12/23/10 11:35AM | 551 views
Tragic end for Cali the pitbull
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BRISTOL — An adult female pitbull, abandoned and then bounced around to three owners in two months, will likely be put to sleep soon.

Described as gentle and sweet by shelter volunteers who have worked with her, the prospect of her euthanization was enough to bring one of them to tears at the Warren Animal Shelter, where the blue nose pitbull will be held until time runs out for her owner from Warwick to appeal a recent decision in Bristol that she is a vicious dog. Otherwise, she must be put to sleep.

On Dec. 5, the pitbull had been brought by the owner’s son to Bristol’s Christmas Festival, where, among a crowd of people watching the Grand Illumination, the pitbull attacked a 7-year-old yellow Labrador. Both dogs were leashed.

The yellow Labrador, named Liberty, suffered puncture wounds to her ear and the left side of her head. Two men who tried to help were injured while breaking up the attack.

At a vicious dog hearing at the Bristol Police Department last Friday, the pitbull was declared vicious.

Michael Decosta Sr. of Warwick, owner of the pitbull he named Cali, says he had adopted the dog only the day before the attack. He said he left the pitbull with his 14-year-old son at the boy’s mother’s house in Bristol.

Moments before the attack, Liberty was lying down and kids were petting her, said Liberty’s owner Todd Roper. Nearby, Mr. Decosta’s son led his dog through the crowd, holding short onto the dog’s leash. Mr. Roper said Cali lunged at Liberty and bit the left side of the yellow lab’s head, pinning her to the ground. Five or six people tried to break up the dogs.

Once the dogs were pulled apart, Shana Roper, his wife, called 911. The pitbull was taken to the Warren Animal Shelter. Mr. Roper took his dog to a veterinary hospital. The veterinarian worked on Liberty for more than five hours and gave her nearly 30 stitches.

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Mr. Decosta's son and a bystander, Ralph Altrui of Pawtucket, suffered bites to their hands trying to separate the dogs.

The Ropers testified they were concerned children could have been victims. The Decostas explained that because they had the dog for only 24 hours, they only saw her docile side, having seen the dog interact with the family’s other dog and with Mr. Decosta’s son.

The hearing panel agreed that the dog attacked in a “vicious and terrorizing manner.” A 2-to-1 vote ruled that the dog would not have to be euthanized, but instead placed the burden of responsibility on the dog’s owner. If he decides to keep Cali, Mr. Decosta may not sell or give away the dog, and she must be kept indoors at all times or contained in a six-sided kennel. He would be required to obtain “vicious dog” insurance and notify police if the dog gets loose or if he moves with the dog to another town. If he chooses not to take on all this, the dog must be put down.

Cali was still at the Warren Animal Shelter as of Tuesday.

Mr. Decosta told the Ropers and others, “I am very sorry for what happened.” He offered to pay any medical and veterinary bills.

Not much is known about Cali before she was brought to Rhode Island. The pitbull had been rescued from a Connecticut shelter by a Newport woman, who then surrendered the dog to the Potter League for Animals in Middletown in October. While at the Potter League, the pitbull went through basic training, at the end of which she was given an evaluation of whether she could be placed in a home, which she passed. A woman who specializes in working with pitbulls came in to help with the dog, and she said Cali played well with people and dogs, never showing signs of aggression.

The Potter League adopted her out to a Cranston man on Nov. 20. Just a few weeks later, the pitbull ended up with Mr. Decosta.

— Reports by Eric Dickervitz and Jill Rodrigues

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