Dogs put down after fatal attack in Latrobe

| Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

Latrobe police shot two pit bull mixes Sunday night after they attacked and killed a Shih Tzu in a neighbor's back yard, police said.

Police Chief Charles Huska said that two officers responded to a house on James Street at about 7 p.m. In the backyard, he said, the officers found three dogs, all pit bull-boxer mixed breeds, continuing to attack the dead Shih Tzu.

Trista Lawson, the owner of the Shih Tzu, said she had let her 10-pound dog, Odie, outside to go to the bathroom. A few minutes later, she heard choking noises and went to check on him.

"There were four dogs," she said. "One had his throat, one had his belly -- they were just tearing him apart."

Lawson said she tried throwing things at the dogs, but they paid no attention. She ran to get help from neighbors who, after seeing how many dogs were involved, called the police. By the time officers arrived, one of the dogs had run away.

Authorities were unable to find or determine who owned that dog, which a neighbor described as "brown and shaggy."

The police officers reported that two of the dogs approached them in a menacing way so they fired their guns, wounding both dogs.

Huska said that the owner surrendered all three dogs and that they had been euthanized.

"They didn't want the dogs after they had seen what happened," said animal control officer Gary Hoffman.

Martin Cramer, the owner of the three dogs, said that they had been loose before, but that they had never hurt anyone until Sunday. The dogs were about a year old, he said. Cramer, who lives on Gertrude Street, a block from Lawson, also owns a Brittany spaniel mix, a Labrador mix and another pit bull-boxer mix, he said.

"I'm taking full responsibility for what happened," he said. "I'm hurting for them people, I'm not hurting for me. I'm broken up about what happened to their dog."

Cramer said he had been working in his garage when all six of his dogs escaped from the backyard. He said that three had come into the garage, but three had run away.

"I was running street to street looking for these dogs," he said. "I don't know what happened."

A neighbor, Tricia Harr, said that she saw Cramer's three dogs and another dog run past her house.

"It just happened so fast," she said. "They just ran up the street and right through the neighbor's yard."

Harr, whose own small dog was standing in her front window as she talked on her porch yesterday, said that she was thankful no children had been outside at the time.

"There's like 12 kids here on the street," she said. "They're usually out playing, but by chance, the Steeler game was on."

Lawson, who has five children, said they were at their grandmother's house at the time.

"It's absolutely a miracle they were not outside," she said.

Hoffman said that Cramer would not be cited for possessing dangerous animals because he voluntarily surrendered the dogs. He said that dogs are deemed dangerous if they attack a person or a domestic animal.

Cramer said he had dealt with "thousands" of dangerous dogs over 28 years as an animal control officer for most of Westmoreland County. He said that it is not illegal to own a dangerous dog, but it must be kept confined or muzzled and the owner must have insurance or a secure bond in case the dog attacks someone.

Last month, Jeannette police shot and killed a rottweiler that was running loose in the city. Also last month, police in North Belle Vernon shot and killed a bulldog that had attacked a man walking two Malteses.

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