MANSFIELD - In light of a recent vicious dog attack in Mansfield, the city's law director is again asking for the creation of an animal control officer position.
At Tuesday night's council meeting, Mansfield Law Director John Spon shared with the city's safety committee the chain of events leading to a pit bull biting the cheek of a 3-year-old boy on Bartley Avenue on June 7.
"It was a horrible, horrible scene," said Spon, who was not present for the incident. "One thing is certain, if one or both of these dogs had continued to attack this child, this child would probably be dead."
According to an incident report from the Mansfield Police Department (MPD), officers were called to the scene after a citizen called advising a 3-year-old boy's "face was bitten off by a dog." At OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, bandages from the boy's face were removed to reveal that the boy was "missing almost the entire right cheek of his face."
Witness to the attack was the boy's mother, Amber Butler, who stated in the MPD report that two of her sons, ages 3 and 6, were playing in their front yard when she witnessed a neighbor boy attempting to pull their pit bull inside their residence on Bartley Avenue. The neighbor boy lost his grip on the pit bull, and the dog ran into Butler's front yard and attacked her 3-year-old son.
"Witness advised the dog latched on to the victim's face for an unknown amount of time," the report stated.
According to Butler's statement, when the pit bull released the 3-year-old, it then attempted to attack her 6-year-old son. However, Butler stated the family dog - a boxer/pit bull mix named Madrox - then engaged in a fight with the pit bull, saving both boys from being mauled further.
The Richland County Dog Warden filed a follow-up report corroborating the report of MPD, adding that Madrox was let out of the residence on Bartley specifically to save the 3-year-old from the pit bull. However, both dog owners were issued citations for unreasonable control, and both dogs were deemed vicious dogs for causing serious physical harm to a human.
It was this distinction that troubled Sherrel Shoffstall, grandmother of the 3-year-old bite victim. Shoffstall spoke out at the meeting to defend Madrox, who she described as a "lap dog" the family has had for nine years.
"He's a well-trained boxer/pit bull mix, and he went after the other dog," Shoffstall said. "If Madrox hadn't jumped on him and started biting him, my other grandson would've been bitten, too."
"I've heard a lot about your pit bull, but how's your grandson doing?" Spon asked.
Shoffstall responded that the 3-year-old was taken to Nationwide Children's Hospital and the skin of his cheek was reattached to his face via stitches. She told Richland Source the boy has now developed a fear of all dogs - except for Madrox.
Spon used the incident to advocate for an animal control officer position to be created within the Mansfield Police Department, a position that is estimated to cost less than $100,000 per year.
"The purpose is to enforce the laws by having one police officer literally patrol the city streets eight hours a day looking for dogs that are running free, particularly dogs that could be dangerous," Spon said.
The creation of an animal control position has been discussed in Mansfield for years, with particular emphasis after a pit bull ban in Mansfield was deemed not a viable option. The Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled in 2017 that breed-specific legislation is unconstitutional.
Safety Services Director Lori Cope relayed that Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker, who was not present on Tuesday, is not for or against an animal control position. She did note the Richland County Commissioners, who oversee the county dog warden, would be willing to meet with Mansfield officials to further discuss the issue.
This energized members of Mansfield's safety committee, who were eager to discuss with the commissioners the duties and responsibilities of the county dog warden and potentially work out a new partnership with the city.
"I would like to know what the county dog warden is doing," said councilman Jon Van Harlingen. "We need more of a partnership."
"We used to have a contract with the dog warden to provide services to the city of Mansfield," added councilman Phil Scott. "Has there been any consideration in doing that?"
Spon, however, was skeptical at the idea of meeting with the county.
"Nobody has contacted me to say the county commissioners were willing to meet," Spon said. "We've been going through this so-called dialogue with the county for two years; in the meantime, we've got the blood of children being spilled in the streets of Mansfield."
Ultimately the safety committee decided on tabling legislation introducing the position of an animal control officer until after a meeting with the Richland County Commissioners.
"I really want that (meeting) to happen as our next step, and it needs to happen soon," Bryant said. "We need to get down to business."