Dog owner charged in pit bull attack
The owner of a pit bull that attacked a Silt woman has been charged in the incident, and also has issued a letter publicly apologizing to the victim.The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office has cited Julia Dawn Sullivan, 32, who lives just west of Silt, with unlawful ownership of a dangerous dog, a misdemeanor, and with violating a county requirement that the dog be licensed.Also, Butterbean, the animal that mauled 74-year-old Judy McGruder, will be euthanized with Sullivan’s consent.Sheriff Lou Vallario’s decision to charge Sullivan comes after days of struggling with the legalities surrounding the case, and even as District Attorney Martin Beeson is continuing to try to make his own determination as to whether Sullivan may have broken any state laws.”It’s something that we’ll have to take a look at. I’m not saying that the sheriff’s office is right or wrong,” Beeson said.Sullivan was not available for comment but said in a letter to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent that she was shocked by Butterbean’s actions and supports the euthanization of the dog.”I believe there is no second chance for a dog that behaves like this,” Sullivan said in the letter. “I have relinquished ownership to the authorities, with the full knowledge that he will be put down. … I didn’t want anything to do with the dog once I heard what had happened. The bottom line is, he will not be able to do this to anyone else.”Sullivan added, “My heart goes out to Ms. Judy McGruder. A mere apology only diminishes what I feel for her.”McGruder was attacked after she accidentally went to the wrong residence when going to pick up her grandchild. Sullivan wasn’t home at the time, and the pit bull and three other dogs went outside the home when a man answered the door. Butterbean attacked her as she was heading back to her car. She received some 200 stitches.Vallario charged Sullivan after deciding that there’s not a legal defense for dog attacks when an uninvited person comes onto private property where the animals might be used as protection.But unlike Vallario, Beeson doesn’t think the attack in and of itself makes Sullivan criminally liable under the state law prohibiting ownership of a dangerous dog. To him, the question is whether she had any prior knowledge of the dog seriously attacking a human or domestic animal before, or had reason to believe it might attack. Beeson also said the simple fact that the dog is a pit bull isn’t a factor in the case.Beeson and Vallario agree the law is vague and open to interpretation. Both said the decision to prosecute ultimately will be up to Beeson.Sullivan said in her letter that she had no idea Butterbean was dangerous.”I’ve had him since he was born and have never seen any aggression of this manner from him,” she said.She said Butterbean has been a “mellow, happy-go-lucky” dog, and well-behaved among kids and strangers.”He mauled Judy, he destroyed my trust in any dog, and he spread more panic through the community about these breeds than there already is,” she wrote.Vallario said animal-related incidents can cause people to become emotionally charged, but public outcry had no bearing on his decision to cite Sullivan. The misdemeanor charge against Sullivan carries possible penalties of up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine, but the maximum penalties usually apply only in egregious circumstances, Beeson said.Joy Weathers, McGruder’s daughter, said her mom came home from the hospital Tuesday.”I can’t say she’s resting because she’s not,” she said.She said the family hasn’t heard from Sullivan, “and we understand that, that’s OK.” She said the family appreciates the concern Sullivan expressed in her letter.Weathers said she supports the decision to euthanize the dog. As for the charges against Sullivan, “We feel that the sheriff’s department did what they needed to do, and if that’s what they decided to do then that’s good,” she said.She added, “We really want to express appreciation to everyone who has expressed concern about this and we thank them for being behind us and caring about what has happened to [McGruder], and not just sweeping it under the rug.”
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