DES MOINES, Iowa -- An administrative hearing officer has ruled that a pit bull that bit two children over a five-month period should be put down.
The dog, named Cash, bit one child in April and the other in September. Police deemed the dog dangerous under city code, but Cash's owner, Heather Hildreth, contested the decision arguing the children, in both cases seven-year-old boys, provoked the dog. In the most recent case, she says the child came into her home uninvited. The victim says he didn't, and that he went to the door to see a friend when he was repeatedly bitten.
"The dog was right beside the door. When he was shutting it, when he was moving it, he got through and came at me and jumped on top of me," Jashawn Fleming, 7, said raising his arm to his face, "I went like this so he couldn't get my throat or my chest but he got this and then I moved in and then he got that."
In her ruling, administrative hearing officer Lisa Burk wrote, "City code section 1856(a) requires that all vicious dogs be securely confined within an occupied house or residence...if the apartment door was unlocked permitting a seven-year-old child to enter it, it brings into question whether the dog was securely confined within the occupied residence."
During the hearing, Hildreth's attorney, Eric Parrish argued that Chief Humane Officer Sergeant James Butler of the Des Moines Police Department was not qualified to judge whether Cash was dangerous. "Has any of your training dealt specifically with dogs?" Parrish asked. "Not specifically," Butler replied. Parrish then asked "Are you certified in any type of behavioral training with regards to dogs?" Butler replied, "No. That would fall entirely with ARL employees."
Butler says that's out of the scope of his job description. "Granted I'm not the animal expert when it comes to behaviors. Behavioral specialist. As a police officer my job is to look at the code, interpret the code to the best of my ability and apply it for each situation because each situation is unique," Butler said.
Ultimately, Burk sided with Sergeant Butler, citing city code that states that a dog is deemed dangerous if it, "Has bitten or clawed a person on two separate occasions within a 12-month period."
Butler says Cash meets that criteria. "In this particular case the code is very clear. This particular animal bit twice within 12 months. It just happened to be two separate seven-year-old children. And the code tells me what I do next. And I follow the rule of the law."
Hildreth and her attorney, Eric Parrish, declined on camera interviews but plan to appeal the decision. In a written statement, Parrish said, "While a dog bite is never a good outcome, Ms. Hildreth believes the court and the chief humane officer should have done much more to determine what actually occurred," and that "...this does not mean the life of her dog should depend on the insensitivity of bullies or those who demonstrate little respect or kindness in their contact with animals."
Sergeant Butler stands by his decision. "I have to look at risk, risk to our citizens and other animals. Does this animal pose a risk to the citizens of Des Moines and their animals?" Butler said. "Yes. and I can't live with that."