Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fort Worth, Texas, continues to pursue fines against veteran for attacks by pit bull he says is his "therapy dog"

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

City officials will continue to pursue thousands of dollars in outstanding fines against a disabled Fort Worth veteran who has been accused of misrepresenting his military record to gain public favor to save his so-called therapy dog, accused of attacking a man in the summer.

A municipal court judge ruled in October that Steven Woods' dog Mimi (pictured) was dangerous after finding evidence that she was involved in an attack on an 84-year-old man in July. Woods was also cited in three other incidents involving pit bulls, including another attack.

With help from an attorney, Woods quickly raised more than $17,000 through appeals on the Internet, claiming that the animal was a therapy dog helping Woods overcome injuries suffered in Iraq.

But WFAA/Channel 8 reported Monday that Woods served in the Arkansas National Guard and that Veterans Affairs has no record of him having served overseas.

Woods did not respond to phone calls seeking comment Tuesday, though he has previously denied that he told anyone the dog was his.

His former attorney, Randy Turner, declined to comment other than to say that as of Tuesday morning his firm no longer represents Woods.

The city, which found itself in a public relations quandary, maintained that Woods' status as a disabled veteran is irrelevant to enforcing a city ordinance on dangerous dogs, officials said.

"It's unfortunate that somebody would misrepresent that -- I guess it's alleged," said Councilman Jungus Jordan, a Vietnam War veteran.

"I'm not here to challenge his record whatsoever. That's really not germane to the role the city of Fort Worth animal control has, and the bottom line is the responsibility to protect public safety: Do his dogs and his containment of those dogs have any impact on public safety?"

Jordan said his office handled about 400 e-mails in November regarding Mimi, and city spokesman Bill Begley said the city has received hundreds more, many bashing the city for a perceived grievance against a veteran.

Mimi was to be euthanized if Woods did not comply with the dangerous-dog ordinance, which requires that it be spayed, kept in an enclosed area or on a leash and muzzled whenever outside. Woods must also carry $100,000 in liability insurance.

Woods, who said he lives on about $780 a month in disability, made the necessary upgrades after Turner's pleas on the Internet found a favorable reception.

"It didn't change because of any e-mails the city got," said Brandon Bennett, Fort Worth's code compliance director. "I was never asked by the mayor or by any council member, the city manager or anybody else to do anything different than what was required by the court order.

"The reason the case ended the way it did is because Mr. Woods complied with the court order."

From April to June, Woods was cited three other times because of his dogs, the city said. In one case, a 64-year-old woman was attacked and seriously injured by four pit bulls. According to witnesses, Woods left his house and kicked one dog to stop the attack.

In another instance, two police officers reported having to use pepper spray against two aggressive pit bulls that they said Woods acknowledged were his. According to a police report, Woods became "belligerent" when a neighbor confronted him about his dogs chasing a group of children and the neighbor feared "he would have ... to shoot the dogs."