By Ron Leir
Fatal attacks by two pit bulls on two smaller dogs within the past five months in the same Kearny neighborhood are stirring fear among area residents.
And they have prompted the Kearny Board of Health to endorse a state bill that would empower municipalities to remove dangerous animals from their owners.
Since both local attacks took place in or near the town’s Windsor St. Playground where moms take their children to play, parents are concerned about their kids’ safety.
“Of course I’m worried,” said the mother of three young children. “Somebody needs to do something.” She recalled a scary situation last summer when she was sitting in the park and a youngster passed by walking a little dog. Suddenly, she said, a pit bull from an adjoining property “became crazy and tried to jump the park fence.” After failing to do so, she said the animal broke through into a neighbor’s rear yard. She called the police and officers got the dog’s owner to take it away.
In the most recent episode, a police report states that officers responded to a report of an animal complaint Jan. 13 at 8:27 p.m. at the playground where they met an upset Consuelo Medina.
Medina told police she was walking her dog in and around the playground “when out of nowhere a large pit bull attacked her dog.”
At the time of the officers’ arrival, police said Stephen Farber, who identified himself as the pit bull owner, “was restraining his dog by the collar and was unsure how his dog escaped the confinements of his back yard.” Police said Farber displayed a municipal dog license number for the pit bull.
Police said Medina’s dog “suffered major injuries because of the attack by the much larger dog” which the owner took to a local animal hospital for treatment.
However, in a follow-up visit to Medina next day, police said the owner told them she’d been advised by the local veterinarian “that there was nothing that the hospital could do to save her dog’s life” and that the dog “had finally succumbed to his injuries and had to be euthanized.”
The matter was then referred to Kearny Board of Health for review and led to the issuing of a summons, issued by Bergen County Animal Control Officer Bob Harris, alleging that his canine “attacked and injured/killed a domestic animal (dog).”
The case will be heard Jan. 31 in Kearny Municipal Court.
Under state law, the court can order a dog found to be “potentially dangerous” to be euthanized. Or, the court can order the dog’s owner to pay a special $200 license fee, provide extra insurance on the dog and keep the animal in a special outdoor cage fenced in on the top and sides and secured on the bottom so that the dog cannot dig his way out.
In the meantime, if the owner walks the dog outdoors, the animal must be leashed and muzzled, according to Kearny Health Officer John Sarnas.
Windsor St. resident Dan Esteves who happened to be home at the time of the Jan. 13 incident said he was talking to his tenant “when I heard a lot of screaming and barking” from the playground area.
Esteves said that as a Public Service Electric & Gas employee, he’d had training in techniques to pacify aggressive canines “but all my equipment was in my car.” So he did what he could, without those tools, to try and distract the pit bull by shouting at it, long enough to allow the smaller dog’s owner to grab her injured pet.
Shortly after the attack, the pit bull’s owner appeared to take back his dog, Esteves said.
Several years ago, the victim’s family was temporarily displaced by a fire that struck several homes on the block and now the family has lost its treasured pet. “They were very attached to it,” Esteves said.
Medina’s daughter Carmen Barreiro, a teacher at Schuyler Elementary School, said the dog, a Lhasa Apso named Osito (Spanish for “Little Bear”), was a gift from a family friend. “We had it about eight years,” Barreiro said. “It was like family. My dad had a regular routine: He’d wake up at 4:30 (a.m.), have breakfast and then take out the dog for a walk.”
Barreiro acknowledged the posting of a prohibition of dogs in the playground but suggested that her mom’s limited command of English may have prevented her from realizing that dogs weren’t permitted there. “Also,” Barreiro said, “the gate to the park was left open at the time.”
In an earlier animal complaint incident, police responded to the 300 block of Maple St. on Sept. 13, 2012, at 4:10 p.m. where Martin Damyanovich told officers that his dog, Dorie, had been bitten by a pit bull that belonged to one of his neighbors. He alleged that the pit bull “had been running off the leash and attacked his dog, causing it serious injury.”
Police said Michael Rondon, listed as the owner of the pit bull, Mia, told them that his dog “had gotten loose from his yard and ran after the smaller dog,” biting it twice, “at which time he attempted to separate them, after which he had gotten bitten himself.”
Rondon was issued a summons by Harris charging him with “harboring a potentially dangerous dog. That case is also due to be heard Jan. 31.
In light of these mishaps and “maybe two similar cases in the past year,” Sarnas said he’s hoping for the passage of Senate Bill 2378, sponsored by Sen. Robert Gordon of Fair Lawn, that would authorize the seizure and impoundment of a dog that attacks and severely injures or kills a domestic animal.
Seeing several aggressive dog attacks in the past year or so has been unnerving, to say the least, Sarnas said. “We’re not used to it in Kearny.”
These incidents come at a time when the town is pushing for the creation of a dog park in Riverbank Park off Passaic Ave. and a public forum on the topic is scheduled for Feb. 5 at the Municipal Building.
Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, the prime mover for the dog park, said it would be “up to the owners” to monitor the activities of their pets. “I used to take my daughter’s boxer to the Lyndhurst dog park and if he got rambunctious, I’d pull him out and take him to a ‘time-out’ spot,” Doyle said. “Nobody wants to see a dog hurt so I hope the owners take the lead. And if a dog isn’t behaving properly, I’d expect its owners wouldn’t be taking it to a dog park.”