Attack on girl prompts call for dog control laws

May 03, 2002|BY DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

A 6-year-old girl was playing in a field near her home south of Huyetts Crossroads last week when she was attacked by a part-pit bull dog, leaving her with wounds on her head and face that required more than 40 stitches, according to her parents and a Washington County Health Department animal bite report.

While her parents are thankful the attack wasn't worse, they say the incident shows the need for stricter dog control laws.

Hope Kurzawa turned 6 last week. On Saturday, she was attacked by a dog - a pit bull/chow/Shar-Pei mix named Scrappy, according to the bite report from the Washington County Health Department.


Hope's long, light-brown hair covers most of the cuts on both sides of her head. One of the wounds extends to her forehead, and there is another just over her left eye. The wounds, which required about 40 stitches, would keep Hope out of school for a week, her mother Cory Swartz said.

The attack happened around noon in a field near Hope's home on Heather Drive, which is between Hagerstown and Clear Spring.

Cory Swartz, Hope's mother, said according to what her daughters and others have told her, Hope, her 9-year-old sister, and some other children were playing in a field near their home when a neighbor's dog escaped from his yard through a hole under a fence.

The neighbor's dog was trying to fight with another dog near the field, but that dog was taken away by its owner.

Then the neighbor's dog turned on Hope, Swartz said.

"When you have children you know they're not going to go through life unscathed. They'll get broken bones, maybe some stitches," Hope's father, Mark Kurzawa, said. "But when (they) pulled the curtain back. I wasn't ready for what I saw."

Hope was "covered in blood" and the dog bite went all the way to Hope's skull in places, he said.

"It's something I never want to see again. ... It looked like someone had taken an ax and hit her," Kurzawa said.

A plastic surgeon at Washington County Hospital worked on Hope's wounds, he said.

The dog, Scrappy, was taken to the Humane Society on Tuesday, and will be killed sometimes during the next week or two, Humane Society of Washington County Executive Director Maria Procopio said.

But that will happen only because the dog's owner requested it, she said.

County law permits the Humane Society to declare specific animals vicious and dangerous. That designation would require the animal be kept in a cage or building away from people or other animals. Whenever the animal was out of that secure place it would have to be muzzled, leashed and under the control of someone over 16.

The Health Department bite report identified the owner of the dog that bit Hope as John Bagley of Heather Drive.

Attempts to reach Bagley were unsuccessful.

A woman who identified herself on the telephone as Mrs. Bagley hung up on a reporter from The Herald-Mail, nor did Bagley return a telephone message left at his home.

While the dog blamed for biting Hope is being taken care of, Kurzawa said he believes what happened to his daughter shows the need for stricter dog laws.

"What is the need for a pit bull in a house? Something has to be done to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.

Kurzawa said pit bulls should be banned from residential areas, or pit bull owners should at least be made to have insurance for their pets.

"Why not a muzzle law? Something, anything," he said.

Swartz said pit bulls probably couldn't be banned but she doesn't want them to be close to children.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said he's going to use Hope's case to again seek a pit bull law for the city. Smith wants pit bull owners to register their dogs, get insurance for them, and have the dogs muzzled when in public.

"With all the experience with pit bulls around the country do we really have to wait until someone gets hurt in the city?" Smith asked.

Smith said he has the support of the City Council, but would need the Humane Society to enforce any animal laws because Humane Society staff have the training and facility to deal with the dogs.

Smith said his talks with Humane Society representatives left him with the impression they oppose a pit bull law.

Procopio said the Humane Society has no position on breed-specific laws, but from what she's learned they don't work.

"Pit bulls are wonderful dogs. ... In Great Britain they call them nanny dogs," she said.

Usually, dogs become dangerous because of inbreeding, or how they are treated by their owners, she said.

"In my personal opinion you can make any dog dangerous," she said.

Procopio said she's not familiar with Scrappy's owner, but she said having the dog killed shows the owner is acting responsibly.

Procopio said she would like to see changes to the county animal laws to permit the Humane Society to kill dangerous animals even without an owner's permission.

"I don't think we should be allowing animals we deem vicious to exist," she said.

Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell said he would like a law that would have quarantine animals involved in attacks while the county's animal control board decides whether the attack was bad enough to order the dog killed.

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