September 12, 2011

Waterville police chief wants big dogs kept away from children

Request comes after two pit bull attacks by same dog at same house

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Police Chief Joseph Massey is on a mission to keep dogs known to be aggressive out of homes with children.

Joseph Massey

DOG RULES

State law allows for any dog running at large to be seized by an animal control officer and taken to a shelter; a Waterville ordinance requires a dog to be on a leash or under the control
of a person, says Police Chief Joseph Massey.

"Putting big dogs, aggressive by nature, in with your child -- you're putting that child at risk," Massey said.

He put out the request last week after a 2-year-old Waterville boy was bitten in the face Sept. 1 by a pit bull and had to be taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland for surgery.

The child reportedly is back at home and recovering from his injuries, and the dog was euthanized after a 10-day quarantine, Massey said.

That same dog on Aug. 18 bit a 6-year-old boy in the same Louise Avenue house, Massey said. The dog was quarantined for 10 days after the first incident, he said.

Massey said the 2-year-old's mother told police that before the dog bit the boy, she asked the child to go into the bathroom to wash up for dinner.

"She said when the 2-year-old comes out, he falls next to the dog and she said they kind of started rough-playing and the dog ended up biting the 2-year-old on the face," Massey said. He said the woman pulled the dog off the boy. He was taken to the hospital, and then to Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Norman St. Michel is registered as the dog's owner and it was his 6-year-old son who was bitten Aug. 18, Massey said. He said police officers and Animal Control Officer Chris Martinez went to the home and spoke with St. Michel.

St. Michel, 42, was summoned for keeping a dangerous dog and is scheduled to appear in Waterville District Court Dec. 6, Massey said.

The civil infraction carries a fine of between $250 and $1,000, he said.

St. Michel's stepdaughter is the mother of the 2-year-old who was bitten Sept. 1, he said.

Police did not release the woman's name, but her Facebook page lists it as Crystal Cougle. On the page, Cougle wrote that the toddler had surgery Wednesday and would be home the next day.

Someone asked on her Facebook page if the boy was OK.

"Yeah. He's fine," Cougle replied. "He's getting plastic surgery next week."

Cougle did not return calls placed to her cell phone; St. Michel's telephone number did not work.

No one answered either the front or back door at their Louise Avenue home Thursday after repeated knocking, although a child was crying loud enough to be heard outside.

Meanwhile, Massey said he has a strong interest in making sure law enforcement officials do everything possible to protect children, and dogs with a history of biting should not be kept in homes with children.

Massey said he has seen many maulings by dogs during his career.

"Every time one of these maulings happen, I get self-proclaimed dog experts who will immediately respond that it's not the dog's fault; it's the owner. I don't doubt in some cases they may be, but the bottom line is, there are some breeds we have that are more aggressive by nature than others. You cannot predict with certainty that they won't turn on not just a child, but other people."

He said the size and temperment of the dogs can be a dangerous mix.

"These are powerful dogs -- they cause a lot of damage," he said. "They're powerful wounds, ripping of skin and muscle and tissue. They're disfiguring in some cases."

Several years ago, Massey worked to help amend a law that ultimately allowed police to report dog bites; before that, a complainant had to be someone other than police, he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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