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Thursday, Feb. 2, 2006 02:11 am

Dog day afternoon

The scars — and the dog that caused them — remain after a terrifying attack

What are these dogs thinking? Greg Largent of Sangamon County animal control says he shouldn’t have to guess. Dogs, he says, “should be held accountable” for their actions.
If she had been a child instead of a full-grown adult at the time of the attack, Carla Covington thinks, she’d be dead. Covington was crossing Lawrence Avenue in July 2004 to speak to Vicki Torres, a neighbor, who was standing in her yard behind a picket fence. Torres would later tell investigators that Covington, who had been quarreling with a different neighbor, was yelling and waving her arms and “walking like a mad bull.” That’s not true, says Covington, and a neighbor who was standing nearby backs her. “The victim was not yelling,” writes an animal-control investigator in a synopsis of an interview with the witness. “The victim was not waving her arms. He could not see the victim doing anything he believed would cause a dog to attack.” Covington was next to the sidewalk, on public property, when Muddy, Torres’ rottweiler, lunged through a gate. The dog, which weighed about 100 pounds, was on a leash, but Torres couldn’t control it. “I didn’t even see the dog at first,” Covington says. “All of a sudden, I felt something hit me in the chest, like someone punched me.” The impact knocked her flat on her back. “At that point, I realized I was bitten. I grabbed my chest and rolled up into a ball.” In trying to get away, Covington rolled into the street, stopping traffic. Doctors, she says, stopped counting after more than 100 stitches. Photos of her injury are gruesome and unsuitable for publication. “The reaction from my husband and sister was ‘My God’ when they took the blanket off,” Covington says. “That dog almost detached my left breast — at the hospital, they were iffy as to whether they could save it. It was probably going for my neck.” Doctors spent three hours sewing her back together. “When I came home, the very next day, I looked across the street, and the dog was there,” Covington says. “It was unbelievable. I figured that the dog would be put down or held for a certain amount of time.” Animal control, it turned out, had impounded Muddy, but only long enough to ensure that he had been vaccinated against rabies. Her husband went door to door, gathering signatures from more than 30 neighbors who demanded that the dog be euthanized. Covington called animal control and threatened to take matters into her own hands. Several times she said that she would kill the dog. “I told the animal-control officers I did not know what I was capable of doing,” she recalls. “I would poison the dog. I would do whatever I had to do: ‘You either come and get this dog or I will take care of it myself.’” An animal-control officer warned Covington that she’d be arrested if she tried to harm the dog. Under pressure from Covington, animal control impounded Muddy a few days after the attack and began interviewing witnesses and neighbors to determine whether the dog should be declared vicious. Several neighbors said that they were terrified of Muddy and another dog that lived at the address. One woman told investigators that the dogs growled and barked at passersby and even lunged at windows while inside the house. Another said that Torres could barely control the dogs when taking them for walks. In a written statement given to investigators, Torres complained that Covington had previously called animal control and her landlord about her barking dogs. “She has always hated my dog,” wrote Torres, who also told an investigator that Covington “continually tries to sue people to get an easy dollar.” After four months, a Sangamon County judge declared Muddy vicious and gave the dog back to Torres, who was fined $100. Less than two weeks later, Torres gave the dog away. Covington says that she’s never gotten so much as an “I’m sorry.” Covington tried suing Torres but dropped the lawsuit because her neighbor didn’t have any appreciable assets or liability insurance. She considered suing Torres’ landlord — after all, he knew that a dog was on the premises and collected extra rent for it — but her attorney told her that a dog’s owner, not the landlord, is responsible for an animal’s behavior. Covington says that she even asked Torres to appear on Judge Judy so that she could collect something from the television show to compensate her for her injuries, but Torres said no. “It’s so frustrating,” Covington says. “She got completely away with it. As it stands now, I’m left with a scar that will last forever.” Today, Muddy is alive and well and living in the 900 block of South 15th Street with Gene Vaughn, who loves him dearly. Animal-control records show that Muddy is supposed to be living in a garage behind Vaughn’s house. But after a year of solitary confinement, Vaughn says, he had Muddy evaluated by an animal behaviorist, who said that it was OK to let him live in the house. Kids, he says, would see Muddy alone in the garage and tease him. Even the house constitutes tight quarters. “He’ll sit right there at that window and just moan and groan, wanting to go out,” Vaughn says. Vaughn apologizes for not having Muddy muzzled during a recent visit by a stranger. But Muddy seems more goofy than vicious. He is huge, well over 100 pounds now. He jumps up and goes right for your face so that he can lick a big hello as you stagger backward under the weight of his body. Vaughn is not a small man, but he has difficulty holding the dog back. He insists that Muddy isn’t dangerous, but only a fool would take a chance. “I haven’t had any break-ins since he’s been here,” Vaughn says. Muddy was standoffish when Vaughn first saw him at the pound. “When I walked up on him, he started growling at me,” he says, “but when you got him up in the truck, you couldn’t ask for a better dog. My grandchildren, they’re rough. They pull on his ears, and he just sits there and takes it.” An animal-control truck drives past a few times a week, Vaughn says, but that’s fine, because his dog never goes outside. Muddy already has a microchip, but Vaughn says that he’s planning to have the dog’s ear tattooed so that he can be more easily identified. No one has ordered Vaughn to do so. “That’s in case he ever gets out,” Vaughn says. “I couldn’t live without him. I hope he’s around as long as I am.
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