PARKERSBURG - Residents of the area of 24th Street in Parkersburg have been worried about "vicious" dogs roaming free in the neighborhood.
Milly Dellavecchia, 1407 24th St., Parkersburg, said she grew concerned when her mother witnessed a pit bull from the neighborhood kill a neighbor's cat.
Dellavecchia said two cats were eating on her front porch, with her mother watching from the window, when two pit bulls approached them. The dogs began to "maul" one of the cats, named Tom, and eventually the animal was killed, she said.
Dellavecchia was at work when the scene took place, calling her mother who was hysterically shouting on the phone, "he's dead, he's dead."
"The one cat did manage to get away;" she said, "but the dogs began prancing around the streets like it was nothing."
Dellavecchia said her 86-year-old mother has not had a good night's sleep since the incident occurred, about a week ago. She created a petition aimed at changing the legality of owners' responsibility toward their animal.
"Who's to say she (her mother) couldn't have gotten hurt," she said. "Everybody has been telling me 'this is West Virginia you can't do anything,' so I say 'I'm a New Yorker don't tell me that.'"
Dellavecchia has tried to get a meeting with Mayor Bob Newell, and successfully spoke to Parkersburg City Councilman John Rockhold. She said Rockhold was extremely understanding and compassionate toward her problem.
The petition she has created has 59 signatures from Parkersburg residents in favor of what Dellavecchia is trying to accomplish. She will decide to go further with the process upon receiving more names.
"I don't believe animals are born vicious," she said. "They have the capabilities, and the issue is people have to be responsible for their animals."
Dellavecchia said she is not going after a specific breed, and maybe the residents of her neighborhood are right in saying her efforts won't change anything. However, she said she feels like she has to give it a shot.
The Humane Society of Parkersburg can only enforce state code for dogs running at large, said executive director Maryann Hollis. According to city regulations dogs are not allowed to run at large, even if they have tags and shots, she said.
Hollis said the humane society can look up who the dog belongs to in a database that everyone has access to, at www.woodcountywv.com. The database helps when the humane society is trying to discover a dog's owner.
Hollis said if a dog is running at large in a neighborhood, it is best to call the police.
"If it's a chronic problem (in the area), we refer them (complainants) to the police department," she said. "The police have to write the ticket."
Hollis said if a dog is discovered without a tag, the humane society holds it for five days as a lost pet. Owners can check the lost and found pet database on the society's website, and may find a picture of their lost pet.
"Any identification helps us reunite them much more quickly," said Hollis.
Assistant Wood County Prosecutor Sean Francisco said city dog laws state that dogs must be licensed, and are not allowed to run free. Francisco said if a dog is tormenting other animals or people, owners can be issued warnings and citations by law enforcement. He said the humane society can also be called and animal control officers assist in taking the vicious dogs.
Francisco said his role in serving as an assistant county prosecutor is to be able to answer any questions the public may have.
"My role is just to try to serve the public and inform if they need informed," he said.
Francisco said he used to practice more in Wood County Magistrate Court and came across a few vicious dog cases. He said the key in court is to prove the animal is in fact vicious, and if the owners can prove it was a one-time incident or they can make assurances to keep the dog or animal restrained, owners are put on a probationary period.
The ultimate decision if the animals are proven to be vicious is they must be put down.
Dellavecchia said she thinks she knows who the owners of the dogs are, and they have not fenced in their yard. According to the police report the owners said they would make accommodations to ensure the dogs do not roam free anymore, she said.