Board of Works order pit bull to be euthanized

Emotions ran high at City Hall Thursday evening as one woman left, flanked by police, amid a profanity-laced outburst and another collapsed in a fit of tears after Board of Works members sided with animal control officials and ordered their family dog, a brown-and-white pit bull named Axil, to be euthanized.

Elizabeth Zink, whose boyfriend, Mike Dugan, owns the dog, pleaded for the dog's life during the near 90-minute hearing.

“I do not know what happened that day because I was not there,” she told board members through tears, “but even if this did happen, he deserves the right to live.

“I can't imagine his life not being spared,” she said.

Minutes later, when board members made their decision known, she attempted to make her way out of City Hall only to fall to the ground, overwhelmed with emotion.

Earlier, her daughter, Erica Chambers, battled with police as they attempted to silence her during the hearing.

“They're trying to kill Axil!” she yelled, before leaving in a fit of rage, her screams reverberating through City Hall.

“This isn't something we ever like to do,” Mayor Joe Yochum said, his voice raising above the scuffle, as the hearing came to an end.

Axel allegedly got away from some family members near Chicago Park on July 30, ran into the park and bit a 14-year-old girl, Courtnee Winemiller, on the legs.

Winemiller testified Thursday — each person who wanted to speak was officially sworn in by city attorney Dave Roellgen — that she had been swinging in the park, as she often does, when she was attacked from behind by the dog. She said she tried to kick him away, but he came back and bit her again.

“I love dogs,” she told the board. “I love all animals. But that dog scared me half to death.”

Board members, too, heard from city fire chief Sonny Pinkstaff and two city police officers who responded to the victim's home and Dugan's, both located on Minneapolis Street, and reported a rather chaotic scene as Winemiller was distraught at the experience, as were family and neighbors who had collected there.

Chambers and her husband, Brent Chambers, had reportedly been walking the dog near their home when he got away from them. They located him near Chicago Park, got him into their car, but he reportedly got away again, this time running up to Winemiller and biting her on the legs.

Brent Chambers, too, testified that he watched Axil run up to Winemiller.

“I seen him up on her,” he said.

Dugan, however, doesn't believe it was Axil at all. Despite not being home that day — and witness testimony to the contrary — he said had Axil bit the girl, he would have done far more damage. The dog has “2,200 pounds of pressure to his bite,” he said.

“So how did she just walk off?” he asked.

Dugan, too, said the dog had never exhibited aggressive behavior before. Other family and friends, too, offered stories of an affectionate dog likes to give “hugs” and is kind to strangers and even rowdy children.

But Leah Vantlin, director of the animal shelter at 1128 River Road, said her decision to recommend euthanasia for the dog had as much to do with his behavior since being at the shelter than the bite itself.

Axil's behavior, she described as “unpredictable.” She claims he has “lunged after staff in an attempt to bite.”

“My feeling is if he is released into the public, it's just a matter of time before he bites again.”

Vantlin, too, said Axil was adopted out of the Vincennes shelter just a year ago. He was later re-homed, however, unbeknownst to city officials, to Dugan.

She also told board members that during the dog's earlier stay at the shelter, before he was adopted, he showed no signs of aggression.

Dugan and his family, however, argue that the dog's behavior at the shelter is likely the result of being in an unfamiliar place for so long, and they offered to find him a home elsewhere, perhaps out of state or with a pit bull rescue willing to rehabilitate him.

Board member Steve Blinn said when he first heard of the instance last month, he was “open-minded.” After the hearing Thursday, however, it was closed to any possibility of releasing the dog back into the public.

The one consistent thread through everyone's stories, he pointed out, was that Axil often gets away from his owners.

“I realize you love your dog, that is not the question,” Blinn said. “My concerns are that he had no shots (his vaccinations were not up to date) and (you have) no control. And I know you said you could place him in another area, even another state, but we don't transfer problems elsewhere.

“We have to deal with them right here, right now.”

The mayor agreed.

“The problem is if we allow you to relocate the dog, and he bites somebody else,” he said, “the liability is (with the city).”

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