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Toddler son of Steelers' James Harrison mauled in backyard

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By Jill King Greenwood
Saturday, May 23, 2009

A 50-pound pit bull pounced on the 2-year-old son of Steelers linebacker James Harrison in the family's Franklin Park backyard, repeatedly biting the child's leg and refusing to let go, a friend said Friday.

Lisa Ripi, a family friend of Harrison's, said she was with James Harrison III and the child's mother during the attack Thursday afternoon. The dog, named Patron, had just been released from his backyard kennel and was running around the yard when the baby started crying, Ripi said.

"He was playing and then the baby cried and he just went after him," Ripi said. "And I thought he was kinda like just playing, jumping on him. But he started to grab at the baby and I saw some blood and (the baby's mother) just fell on top of him and she was screaming for me to take her baby."

Ripi said she picked up the baby and ran "about 40 yards" to a fence and dropped the child about two feet to the other side.

"The dog then went to go for the baby through the fence," said Ripi, who ran from the yard with the child's mother and called 911.

The baby was taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville, where his condition was not known. Ripi said she didn't believe his injuries were life-threatening.

Harrison, angered by the publicity, declined comment. He was not home at the time of the incident, Ripi said.

Ripi said she was bitten in the leg as she ran with the baby and required several stitches. The child's mother, whom she didn't name, also was bitten and treated in a local hospital, Ripi said.

Bill Parise, Harrison's Pittsburgh-based agent, said he spoke with Harrison and learned "the boy's going to be fine."

"He was bitten in the thigh; very deep puncture wound," Parise said. "In my conversation with James, the child's OK."

Burt Lauten, public relations and media manager for the Steelers, said in a statement: "We are aware of this unfortunate situation. We express our concern for his family and hope that everyone involved makes a complete recovery."

The dog was taken by Triangle Animal Control and is being kept in a kennel in McKees Rocks, said Ray Fate, Allegheny County animal control officer.

Harrison has said he doesn't want the dog back, Fate said, and authorities cannot give for adoption a dog that has attacked a child. If Harrison doesn't sign the dog over to someone else, the animal will be euthanized in 10 days.

Harrison, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the year, recently signed the second-richest contract in franchise history. He was in Pittsburgh on the day of the attack while the rest of his teammates were in Washington.

He did not accompany the team to meet President Obama, an annual reward for winning the Super Bowl.

In 2006, then-Steelers linebacker Joey Porter was cited by police in Pine after two of his dogs got loose and killed a miniature horse on a nearby farm. Northern Regional police said then that Porter's dogs were licensed in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., but not in Allegheny County.

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