EAST VILLAGE — Two vicious dog attacks in the last month have East Village pet owners on edge, and asking questions about who's responsible for animals that turn violent.
The breed was at the center of a spate of dog attacks in Tompkins Square Park last year that caused some owners to arm themselves with knives at the park's popular dog run.
“This wasn't a dog fight. It was an attack,” said Laurie Foley, whose six-year-old pug-shih tzu mix, Mack Daddy, was mauled by a pit bull on Sun., Nov. 6. “It could have been a mother with a three-year-old child.“
Foley said she was walking her dog about 10:30 a.m. along East Fourth Street near Second Avenue, when her pooch was approached by a pit bull named Mr. Bean, who was with its owner.
Suddenly the pit bull locked its jaws around the smaller dog.
“It looked like it was smiling and walking down the street, then it just turned,” said the 52-year-old hairdresser and East Village resident.
The incident lasted about 15 minutes, until a nearby resident who was watching the commotion from his apartment intervened. The neighbors ran down to the street and used a metal bar to pry open the pit bull’s mouth.
“I tried to get it in his mouth,” said Foley's friend Chris Buzelli, 38, an illustrator who lives on East Fourth Street and came to Mack Daddy's rescue. "His jaw was so tight I couldn't get it in.”
Finally, after breaking a few of the pit bull’s teeth, the dog released its grip, Buzelli said.
Mack Daddy emerged from the attack with five puncture wounds and two large lacerations on his neck, said Dr. Jay Kuhlman, from the Gramercy Park Animal Hospital, who treated the animal. The dog's medical bill came to $531 and was paid for by the pit bull’s owner.
Since the attack, questions have been raised about the shelter from where the pit bull came. Social Tees Animal Rescue, a no-kill shelter, is run by Robert Shapiro, who was one of the bystanders trying to stop the attack.
He said he adopted the pit bull over a year ago, but deferred responsibility to its new owner who DNAinfo was unable to contact.
“It is a very sweet dog, but it shouldn't be out without a muzzle on,” said Shapiro, who estimates he has personally helped rescue over 30,000 animals in the last 20 years .
Those who want to adopt animals are investigated, he explained, including interviews and home inspections. New owners are also required to arrange for a dog walker if they work full time.
Shapiro also encountered controversy last year regarding the volunteer dog walkers he used at his shelter.
Local pet owners claimed the volunteers, lacking familiarity with the breed, would bring pit bulls into the Tompkins Square Park dog run, leading to fights between dogs. Shapiro said he stopped this practice during the summer and now walks his own animals.
But just last month, another pooch fell victim to an attack by a pit bull from the shelter.
On Oct. 23, Bridgette Bako’s dog Troy, a 15-year-old Shepherd mix, was attacked at the dog run by another pit bull from Social Tees that goes by the names Bandit and Kismet.
“He endured bites to his face and ear, and tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his knee from the struggle,” she wrote in an email. Bako, a producer, writer and East Village resident, predicts Troy’s veterinary bills will amount to between $2,000 and $4,000.
The woman walking the pit bull at the time told Bako she was only fostering the dog through Social Tees and did not have any money to contribute to Troy's veterinary bills. She added that when she approached Shapiro at the shelter about the incident, he said he would not take any responsibility.
Shapiro explained that, like owners who adopt, those who foster animals through Social Tees accept full responsibility in a contract prior to taking the animal.
“They sign contracts to say they are responsible,” Shapiro noted, while defending the good intentions of the foster provider.
"Sometimes people don't really pay attention when fostering, and I did tell her that the dog needs to play with other dogs, which is still true," he said.
Shapiro ultimately found a permanent owner for the pit bull and no longer requires the woman to foster it.
Those who foster or adopt the pit bulls are told not to take them into the dog run, according to Shapiro. He estimates his shelter adopts out 10 pit bulls out of about 1,000 animals each year.
Shapiro also pointed out that all his dogs come from Animal Care and Control, a nonprofit group responsible for the city's animal shelters. The organization said it tests the temperament of animals before adopting them out or sending them to partner-shelters like Social Tees.
“Placement decisions take into account the animal's health and behavior, comments from staff and volunteers and, when available, information from previous owners,” reads a document from the organization detailing its placement decisions for animals.
The ACC did not return a request for comment asking whether it has the authority to recall an animal it released to partner-shelters that later turns out to be aggressive.
Foley hopes that between Animal Care and Control, Social Tees and the owner, someone will take responsibility for the behavior of the pit bull that attacked Mack Daddy.
She even offered to buy the attacking dog a muzzle, but its owner refused.
“I don’t know how this one slipped through the cracks,” she said.