The pit bull that killed a small dog and severed a 75-year-old woman’s fingertip on Sept. 26, was formally banished from the Village of Mamaroneck (VOM) yesterday.
David Rigano, the owner of the pit bull, pled guilty in VOM court to a charge of dangerous dog attack on a domestic animal, a violation of Agriculture and Market Law, according to court papers. The dog—surrendered on Monday to NY Bully Crew, a Long Island-based rescue group that specializes in rehabilitating pit bulls—must remain at the shelter indefinitely or be humanely euthanized, as per the court’s ruling on dangerous dogs.
Rigano must bear the cost of installing a microchip in the dog as well as restitution charges for the victim to be determined within the next month.
According to VOM Mayor Norm Rosenblum, the owner originally agreed to euthanize the dog, but, due to a mandatory waiting period from the county Department of Health, did not immediately do so.
The pit bull attacked a Coton De Tulear belonging to Josephine Catalfamo the morning of Sept. 26 as she was walking down Florence Street; Catalfamo’s fingertip was severed when she attempted to pull the dogs apart.
But, since the issue was originally reported on Sept. 30, reactions from the Mamaroneck community have been swift and relentless, with many fiercely advocating on the breed’s behalf, which they say is a victim of both bad publicity and misinformation. Others felt the owners of aggressive dogs were to blame.
Later in the day, the conversation continued at a VOM Board of Trustees meeting, where Rosenblum held a public forum to, “strengthen and enforce our local law for dogs for the health, safety and welfare of everybody in the village.”
“The general analysis is that it had never been socialized,” he said, referring to Rigano’s dog. “It’s an unfortunate situation all the way around.”
Although VOM code Chapter 156 does not prohibit pit bulls, Village of Larchmont code Chapter 97, Article 4 specifically states: “No person shall sell, purchase, possess, rent, lease or harbor a pit bull terrier within the jurisdiction of the Village of Larchmont other than a pit bull terrier which has been acquired prior to the effective date of this article and registered pursuant to this article.” Those who acquired their dogs before the law went into effect must follow strict regulations which include annual registration; possession of at least $500K of liability insurance as well as muzzling the dogs anytime they leave the owner's property and displaying a prominent sign at their home identifying that a pit bull resides there.
However, according to the NY State Agriculture and Market Law, breed-specific legislation is prohibited: “Nothing contained in this article shall prevent a municipality from adopting its own program for the control of dangerous dogs; provided, however, that no such program shall be less stringent than this article, and no such program shall regulate such dogs in a manner that is specific as to breed.”
The county keeps a registry of dogs that have been declared dangerous in a court of law; there are currently four dogs on the list (three pit bulls and one Staffordshire Terrier).
Trustee John Hofstetter echoed popular sentiment that dog attacks weren’t necessarily limited to one breed.
“I think that’s something we have to address procedurally in the village…I know there are other areas and other dogs where there have been issues,” he said.
“The law [Agriculture and Market Law] is written to protect all dogs so no one dog is made to be an object of punishment…I believe that’s what our justice used in coming to a conclusion,” said Trustee Toni Pergola Ryan.
Rosenblum reiterated, however, that the board’s ability to act on behalf of dog attack victims was limited.
“The village board, the police department or anyone other than a judge, has no authority or power to determine if a dog should be put down,” he said.
Still, many residents came to the podium to discuss their own positive experiences with pit bulls, to correct misconceptions about the breed or simply to weigh in on a controversial topic.
Dianne Heim, a board member at the New Rochelle Humane Society, brandishing a letter from a satisfied pit bull owner, said, “Some of the nicest, sweetest, most loving dogs we have at the shelter are pit bulls.”
Miller-Clark Animal Hospital Veterinarian Dr. Gina Antiaris spoke of her experience working with a wide variety of pets. “I get bit by little dogs and another vet I work with was hospitalized for a week from a cat bite,” she said.
Dr. Antiaris stressed the importance of spaying and neutering all dogs to cut down on aggressive behaviors as well as socializing dogs and teaching them basic training skills.
“If you guys want to set up a spay/neuter clinic, I will volunteer,” she said to applause from the audience.
Still others were not convinced that enough had been done to prevent a future incident from occurring.
Chris Sergio, the parent of a young child, said he frequently walks his son to school on Florence Street.
“It seems some people want the deeds to happen and then deal with it afterwards. I completely disagree with that,” he said, continuing, “I think we need to get ahead of it rather than wait for things like this to happen.”
New York State Veterinarian Dr. Laura Stein, however, argued against the assumption that a dog’s size is somehow commensurate with its potential for ferocity.
“This is a small dog, large dog scenario-it’s physics, it had nothing to do with the breed,” she said.
“There’s nothing in the literature that makes a pit bull or these 10 AKC [American Kennel Club] breeds any more likely to be an aggressor than any other breed out there.”
Despite the assurances from medical professionals, however, some residents were still shaken up over the incident.
Gretehel Rodriguez, a daycare worker at Kathy’s Kids, said her daughter is scared to walk to school now from their Ward Avenue residence.
“If you have a dog that’s aggressive…if you live near a school or park that’s very populated by kids you should be able to have a rule that these people need to have special permits or special training,” she said, her voice choked with emotion.
Another resident accused the village of not doing enough to make sure existing laws were followed: “The laws that are currently on the books are not enforced.”
“The law is pretty clear that if it’s a reasonable threat it’s supposed to be documented and a certain number of documented issues would bring somebody into court,” said Hofstetter, adding that people are sometimes reluctant to report incidents involving neighbors or friends.
Although there was no specific change to the existing law discussed at the meeting, Rosenblum encouraged the community to send future comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.