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Will dogs’ owner be charged?

State’s attorney expects report

Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Although Ogle County impounded the pit bulls that attacked a rural Ashton woman Monday and got the owner’s agreement to euthanize the dogs, no action has been taken so far against the owner.

State’s Attorney Mike Rock said Wednesday that he expects to receive a report on the attack before he determines what action the county can take.

In an interview, Tom Champley, the county’s animal control administrator, wouldn’t release the owner’s name, citing the owner’s privacy. He said the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department might be able to do so, but a person answering the phone at the sheriff’s office said Champley’s office was handling the investigation.

Champley said he would get the state’s attorney’s opinion on the incident.

On Monday, the woman, Aneda Ebert, 63, 3413 Dugdale Road, was jogging past a neighbor’s house in southern Ogle County, near Ashton, when two pit bulls ran out of their yard and attacked her. Her husband, Larry, rescued her. If he hadn’t, Champley said, she could have been killed.

Champley said his county can cite an owner of loose dogs, but “there’s not a fine if a dog bites.”

Vanessa Scott, Whiteside County’s animal control warden, said authorities can charge owners of attacking dogs when there is evidence the owners knew their dogs had the potential to do harm without provocation. Previous incidents, she said, can serve as proof.

“If this happened in Whiteside County, we would have gone to the state’s attorney to get proper direction to go further with it, to see whether we could charge the owner criminally,” she said.

Champley said his office can’t base its decisions on hearsay.

“Legally, there has to be a prior report on these dogs” before animal control can pursue charges, he said.

So how do dogs turn into attackers?

“It could be a lot of different things: how they are bred, how their family environment is,” Scott said. “It could be their natural prey instinct. You cannot read dogs’ minds. You should never say my dog will never bite.”

Whiteside County knows all too well about dog attacks. In January 2005, 14-year-old Lydia Chaplin was walking alone when she was attacked by four dogs – three pitbulls and a mixed breed – close to her rural home near Erie.

The dogs left her badly injured; she died of hypothermia.

At the time, there was no law with which to prosecute the owner, whose dogs were running loose.

Then-state Rep. Jerry Mitchell, R-Sterling, sought to change that. He wanted legislation that focused on certain breeds of dogs such as pit bulls, but some felt his effort was unfair.

After a couple of years, Mitchell succeeded in passing a bill that he considered watered down.

The new law revised the Animal Control Act to include a definition of potentially dangerous dogs. If a dog is running unsupervised with three or more other dogs, it can be deemed potentially dangerous and required to be spayed or neutered.

This law wouldn’t have applied to the Ogle County situation, which involved just two dogs.

Mitchell said his original bill was based on extensive research.

“I heard from a lot of people, such as in the Chicago area. They were so angry,” he recalled. “What they were upset about was that I had pinpointed pitbulls as the problem.”

The ultimate bill, he said, wasn’t as effective as he had wanted.

“I wanted it restricted to dogs that are the most aggressive. Research shows that they can be as docile as can be, then they turn,” Mitchell said. “I think we should do something as a state to control these dogs so they don’t run free, and I don’t care whether you are in the city or the country.”

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