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Woman, 82, Mauled to Death In Attack by Pack of Pit Bulls

Spotsylvania County Resident's Small Dog Is Also Killed

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page B06

People move to Partlow in southern Spotsylvania County for the five- and 10-acre plots, the quiet and the woods. But the woods looked menacing to many residents yesterday, a day after a pack of pit bulls charged from the trees and mauled an 82-year-old woman and her dog to death.

Sheriff Howard Smith said animal control workers killed two of the three dogs and have captured the third. But Dorothy Sullivan's neighbors on Oak Crest Drive, where mobile homes are permanently anchored at the ends of long driveways, said they were afraid to venture out.

Aided by colleague Bill Clark, animal control officer Jay Davis carries the remains of Dorothy Sullivan's dog. (Mike Morones -- The Free Lance-star Via AP)

Sullivan was attacked on her property Tuesday afternoon as she walked her dog, a Shih Tzu named Buttons. In the last year, her neighbors said, tagless pit bulls have killed neighborhood dogs and cats, broken down wooden gates and snarled at children.

"I won't go outside anymore," said Mary Adkins, 73, who lives across from Sullivan's gravel driveway, which was blocked yesterday by yellow police tape. "My husband thought he might be attacked, but he has some guns, and he'd use them if he had to."

At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Smith said the owner of the one of the dogs has been identified, though he would not give the owner's name. He said that it was unclear whether any of the dogs were registered with the county and that none was wearing a tag.

Smith said officers responded to a 911 call about 2:15 p.m. from Sullivan's daughter, who had gone to check on her and "found her lying outside with three vicious dogs described as pit bulls surrounding her." He said the dogs then chased the daughter, who ran to her mother's home to call police.

Sullivan's daughter lives down the street, and dozens of cars came to her home during the day. A man who identified himself as the daughter's husband said family members did not want to talk, but the family did provide a photograph of a smiling Sullivan sitting on a sunny porch with Buttons.

Smith confirmed that animal control officers had been called to the area several times in recent months because of roaming pit bulls -- including Tuesday, before Sullivan's death was reported. But they were never able to find the dogs, he said.

William Tydings, director of animal control for the half-suburban, half-rural county, did not return phone calls to his office.

Smith said it is illegal for dogs to run loose in Spotsylvania, but he said it is too soon to know whether anyone will be charged. He said the investigation will be reviewed by the county prosecutor.

Longtime residents said wild dogs are less common now than when Partlow was built about 40 years ago.

"People thought of this area as farmland, and people thought dogs should run free," said Terry Moore, 68, who operates an electronics contracting business on a 10-acre lot that he has bordered with tall bamboo.

But the problem has grown worse in the last year, he said, noting that pit bulls killed two of his kittens. He was outside yesterday with a hammer to inspect huge holes in a fence -- put there, his partner said, by dogs.

"My wife followed the dogs home" last fall when the kittens were killed, he said, "and the woman said they just wouldn't stay in their pens." He said that pit bulls are bred to fight and that they should not be kept as pets.

But another resident, Amy Carpenter, 27, who has four pit bulls and three small children, said the problem lies not with the breed but with how they are raised and trained. She described neighborhood disputes about dogs, including one incident in which a resident accused another of stealing a pit bull and retaliated by killing that person's pit bull.

"I moved back home to this neighborhood because it was safe," she said. "It never used to be like this."

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