By 1 p.m., Deppner’s on a call on the 2200 block of Nicholson Street SE, near L’Enfant Square. The previous week, there was a minor furor at the animal shelter office when a TV station called and said they were working on a story about a child who’d been bitten in the face by a pit bull. According to the reporter, the kid’s upper lip had been almost torn off, and he’d needed 20 stitches.
The media call was the first animal control had heard about the incident. No one had reported a bite; the police hadn’t forwarded any paperwork about an attack. If this thing hit the news with animal control still in the dark, they’d look like incompetents. Then, this morning, a woman had called in asking to surrender a pit bull that, she said, had bit a child in the face. Could it be the same story?
Deppner arrives at a small white row house, where a child answers the door and lets him in. Inside, a woman identifies herself as the animal’s owner. “It’s a sweet dog,” she says as the pit bull sits, tail wagging. “It’s a shame. My man gave it to me when he went to jail, and I’ve had it ever since. But now that this biting thing happened, I don’t know if I should keep him around.”
“What happened?” Deppner asks.
There’s a kid that hangs around the neighborhood, the woman explains. His parents aren’t always around; he panhandles sometimes. He’d slept over a few times, since he was friends with her son. The day of the bite, this kid was trying to force his way into the front door for some reason. Her son was trying to hold it shut. When he finally burst through the door, the pit bull was there to meet him. The dog lunged, biting the kid in the face.
“So it was a provoked bite,” Deppner sighs.
She continues. Almost immediately, she says, the kid’s mother showed up and called the police, who came out and filed a report. Someone messed up, though—this report was never forwarded to animal control, as is standard procedure. She also called the TV crew, who showed up asking questions. Now, with the threat of a lawsuit looming, the owner wants to give up the dog.
Deppner explains what this will mean. A behavioral evaluation and then either adoption, placement in some sort of sanctuary program, or...euthanasia. She nods, and signs the paper.
The woman’s mother, who also lives there, brings the dog over. Dino is a hulking, powerful animal. But right now he seems friendly, wagging his tail and sniffing our hands. The mother asks if it’s OK if she takes Dino out for a walk before Deppner takes her away. Deppner says sure.
Waiting by the van, Deppner looks unhappy. “The dog was only doing what a dog does,” he says. “Someone was trying to break into the house. The dog was protecting its territory.”
As for what happens now, things don’t look good. “A pit bull, with a bite history?,” he says. “Adoption is probably out. There are programs, but spots are hard to come by. That just leaves euthanasia.”
After a few minutes, the woman’s mother returns with the dog. “He’s a good dog,” she says. She’s clearly Dino’s main caretaker. Though her daughter is the ostensible owner, we haven’t seen her pet or otherwise handle Dino, and somewhat conspicuously, she referred to the dog as “it.” The mother, though, is taking this hard. “We used to have people shooting up in our backyard, a crack house next door. He ran them all out. Never had any problems before.”
“It wasn’t the dog’s fault,” Deppner says.
“Is there any chance we could get the dog back later?” the mother asks in a small voice. “Maybe I could find a friend who could take him?”
“I can’t really answer that,” says Deppner. “Maybe.”
Deppner puts the pit bull in the back of the van and we drive off to the next call. Back at the shelter, Dino becomes aggressive toward other dogs and to the shelter staff. Seeing that adoption isn’t an option, and under perpetual pressure to free up the shelter’s limited kennel space, Deppner, exercising his authority as senior animal control officer, makes a judgment call. That evening, Dino is euthanized.
“Come to think of it,” Deppner says, “maybe the worst thing was when someone called me and reported that their dog had been attacked. Someone had slashed it across the throat, they said. So I go over and look at the dog and yeah, it’s got this horrible bloody wound across its neck. This animal was really suffering. So I’m examining the wound and it turns out that it had been wearing the same collar since it was a puppy, and it had grown into this tiny collar and was being slowly strangled to death. And these people had no idea.”