s dogs were put in quarantine, followed up with eight days later, then released. Neighbors wanted more.

“The question is, can the law be made retroactive?” asked Lillich.

After the meeting, Councilman Wayne Wilson of Ward 3 said neighbors seemed to agree to give the new law time and see if it’ll work.

“They were hoping they could still push that old law and get the previous cases thrown in on it,” Wilson said. “They understood after the meeting we can’t do that.”

Kent Police Chief James Peach said the department understands the neighborhood’s concerns, but police must safeguard the constitutional rights of all individuals.

“Most importantly, we do have an effective ordinance in place,” Peach said. “We do plan to enforce it.”

Recently, the Kent Police Department was involved in an unprovoked attack by one of their German Shepherd K-9 dogs. The victim, 23-year-old Tyrell L. Fletcher, was not seriously hurt, but the dog ripped his sleeve and scratched his arm.

From the beginning, Dowdell complied with requests to show proof of registration, insurance and vaccination, as well as offered to pay for the veterinarian bills. His costs have exceeded $1,800.

“If these are vicious or dangerous dogs, why were there no puncture wounds?” Dowdell said. “It was never an attack. They were just playing. Nobody died. How can they call it an attack?

“I don’t understand why this is such an issue when they’re gone,” he said. “I wasn’t even invited to the (Neighborhood Watch) meeting.”

Please contact public affairs reporter Mike Lewis at [email protected].