It's been over a year since two pit bulls attacked three people on Fort Wayne's south side. Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control is still trying to keep their former owner, habitual animal offender Hattie Moore, from keeping dogs on her property.
Moore, 38, of the 2600 block of River Park Drive, has a record with Animal Care and Control dating back to 2006 that includes multiple violations.
Belinda Lewis, director of Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control, said it is frustrating there are not stiffer penalties for a habitual offender. Under state law, city citations cannot include jail time, and the maximum fine for possession of a dangerous animal is $2,500. Lewis said they are considering adding an amendment to the current city ordinance to give judges a little more leeway in cases like this. Fortunately, both Lewis and Randy Thornton, enforcement division supervisor for Animal Care and Control, said, there are very few cases such as this.
Moore could not be reached by phone and did not respond to a certified letter sent by The News-Sentinel requesting comment for this story.
Before the 2012 attacks she had been cited with violations including no kennel/cattery permit, no rabies vaccination, public nuisance-animal, (dogs running at large), and minor breeder permit violations. Thornton described the offenses as mainly smaller, nuisance stuff.
But on Feb. 9, 2012, that all changed when a neighbor was bitten by a pit bull that was running at large; the description and photo led to the dog being identified as Moore's. The white and tan pit bull believed to be responsible for the bite was running with a brown pit bull at the time of the attack.
Animal Care and Control officers responded to Moore's property, seeking to take the two dogs into custody for quarantine. Moore told them she had left the dogs in the backyard while she went to Wal-Mart. Officers at the time had noticed paw prints in the snow leading to the front door, but Moore told the officers the dogs always stayed in the backyard. Moore told the officers that she would look for the dogs and left the scene.
For the next two days, officers returned to her property to collect the dogs, and each day no one answered the door. On Feb. 13, a certified letter was sent to Moore with a summons. She was cited for potentially dangerous dogs level 2, habitual animal offender, failing to quarantine a biting dog, failure to obtain pet registration and failure to obtain rabies vaccination.
The initial hearing was scheduled for Feb. 29. The two dogs were never found, and Moore never surrendered the animals to the shelter for quarantine. Somehow between the date of the dog bite and Feb. 22, 2012, the two canines ended up on the south side of town, where they seriously injured three people in one afternoon.
Maurice Eley was a hero that day. Driving down an alley by Wiebke Street at around 3 p.m., Eley looked out his window and saw an 11-year-old boy being attacked by two dogs. Eley didn't pause. He pulled over and headed into the open lot. Arming himself with a glass bottle he found on the ground, he charged in. The dogs quickly turned from the boy to the 51-year-old man, biting him on both legs. Eley was able to hold both dogs down until help arrived on the scene.
"I just picked up a bottle and started beating on them, and they attacked me," Eley said at that time.
What Eley didn't know was that just around the block at Brownlee and Son's Grocery, 613 E. Pontiac St., a 77-year-old woman had already been attacked. According to her court testimony, Virgie Banks was sitting on a bench in front of the store when a brown dog attacked her foot. Banks testified during the subsequent trial that the other dog tried to bite her, but did not. She was able to get into the store and away from the two dogs. Thomas Brownlee, owner of the store, reported the bite.
"That bite was down to the bone," Brownlee said shortly after the attack.
Both Eley and the 11-year-old boy suffered deep punctures with tearing from the animals.
When Fort Wayne Police arrived, Eley was still struggling with the two dogs, holding them by the scruff of their necks. An officer shot the dogs. One died instantly, and the other, wounded, was chased down within a block and dispatched.
No one in the area recognized the dogs, Lewis said. It turned out no one knew them because they were from the Concordia Gardens neighborhood. Thornton said the dogs appeared to be clean and in good health, not what one would expect to find of two dogs that had traveled 10 miles from their home, had been sleeping outside for several days and had nothing to eat.
Lewis said Animal Care and Control officers had gone door to door in that neighborhood right after the attack but no one could tell them where the dogs were being kept. Lewis said this is unusual in a case this severe. When a child is injured, people are more likely to come forward.
It could never be proved that Moore had taken the dogs to that area, though investigators believe Moore had a connection to a person who lived three blocks from where the south-side attacks took place. It wasn't until one of the animal control officers, Erika Hedge, awoke in the middle of the night with the realization that she recognized the dogs. Going back through case files the next morning, Hedge was able to match file pictures of Moore's dogs to the two dead dogs. Moore was taken to court. Animal Care and Control had to prove the dogs were Moore's, under a city ordinance, instead of prosecuting her under Indiana state law. State law requires, Lewis said, that you prove intent, knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally. They couldn't prove where the dogs were being kept on the south side, so they couldn't prove that Moore had brought the dogs to another person who had then let them run free. Instead, because they could link the ownership of the animals to Moore, they went for two charges of possession of a dangerous animal, a city ordinance violation.
Using the photos on file, they were able to put together 28 identifying marking characteristics of Moore's two animals that matched the photos of the dead dogs to the living dogs.
Animal Care and Control won the case. Moore was charged with two counts of possession of a dangerous animal. The maximum fine is $2,500 for each charge.
Thornton said because Moore is a habitual animal offender, she has been ordered not to have any animals on her property for 10 years. Court cases including dog-bite liability, no rabies vaccination, failure to display pet permit, habitual animal offender and failure to shelter are under way but have not been decided yet.
Since 2007 Moore has been in court for 17 different incidents on charges from Animal Care and Control. She has racked up thousands of dollars in fines.