City authorities told anxious residents that they were taking steps to require that the owners safeguard their dogs. But several people who had been victimized, or had endured frightening walks with the menacing dogs following them, said the city is not doing enough to put an end to the problem.
“I’m not sure what everybody’s waiting for,” said Margery E. Goldberg, who witnessed an attack by one pair of pitbulls during the summer. “Are you waiting for them to maul some children? Is that what it takes?”
Secret Service agent Ross Yerger, 44, spoke to the committee with his arm wrapped in a hot pink bandage. On Sunday, he said, he was walking his own large dog — 142 pounds, and sweet enough that local elementary school students rush to pet him, Yerger said — when one of the loose dogs attacked his pet.
He saw his pet being injured and struggled to fight off the vicious dog, suffering serious bites himself. He said he was supposed to be on duty with Hillary Clinton this week, and is instead on sick leave for two weeks while he gets rabies shots.
Yerger was the latest victim in a string of incidents that began during the summer with an attack that sent a man to the hospital. That one, which Goldberg saw on Hemlock Street NW in the Shepherd Park neighborhood, brought police to the neighborhood to chase the two loose pitbulls, Raymond Noll, the city’s director of animal control field services, said at the meeting.
Noll said that officers shot one of the dogs twice and hit the other one with a police cruiser. But both kept running.
He said the officers eventually captured one dog and chased the other to its owner’s home, where the owner agreed to hand both dogs over to be euthanized.
But then the man bought two more six-month-old pitbull puppies, Noll said. And soon after, those puppies also escaped, again running loose and acting menacingly toward neighbors.
He said the owner has an elderly grandmother, who was accidentally leaving the back door open.
Once the puppies escaped, animal control officers deemed them potentially dangerous dogs — a designation that requires the owner to register them, get microchips for them, neuter them and keep them secured. In this case, the owner put in a new fence so that his grandmother can’t let the dogs out again, Noll said.
If they do get out, the owner could face criminal charges.
Shakira Richardson, who works on animal control at the D.C. Department of Health, said at the meeting that the District is now dealing with yet another pair of dogs in Ward 4, one pitbull and one German shepherd, owned by someone in the Crestwood neighborhood.
Several residents said that they have seen that pair rampaging on the loose in recent weeks, barking at them as they darted, frightened, to their own homes.
“The Crestwood community has been terrorized,” resident Dorothy McGhee said. She spoke about one dog, which killed her pet. “It tore to shreds the beautiful black cat that my son brought home from Beijing.”
After the death of McGhee’s cat, Richardson said, the attorneys who work on animal control for the District added the Crestwood dogs to their caseload. She said that they are overburdened by cases, but she expects them to put out an order on the Crestwood dogs by Friday.
If they deem those dogs to be potentially dangerous, the owner will have 15 days to take the required steps like registering and neutering them. If the owner does not comply, animal control officers can go to court to request a search warrant to seize the dogs.
Several residents said they feared waiting perhaps almost three weeks before the District can assure them that the dogs are securely locked away. They asked why officers could not seize the dogs as soon as they acted viciously.
“Dogs are considered property, just like your car, just like your TV,” Noll said. “I can’t just go into a home and take someone’s dog because they did some horrific act on the streets. I’m violating their Fourth Amendment rights.”
He added, “The same rights that protect you are hurting you.”
Richardson said the city is working on new regulations that will give animal control officers more leeway to act. “I do agree that those laws do need to be changed. And they are currently being rewritten. Writing laws does not happen overnight.”
Sherryl Newman, chief of staff for Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, said the Councilmember was aware of the attacks. “If there are things the Councilmember needs to do, legislatively, he’s prepared to work with the community to make sure those things happen.”
But in the meantime, Yerger, the Secret Service agent, said that he and his neighbors are still fearful on their streets.
“Forget about nightmares. I have them in broad daylight, wondering what a trained fighter who’s used to putting himself in harm’s way could have done differently, what I could have done.”