Kokomo — The pit bull terrier that mauled 9-year-old Savannah Gragg on May 29 was destroyed that same day with the consent of the dog’s owner.
But the questions over the dog’s behavior remain unanswered, with even dog experts puzzled about what could have triggered the animal’s vicious attack.
Gragg was pronounced dead Thursday afternoon at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. She suffered a lacerated trachea in the attack, and a resulting disruption of oxygen to the brain, according to the Marion County Coroner’s Office.
At the Howard County Sheriff Department, Sheriff Marty Talbert said he’s never seen anything like the attack in his 33 years of law enforcement.
“If the dog had grabbed the child’s arm or leg, obviously there would have been injury, the child obviously would have been hurt. But for the dog to go for the area where a human body is most vulnerable, the throat? That’s what you see wild animals do.”
Friday, the sheriff department released a picture of animal control officer Terry Bryant standing inside an 8-foot-tall enclosure with the dog, just after the attack.
Talbert said Bryant didn’t feel threatened by the animal, which he said seemed as though nothing had happened.
“[Bryant] didn’t need his bite suit. The dog wasn’t aggressive. It allowed Terry to put it on a leash, and it obeyed commands,” Talbert said. “The girl certainly wasn’t scared of the animal. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the reasons why this happened.”
Kokomo veterinarian Bob Mason said the attack couldn’t be seen as a defensive reaction by the animal.
“It sounded like a predatory attack. It went right to the throat — a mortal wound. Normally, if the girl had stepped on its toe or shut the door on its tail, it would have nipped her on the hand or leg. It wouldn’t have applied a kill bite.”
Immediately after the incident, the dog was taken to the Northeast Animal Clinic, where it was euthanized, Kokomo Humane Society director Jean McGroarty said Friday. Samples from the dog were taken to be tested for rabies, McGroarty said.
The euthanization was performed under the mutual agreement between the Howard County Health Department, the dog’s owner and the sheriff department.
Sheriff investigators said the girl was opening a door at the residence to the let the pit bull outside when the dog jumped on her, knocking her to the floor.
The animal then bit the child around the neck and shook her violently, according to an eyewitness account from the child’s grandmother, police said. The girl was unconscious when deputies arrived.
McGroarty said the incident will undoubtedly renew the debate over certain dog breeds perceived as aggressive, particularly pit bulls.
“When we adopt out pit bulls or Rottweilers — any dog really that has a lot of strength — we require the children in the household be at least 12 years old,” she said.
The key thing for families is to never let any child be around a family pet without direct supervision, she said.
Mason said his family adopted a pit bull back in the late 1980s, and it proved to be a good family pet.
But he said he isn’t sure he would adopt a pit bull now. Some of the dogs, he said, are, for lack of a better term, crazy.
He said more and more owners have been breeding pit bulls to be aggressive toward humans.
“Back when they were bred to fight other dogs, back 100 years ago when dog fighting was socially acceptable, any dogs that showed aggression toward people were immediately killed,” Mason said. “They were never bred. That has changed.”
Mason said his advice to anyone who wants to own a pit bull is to make sure it comes from a “line of pet pit bulls.”
“Historically, I’ve been a pit bull defender, because historically the problem has been with the owners, not the dogs. But in the last 15 to 20 years, there has been some really bad breeding. Some of these dogs have really bad brain chemistry.”
• Scott Smith is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He may be reached at 765-454-8569 or via e-mail at email@example.com