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CCW holder pulls gun on pit bulls

Originally ran here as:
'They are not killer dogs,' owner says after attack
By Robert Farley, Staff writer
Saint Petersburg Times
September 3, 2001

'They are not killer dogs,' owner says after attack

But neighbors say the animals killed a couple's cat, the second in two years.
Officials are investigating.

OLDSMAR -- Pinellas County Animal Services is investigating an incident last week in which homeowners say two pit bulls escaped from their fenced-in pen, killed a 16-year-old cat and menaced a neighbor who brandished a pistol in response.

The man said he intended to shoot the dogs but thought better of it after children spilled from a school bus that had stopped nearby.

For one of the dogs, a female named Sherra, the attack could mean a death sentence.

Two years ago, Sherra helped kill another neighborhood cat, according to animal services officials. Under county policy, if a dog kills two domestic pets while off its owner's property, it is deemed dangerous and must be put down, said Dr. Welch Agnew, assistant director of veterinary services for Pinellas County Animal Services.

The owners of the two cats believe that ought to be Sherra's fate.

But Tina Madley, who keeps the two dogs at her house at 615 Bay Lake Trail, said Sherra is a sweetheart and ought not to be punished for simply doing something that is in her nature to do.

Madley, 43, said she takes responsibility for the dogs escaping from a chain-link pen in her back yard. And she said she has taken steps to ensure it won't happen again.

But it's not the dog's fault, she said.

"She's going to hunt for cats," she said. "It's her nature. I don't want to see her put to sleep. I wouldn't think two wrongs would make a right." Madley said she and her two sons, who own the pit bulls, tried to apologize to the owners of the cat killed Tuesday.

"I know it's hard having your pet killed," she said. "But it wasn't on purpose."

Tracy and Mark Donegan, the owners of Whitney, the 16-year-old calico cat killed on Tuesday, worry that next time the dog could go after a child. They want the dog put down.

The Donegans posted a sign at their curb reading: "Danger! Pit Bulls at 615 Bay Lake Have Killed Again. Watch Your Kids!"

The cat was killed on the paved entryway next to the front door. The Donegans buried it in a flower bed a few feet away and marked the site with a stone.

Mark Donegan, 38, said Madley needs to think about neighbors' concerns.

"She has responsibility in this matter," Donegan said. "She has a responsibility to the community and she should think about that."

"I am not railing against pit bulls," he said. "Every neighborhood has its dogs, but this is a problem. This is something we don't need."

Tim Newsted, the owner of the cat killed by Sherra two years ago, agrees.

Two years ago, it was Sherra and two other dogs living at Madley's house (five dogs live there now), that chased his black-and-white cat named Mama Kitty into his garage and killed it, he said.

Another time, Newsted said the dogs charged at him while he was walking on the street, but were eventually called off by the owner.

"I'm afraid to walk," Newsted said. "It's not safe around here in the neighborhood. Those dogs should be put down. If they get out again, they'll kill again," Newsted said. "And it could be a child. I think the law should do something to protect the innocent people."

Agnew, of Animal Services, said the case is still under investigation as officials collect affidavits from neighbors who witnessed Tuesday's attack. But if a dog escapes its owner and kills a domestic animal twice, it can be deemed a dangerous animal, Agnew said. In Pinellas County, dangerous animals must be destroyed, he said. The owner of a dog determined to be dangerous can appeal and have a hearing before a retired judge.

Tuesday's incident occurred just after 4 p.m. Michael Van Amburgh, 52, said he ran across the street in response to a phone call from one of his neighbors. Van Amburgh said he came across the two pit bulls mangling the Donegans' cat.

When he yelled to distract the dogs, they turned toward him, he said. Crouching and growling, the dogs began to come at him, backing him up toward his house. Van Amburgh, who has a license to carry a concealed weapon, said he began to fear for his safety and pulled out a pistol and aimed it at the dogs.

"I was going to kill them both," Van Amburgh said.

Just then, a school bus pulled up and children began exiting. Van Amburgh said he decided not to shoot in case a bullet were to ricochet toward the children, and also because he didn't want the children to see the dogs shot.

It was then, he said, that Madley, who had just returned from work, drove up. She hit the dogs with a stick and got them into her car.

Madley doesn't believe the dogs went after Van Amburgh.

"I can't see these dogs cornering a human being," she said. "Not one of my dogs is vicious toward people. They are not killer dogs. I'd be the first to get mad if the dog had attacked a person."

Madley said the dogs very rarely get out. The two pit bulls must have been wrestling, she said, and popped the gate open. Madley said she has already taken steps to secure the gate.

"If we keep the dogs confined," she said, "everything is good."

Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185

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