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Originally published September 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 13, 2007 at 9:18 PM

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Pit bulls bite Mount Baker man, kill dog he was shielding

Bob Walston saw the two pit bulls just as he rounded the corner in his quiet Mount Baker neighborhood early Tuesday morning, but it was...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Bob Walston saw the two pit bulls just as he rounded the corner in his quiet Mount Baker neighborhood early Tuesday morning, but it was too late.

The pit bulls were on him and his dog, Margaret Thatcher, within seconds.

Margaret Thatcher yelped in agony as the pit bulls tore into her tiny body despite Walton's efforts to shield her from the attack. Walston, 70, screamed for help and in pain as the pit bulls bit his arms in their frenzy to reach his dog.

All along Bella Vista Avenue South doors were flung open and people ran from their homes, some dressed for work, others in pajamas. When the two pit bulls ran off, neighbor Brent Fluvog managed to chase one down and capture it using his belt as a makeshift leash and collar.

The second dog, a male named Chocolate, was located Wednesday night at a home in the 3600 block of Cortland Place South, about a half-mile from the scene of the attack.

Chocolate, and the female pit bull named Remy, are being held at the Seattle Animal Shelter. Walston and Fluvog identified both animals today as being responsible for killing Walston's dog, said Don Jordan, director of the Seattle Animal Shelter.

No decision has been made on whether the dogs will be euthanized. The dogs' owner, a woman, could face up to a $1,000 fine and criminal charges in connection with the attack, Jordan said.

Walston's injuries were minor, but his "Schnoodle" -- a mixed poodle and schnauzer he and his wife had nicknamed "Maggie" -- died shortly after the attack.

As troubling as the attack was for the Walstons and their neighbors, some are equally distressed with the response from police -- or lack thereof. Animal control responded within minutes after neighbors called 911.

Police officers were not dispatched because the department did not receive any calls, said Seattle police spokesman Mark Jamieson. Jamieson said the department's policy is to respond to all 911 calls reporting an attack in progress. He said 911 dispatchers have no record of receiving an emergency call from neighbors despite the insistence of at least one.

"We're still investigating why, if people did call 911, we didn't respond," Jamieson said.

Jordan said animal-control officers scoured the South Seattle neighborhood Tuesday and Wednesday in search of the tan-and-white pit bull that ran off after the attack. The dog that Fluvog captured, a 1- or 2-year-old female without identification tags, is being held in quarantine because it may have bitten Walston, he said.

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"We respond to everything animal-related," Jordan said. "Animal bites are very high on our response list. We take every animal bite very seriously."

The animal will eventually be euthanized, Jordan said. Nobody has come forward to claim her.

Jordan said that more than half of the dogs at the shelter are pit bulls or pit-bull mixes and that about 30 percent of the dog-bite cases animal-control officers investigate involve the breed.

"Part of the problem is the sheer number of these animals in this community," he said. "This breed is out there in numbers. In 1990, when I started, the fad was Dobermans, then it was Rottweilers. Then in 1998 we started seeing pit bulls and pit mixes. It continues to be a fad."

Jordan said it's not uncommon to investigate fatal attacks on dogs involving pit bulls. Last month, the breed made local headlines after a Pierce County woman was mauled by two dogs that entered her home while she was sleeping. The dogs killed a Jack Russell terrier in the attack.

"They're not born ready to bite. This is a learned behavior," Jordan said. "I have come across just as many nice pit bulls as nasty ones."

Fluvog said that when he caught up with the female pit bull, the dog cowered before starting to lick his hands. He said he took off his belt, wrapped it around the animal's neck and led it back to the attack site. It wasn't until hours later that he thought what could have happened.

"When I look back at what I did, I think I took a chance that I wouldn't do again," Fluvog said Wednesday. "You hear pit bulls all the time being unpredictable, but me going up to it with my belt, that was a mistake. I got away with it." Neighbor Kate Grutz said Walston's screams pulled her from bed to a window where she saw the dogs "leaping" at Walston in front of her house.

"There's still blood on the sidewalk," Grutz said.

Walston's wife, Lillian, 72, said she heard her husband's screams and Maggie's howling from inside their home, about a block away.

"There's a lot of people around here with little dogs," she said. "We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time." The Walstons said they planned to hold a memorial service in their backyard for Maggie on Wednesday night. They were asking friends, neighbors and relatives to attend the burial.

Since the attack, e-mails have been sent from Mount Baker community groups warning people. While Lillian Walston said she's going to start carrying bear mace and forbidding her grandchildren from walking to the park alone, Grutz said she armed herself with a stick Wednesday morning while going for a walk.

"In this neighborhood the general rule is we take care of our dogs," Grutz said.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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