St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church is going to put more teeth in its policies after two men and a dog were attacked and seriously injured by a pit bull that belongs to a homeless member of the church on Fir Street near Azalea Park in Brookings.
According to Debbie Powell, her father’s two Australian shepherds, Red and Pete, were in the back of his truck when a man identified as Larry Otts was transferring his dog from the cab of his truck to the bed.
According to witnesses, the pit bull jumped up against the other truck, grabbed one of the dogs and pulled it out of the bed of the truck before her father, Jim Blunt, and his friend Doug Martin tried to break it up.
“That pit bull was on top of Pete,” Powell said. “He had him by the throat and was dragging him across the parking lot. Jim tried to separate the dogs, and Doug tried to help. Larry was back in the corner and just watched. He didn’t even bother to help. He just loaded up his truck and left.”
Otts could not be located for comment.
Only when someone doused the dogs with a hose did the pit bull stop; Pete scampered under a truck, Powell said.
Pete was almost killed in the melee, she said, and Blunt and Martin were taken to the urgent care facility in town and treated for their injuries.
“The top of his hand was torn open,” Powell said of her father’s injuries. “They couldn’t stitch it because his skin is too thin.”
Martin, 70, suffered both puncture and a crushing wounds, she said — and both men have developed cellulitis, an infection that, without aggressive treatment can be life-threatening.
Pete suffered a torn ear, puncture wounds around his throat and a gash on his head. His veterinary bill exceeded $550.
Otts, who belongs to the church, has since returned, but his pit bull, Zeus, is “in hiding,” Powell said — and no longer permitted at the church, according to Lindley.
“It would be best if the dog stayed far, far away from the church,” he said. “If we see the dog, we’re going to have serious consequences.”
Powell wants Zeus euthanized, as this is not the first time he has bitten.
“I think he’s a danger to other people, dogs,” she said. “I’d like to see that dog put down. Dog bites are nothing to be taken lightly. If you have a dog that habitually bites, that’s a problem.”
The dog’s vaccinations are current, Powell said, and the family has filed a formal complaint with the Brookings Police Department.
St. Timothy’s is known for its open policies regarding those who don’t have permanent addresses, providing food, clothing and some medical assistance to those in need.
St. Timothy’s Vicar Bernie Lindley said while the result was unfortunate, the incident could have happened anywhere.
“I don’t really see what to make of it,” Lindley said, acknowledging the severity.
“Dogs, when dogs get into fights; it happens. Stuff like this can happen in an instant. If dogs get into a tussle somewhere else, in the street itself, I don’t think anyone would sue the city because there’s a tussle and people are trying to separate them.”
He said Otts is “certainly responsible,” but all he can do is make sure rules on church grounds are strictly enforced. He also pointed out that Otts has a weak hand due to an injury and he might not have been able to hold onto the dog.
“I know Larry doesn’t want to see his dog be put down, but I don’t know if there’s a lot of room in this world for aggressive dogs,” Lindley said. “It’s not like he was doing something unusually reckless.
“I don’t see how we could prevent it from happening as a congregation, but we’re going to strictly enforce the city dog leash ordinance from now on,” Lindley added. “Not that we didn’t enforce it; we just didn’t trespass people for violating it. Now we’re going to. Anybody who doesn’t have their dog completely under control at all times is no longer welcome on church property.”
Additionally, he said, in the past, the church tried to not bring the police into given situations if it wasn’t needed.
“We’re going to kind of step that up until this calms down,” Lindley said. “People who use the building need to feel safe. There needs to be a code of civility. We’re going to increase our expectations of conduct across the board. Hopefully that will help everything get back to normal.”
Lindley said he realizes the incident could feed tension about the homeless situation.
“Nerves are on edge, but if Larry did have a home, it wouldn’t have changed what happened,” he said, adding that Otts has lived in the Brookings area for eight or nine years. “What a super huge drag. If it would’ve been a homed person, there wouldn’t be all this angst. It’d be a crisis, and homeowner’s insurance kicks in. Larry doesn’t have homeowners insurance. We’ve already got this fire raging (homeless issue) in the community, and because he doesn’t have a permanent address, it’s all, ‘I told you so.’”
It’s testing the friendships, too, as Powell and Blunt are long-time friends of Lindley.
“I know Bernie and I will stay friends afterward, but I’m thoroughly disappointed with the situation and how it’s gotten out of control,” she said. “Will I alienate Bernie? No, but it’s unfortunate. This whole deal is very unfortunate.
Blunt doesn’t want to talk about it.
“He’s pissed,” Powell said. “But Bernie is a friend. I’ve known him for many, many years. I’m struggling with it. I’m trying to keep principles before personalities. I think the church or Bernie needs to step up and do the right thing; I don’t know.”
And she said she understands the plight of those who have no home and have a dog to protect them.
“With homeless dogs, they tend to encourage aggression because (the dogs) are their protection — I get that,” she said. “When you encourage the behavior, that’s the kind of dog you have. That’s their street protection, but by god, you need to be in control of your dog.”
“For people living in the rough, it makes sense to have a companion dog,” Lindley said. “But it makes sense that they be responsible. My job is to be more vigilant that people maintain that responsibility.”