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Mother of McKeesport boy killed by dog pleads guilty

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Brandy Furlong, whose 2-day-old son Howard Nicholson was killed by a family pet in this house at 1713 Scot Street on Feb.

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Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 4:41 a.m.
 

The mother of a 2-day-old boy who was killed by a family dog in McKeesport last February has pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of children and dog attack causing serious injury or death.

Brandy Furlong, 22, of McKeesport on Monday was sentenced to six months of house arrest and three years of probation in connection with the endangerment charge and two years of probation for the dog attack charge.

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Edward J. Borkowski said the two periods of probation may be served consecutively.

The judge also raised questions about Furlong's living conditions since her pet husky fatally attacked her newborn son Howard Nicholson Jr. on Feb. 16, 2012, in Furlong's Scott Street home.

Furlong and the boy's father, Howard Nicholson Sr., still live together at another location in McKeesport. The couple no longer owns any animals, and two other children Furlong has with another partner are living with the biological father in Somerset County, according to court testimony.

Public defender Nicole Jackson said Furlong hopes to have shared custody and again become part of the lives of her children, ages 3 and 7.

“This is a terrible tragedy,” said Jackson. “She has suffered a lot since this has happened.”

Furlong, who was accompanied in court by Nicholson Sr., only responded to the court with yes and no answers. Outside the courtroom, she said she was unhappy with the way prosecutor Laura Ditka handled evidentiary photos showing her son after the dog attack in the courtroom. Though Ditka did not have to present the photos to the court, they were briefly visible to those seated in the gallery.

“I'm not really pleased in having to look at the pictures,” Furlong said.

Ditka remarked to the judge that it was interesting to note that when issues involving the ownership and fate of the dog blamed for the attack were at stake, the courtroom was filled to capacity. Now, when charges directly related to the death of a child were at issue, none of those former throngs were around, she said.

An Allegheny County and several McKeesport police officers watched the proceedings but none addressed the court.

Furlong had left her son unattended in a baby carrier on the floor of the home while she was in another room. She heard the child screaming minutes later and ran in to see the child covered in blood with the family's pet husky Nikko hovering over him.

The infant was pronounced dead from severe head trauma about 90 minutes later at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Officials removed the husky and a pit bull the day of the accident and a legal battle over who had custody of the animals soon began.

McKeesport animal control officer Ken Ferree had brief possession of the dog but then turned it over to a Churchill man who had made an agreement with Nicholson Sr. to pay the dog's impoundment and licensing fees.

The next day, Borkowski ordered the dog be seized from its new owner by the state dog warden and quarantined until its “eventual possible destruction.”

The owner appealed the court's action, claiming the dog was seized without due process of the law being served and the animal was seized without being legally declared dangerous.

There were several hearings on the dog's status. Eventually, the judge approved an agreement that allowed the animal to be sent to a sanctuary for dangerous dogs and former fighting dogs.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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