Nobody can be sure what happened at the fenceline between two homes at 164th and Terry Lane on Aug. 30.
One dog is dead, another is accused of attacking him, and a family is grieving the loss of a beloved pet.
Bonnie Fouts-Bell is looking for answers after her dog Powder, a 15-year-old American Eskimo, sustained injuries requiring euthanization in a confrontation with her neighbor's pit bull, Lady.
That evening, she called for her dogs Powder and Aspen, both American Eskimos, to come inside. Only Aspen obeyed. Fifteen-year-old Powder was nowhere in sight. It wasn't until her husband Otis peered over the fence, that he spotted Powder, injured and bleeding in the middle of the neighbor's yard.
"I started yelling, 'my dog is dying!'" Fouts-Bell said, recalling her panic as Otis tried to get into the yard to reach Powder.
The dog was rushed for emergency veterinary treatment, where the extent of his injuries pointed to euthanization as the most humane choice, Fouts-Bell said. Powder suffered a broken leg and broken neck, among other injuries. The vet told the family that Powder's injuries looked consistent with the dog having been dragged under the fence, into the neighbor's yard.
Fouts-Bell called police and filed a report. The watch commander on duty issued a temporary vicious order to Raul Bustos, the owner of the 1-year-old pit bull. He recommended that Bustos try to keep the dog indoors.
Fouts-Bell wished to see the dog taken for observation, or the owner cited. She wondered if euthanization was a possible repercussion for a dog who attacks another. Bustos refutes the claim that Lady dragged Powder under the fence, saying instead that Powder dug a hole under the fence and into his yard. In Powder's 15 years, Fouts-Bell said, he never tried to dig under the fence or flee the yard.
A followup call with Chief Greg Anderson on Sept. 5 yielded few answers, Fouts-Bell said. Oak Forest Animal Control and Oak Forest police conducted an investigation into the incident and the dog's nature, consulting with other neighbors in the area. One neighbor told Anderson that their small terrier had escaped the yard, into the Bustos's yard, and the two dogs had played together peacefully. Bustos said Lady was subjected to stress tests, and "passed with flying colors." The Bell family's vet also declined to confirm, to police, that it appeared Powder had been dragged.
Based on the findings and other information gathered, Anderson could not deem Lady "dangerous" or "vicious" by Oak Forest standards. Under Oak Forest ordinances, a dog with a "known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack unprovoked, or to cause injury or to otherwise threaten the safety of human beings or domestic animals" can be declared dangerous. The ordinance closely resembles the state's, Anderson said.
From what he has learned about Lady, Anderson said she does not fit that description.
"We have a one-instance attack, in the dog's own yard," Anderson said. "That does not deem it a vicious dog. If a dog is on its own property, it makes it much more difficult to declare it a dangerous animal."
Bustos describes Lady as a family dog who sleeps at the foot of a 10-month-old baby's crib. She has never displayed aggression toward other dogs or people.
"Her dog dug a hole, came into our yard," Bustos said. "My dog was just protecting her yard."
Anderson will issue a letter with recommendations for Bustos, suggesting that the family keep a close eye on Lady, keep her chained while outside, or keep her inside the garage. If a similar instance occurs again in the future, this encounter could be counted against Bustos—and Lady.
The Bell family, who have lived at the address for 15 years, was also encouraged to reinforce their chain link fence, to help prevent another encounter between her remaining dog and the pit bull. But, Bonnie said, she is also concerned about the safety of her 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.
"There's a spot where that dog has bitten through the privacy slats," Fouts-Bell said. "The dog has been seen peering through the fence. I have to worry about my children now."
Bustos said he is sympathetic to the Bell family's situation, but worries about having to find a new home for Lady in order to prevent further escalation. He also said that on occasion, Bell and her husband had antagonized Lady by spraying both dogs with a hose in order to break up a barking match. Powder's owners confirmed the hose incident, saying it was a harmless attempt to quell the barking. Regardless, Bustos said, he realizes the pain in losing a pet.
"It's a tragedy for both families."
How do you think Oak Forest police and animal control handled this situation? Should the dog or its owner face different or additional consequences? Tell us in the comments.