Pit bull owner fined in deadly dog attack
Latoya Johnson apologized multiple times in court on Friday to the Spotsylvania County woman whose dog was killed by her pit bull.
Johnson said she wanted to say she was sorry since Jan. 12, the day the pit bull grabbed Donna Minor’s Maltese from her arms and—based on Friday’s testimony from a state veterinarian—brutally killed it.
But the Spotsylvania animal control officer who responded to the Lancaster Gate community that day told Johnson that Minor was upset and contacting her wouldn’t be a good idea.
On Friday, at the end of an emotional 45-minute hearing, General District Court Judge Ricardo Rigual declared Johnson’s pit bull a dangerous dog.
He also found Johnson guilty of failing to keep her dog on her property, a misdemeanor, and fined her $50. She was assessed another $560 to cover the cost of holding the pit bull in the county animal shelter since the incident.
Rigual dismissed a misdemeanor charge of failing to have a county dog license because Johnson had since gotten one.
Johnson, who represented herself in court, said she received the pit bull as a gift from her husband late last year and thought the adoption paperwork included the license.
Johnson, 33, lives on Hastings Court West. Minor lives on the opposite side of Hastings Court in the development off Massaponax Church Road.
Johnson’s neighbor Robert Davies testified Friday that he saw the pit bull “tearing across” the street toward a couple walking a large black dog, and Minor, who picked up her small, white dog and called for help.
“She was yelling, ‘Somebody come get your dog.’ She did it four or five times,” he said.
After attacking the Maltese, Davies said the pit bull ran toward two little girls, then to the front door of the house where the woman with the black dog had gone to escape, and then after a little boy.
Davies said the dog was finally “tackled” by Johnson.
Donna Minor said she was finishing her walk with her 10-pound Maltese named Depp when the pit bull attacked.
“I grabbed my dog,” she testified, beginning to sob. “Before I knew it, he had grabbed my dog so hard he pulled him out of his leash.”
She said she continued screaming but by the time another neighbor approached “my dog was so bad I couldn’t take it anymore.” She ran toward her house to get her fiancé and never saw her dog again.
Veterinarian Jaime Weisman of the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Warrenton testified that the Maltese had injuries consistent with an attack from a larger dog, including 11 puncture wounds, damage to its kidney and a fractured back.
Johnson testified she was in bed at the time of the attack. She had asked her cousin’s boyfriend to let the dog out to relieve itself, but he failed to use a leash. She said her dog had played with children before.
“If I thought he was a threat, I wouldn’t have allowed that,” Johnson said
Rigual said the dog’s actions in killing a pet dog qualified it as dangerous and warned Johnson of the risks of having a such a pet. He made reference to the 2005 case in which the owner of pit bulls was charged after the dogs killed an 82-year-old Spotsylvania woman and her dog.
“That’s how bad it can get,” Rigual said.
But Johnson said she was prepared to reclaim her dog and had met all of the requirements to house a dangerous dog, except getting insurance, a $100,000 policy or surety bond.
If Johnson’s dog kills another pet or seriously injures or kills a person, it could be declared vicious, which would require it to be euthanized.
Johnson was allowed to pick up her dog and has 45 days to comply with state requirements.
Minor said after the hearing that added to her pain.
“I think it’s so unfair. Here I lost a family member and she gets her dog back,” Minor said, her fiancé standing at her side.
“It’s hard enough that every day I have to see their house and the site where this happened, and now she gets the joy of having her dog.”
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
DANGEROUS DOG LAW
A “dangerous dog” is defined in state code as a canine that has bitten, attacked or injured a person, a cat or dog, or that has killed a cat or dog.
The dog must be listed on the Virginia Dangerous Dog Registry, which lists the dog’s name and breed, the owner’s name and address, the jurisdiction where the ruling was made and the act the dog committed.
Animal control officers have access to additional information including: the owner’s home, cell and work phone numbers, a photo of the dog and its sex, age, weight, primary breed, secondary breed, color and markings, its microchip or tattoo number, and whether it’s spayed or neutered.
Owners of dangerous dogs must renew their registration annually.
They also must:
- Put a dangerous dog tag on the animal’s collar and keep it on the dog at all times.
- Put up a sign at the residence stating that a dangerous dog is there and place a muzzle and leash on the dog any time it leaves the property.
- Keep the dog inside the residence or confined in a securely enclosed and locked structure.
- Have at least $100,000 in liability insurance or surety bond that covers animal bites.
- Notify animal control any time the owner’s contact information or address changes.
- Immediately call animal control if the dog gets loose, bites a person, attacks an animal, or is sold, given away or dies.