For a brief moment right there on the pavement, it was 70-year-old James Majette rolling on the ground, wrestling with a pit bull intent on eating his beloved Chip.

The struggle was so fierce that hours later, when he was stitched up and recovering in the hospital, Majette was still trying to weigh exactly what went on. And even then, all his concern was for the other victim in the encounter, his 12-pound mixed terrier, Chip.

"I'm telling you, it was a rare experience. I don't know how I made it," Majette said from his bed at Washington Hospital Center, where he was treated for deep bites and was in good condition. "It could have been worse. He could have killed me. That's what I'm trying to tell you."

The dogfight began at 9 a.m. yesterday when Majette walked out of his apartment building at 1000 Rittenhouse St. NW to throw out his garbage in a connecting alley, something he does most mornings. The pit bull, which neighbors said is named Mercedes, either was not tied up or broke free.

"He just dived right on my dog, and then when I went to get him off, he jumped on me," said Majette, a waiter who works for several hotels. "I went into the house to get something heavy."

By the time Majette came out with a baseball bat, Mercedes had taken Chip across the street and had crawled with his quarry under a beer truck, Majette said. Majette started whaling away.

"I hit him {the pit bull} one time and it did no good at all. He just shook his head and went right back to work," Majette said.

Neighbors who witnessed the attack had called for help, and Officer Daniel Ewell arrived and tried to help. He clubbed the pit bull with his baton, but that had the same effect as the baseball bat, neighbors said. Finally, they said, Ewell took out his revolver and fired once, and then fired again, killing Mercedes.

Several residents said the pit bull belonged to the owner of twin three-story buildings near Georgia Avenue.

They said the dog spent its days in the alley between the two buildings, where it was normally chained to a parked truck.

Majette, who lives in one of the buildings, said there have been problems with the pit bull before. Another resident, Addie Johnson, said she was bitten by the dog in April.

The owner of the building, who was not identified by police and could not be reached, apparently used Mercedes as a guard dog. Several residents said he often would bring it in at night and chain it on the first floor of Majette's building, where it would patrol the hallway.

Majette was so upset over the fate of Chip that he ignored his own wounds and, at one point, refused to get into an ambulance, neighbors said. Even at the hospital, where his arm and thigh were stitched up, he spoke of nothing but Chip and his prognosis.

And that, according to Lynn Morrow, a veterinarian at Friendship Hospital for Animals, is good. Chip suffered cuts and scratches all over, but the most serious injury is an abdominal hernia, or a rupture in the abdominal wall.

Exploratory surgery to assess the extent of the damage may be performed as early as today, Morrow said. Chip, despite his trauma, has been almost chipper.

"He's been amazingly brave. He hasn't cried at all. I'm sure he hurts all over, but he hasn't cried at all," Morrow said.

Police are still investigating, and it is not clear whether the pit bull owner will be cited for any violations. An autopsy will be performed on Mercedes to determine if the dog has rabies, a routine procedure.