By Seth Daniel
A routine dog-walking trip on the afternoon of Dec. 19 in the waterfront neighborhood has completely upended Amy Schlegel’s life – leaving her coping with the death of the family dog at the jaws of a loose Pitbull and trying to figure out how to pay more than $20,000 in vet bills.
It’s been a hard lesson, she told the Record, but it’s a lesson that she hopes can enlighten dog owners around the city – especially before the dog park opens on the corner of Broadway and Admiral’s Hill, which is ironically where she and her dog was attacked.
“Our backs were turned and there was no warning,” she said. “We passed the Pitbull and its owner on the sidewalk and something must have tipped it off. It came running after us at full speed and lit into my dog’s neck. I had absolutely no warning. It was a surprise attack. I didn’t see it coming because our backs were turned. It seemed like forever, but it was probably five minutes in total. My dog Fitzgerald is now gone and I have $22,000 in veterinarian bills and very little legal recourse or help. The key is that it was on public property and so there isn’t much anyone can do, I’m told.”
According to the police report, around 3 p.m., police were on patrol in the Lower Broadway area when they encountered two women screaming and a Pitbull attacking a Dachshund.
“The Pitbull was repeatedly biting and eating the skin of the smaller Dachshund dog as the Dachshund was laying helplessly on the sidewalk bleeding profusely with the Pitbull on top of him viciously and continuously biting him,” read the report.
Officers approached the scene and found Schlegel and the Pitbull’s owner trying to separate the dogs. Both women had injuries to their hands as the dog had bitten them too.
The officer quickly moved to shoot the Pitbull because it was clearly killing the Dachshund, but the owner of the Pitbull got in front of the officer and prevented him from shooting the dog. Even after he ordered her numerous times to move, she refused and her dog continued to rip at the innards of Fitzgerald. Finally, the officer pushed her out of the way and shot the Pitbull, stopping the attack. The Pitbull was rushed to Angell Animal Hospital, where it died later. Fitzgerald was rushed to another animal hospital, and after 11 days and many procedures, he died too.
“That additional time she stood there in front of the officer I’m convinced is what killed Fitzgerald,” she said. “The bites that happened to his stomach during that time are what really injured him to where he couldn’t recover.”
As horrible as the attack was, and the loss of her dog, it is the aftermath that has opened Schlegel’s eyes – and she now believes that the community needs to be starkly aware of what she is convinced will happen once the dog park opens.
Police follow up investigations yielded little cooperation from the other dog owner, and she never brought any information on the dog to police or answered her door – despite police indicating that they could observe her inside the apartment several times.
Nonetheless, Schlegel found that there are probably many, many more such attacks that go unreported or undocumented. She said when an attack happens on private property, insurance covers any losses. However, on public property, if the offending owner doesn’t cooperate, not much can happen.
“This is the kind of thing that could really change somebody’s life in an instant,” she said. “That dog park is going to be a nexus and I think attacks there are going to be inevitable. Something serious is going to happen there. It needs to be addressed beforehand. They say they’re going to have a big dog area and a small dog area, but I don’t know if people are going to abide by that. And how many people are going to volunteer information at the dog park that they own a vicious dog?”
Schlegel hopes that there might be a way to enhance the current laws to help police to initiate criminal charges against owners involved in attacks on public property. Right now, that is nearly impossible, she said.
Meanwhile, one idea she believes might help to bolster the cause is to start a record keeping system outside of the police. She said she would like to see the City create a dog attack hotline for statistical purposes.
She said she hopes it all points to some sort of reforms that Chelsea might be able to lead on.
“Bigger cities have tried things like bans and lost,” she said. “Chelsea is relatively small compared to Boston and you can get things done. There isn’t a lot of gridlock. Maybe this is a place where we can get something done that can be a model for other places. There is a huge hole here and it is attacks on public property. I’m hoping this will help the general public. It can change someone’s life forever. I’m a perfect example of that.”