Lakisha Moss can’t shake the gruesome, heartbreaking scene she witnessed Wednesday inside a neighbor’s living room. She wonders if she ever will.
The College Park woman was at home with her mother that afternoon when they heard loud shrieks and a neighbor’s dog making a “really weird sound.” They went next door to investigate.
“I opened the door and I saw the baby laying there,” Moss said. “There was a pool of blood, blood over all the walls and everything.”
Two-year-old Beau Rutledge had been attacked by his family’s pet of eight years, a mixed breed American Staffordshire terrier that shares the same background as the pit bull terrier. Beau’s mother, Angela Rutledge, had gone to the bathroom and when she came out, her only son was no longer breathing.
“My dog just killed my son!” she repeated to a 911 operator in a harrowing call from her south Fulton townhome. The Amstaff can be heard in the background barking loudly.
What caused the dog to attack the toddler is unclear. Police say they’ve received no previous complaints about the Amstaff.
“We had nothing in our report system,” Fulton County Police Sgt. Scott McBride said Thursday. “No issues, no nothing.”
Beau Rutledge was the second Georgia toddler this month killed by a pit bull breed. A little more than three weeks ago in tiny Ellabell, 30 miles west of Savannah, a 21-month old slipped through a dog door into the the backyard where she was mauled to death by the family’s seven dogs. A few months earlier, a 5-year-old Spalding County girl was critically injured when she was bitten in the face by a pet pit bull.
There have been several other similar incidents in the metro area over the past few years, and after a Lithonia 10-year-old was mauled by two pit bulls in March 2010, DeKalb County briefly enacted a pit bull ban. It was subsequently lifted after officials determined enforcement was impossible.
While the latest attack is sure to bring about calls to revisit such a ban, the dogs have their defenders and, according to some studies, are no more aggressive than a collie.
A 2008 study by the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, found that pit bulls were no more aggressive toward strangers and their owners than other breeds.
But a 1998 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which examined 20 years of fatal dog bite data, found that 66 people died from pit bull bites — nearly twice as many as Rottweilers. The CDC’s research has not been updated, however.
“We’ve got to look at behavior, not breed,” said Victoria Stilwell, a dog trainer and canine aggression expert based in Atlanta. “I think it’s really important people don’t jump to conclusions.”
It’s unknown if the Amstaff was spayed or neutered. Male dogs that haven’t been neutered are responsible for most of these attacks, Stilwell said.
“There are so many variables,” she added. “You’ve got to find out not just the behavior of the dog, but the family that owns it.”
There’s always a risk when you leave a child alone with a dog, regardless of breed, Stilwell said.
“A lot of these deaths happen in the blink of an eye,” she said.
The fate of the Rutledges’ dog remains unclear. Animal control workers took custody of the canine and took it to a shelter for evaluation. As of 6 p.m. Thursday, the Amstaff was still alive.
“At this time, no determination has been made regarding disposition of the animal,” Lara Hudson, executive director for Fulton County Animal Services, said in a statement.” “We are currently awaiting a directive from Fulton County law enforcement officials.”
Fulton police, District Attorney Paul Howard’s office and the Fulton Medical Examiner are all involved in determining the canine’s fate.
“We don’t know what made it attack the child as it did,” said Oliver Delk, administrator for Fulton County Animal Services.
Moss and another neighbor, Kendra Clopton, said the dog, which was kept indoors, showed no signs of aggressiveness.
“It was a family pet,” Clopton said. “I don’t know what went through the dog’s mind, but it wasn’t a vicious dog.”
No charges have been filed against the parents, McBride said, though the investigation is ongoing.
“It’s going to take a while,” he said.
The mother was “extremely distraught” over the death of her child and was taken to South Fulton Medical Center for treatment, McBride said. The father returned home from his job at Woodward Academy and became “very hysterical and irate,” the incident report states. A Taser was used to subdue Jeremiah Rutledge, according to the report. Beau’s older sister was at school when the attack happened.
“It was very traumatizing,” Moss said. “I felt like I was in a horror film.”
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