Stephen Elliott and Howard Fox were walking down posh Ventura Boulevard just after lunch time near the Big Sugar Bakery. The retired couple, who had been together 23 years, took along their new puppy, Vargas, only six-and-a-half months old, but happy to be on a leash right next to Stephen’s feet.
Out of the Lush Shoes shop a few doors away, a large Pit Bull came rushing at them all on that frightening day, Feb. 16, 2014. Howard, who first saw the dog running toward them, tried to shout. He had just had back surgery six weeks before, and was in a brace. The dog knocked him over.
“I saw my dog Vargas mauled in front of us and heard his screeches as he died,” Howard said with tears in his eyes. “I saw my partner’s finger bitten off in the attack.”
Vargas didn’t know what hit him. They did try rushing the dog to the veterinarian nearby, but he couldn’t be saved.
Stephen went to the hospital with the tip of the middle finger on his right hand, but they couldn’t sew it back on, and more of it had to be amputated. He is right-handed, and is typing with one hand now, but is limited in what he can do.
Their hospital bills total more than $10,000.
The woman who owns the Pit Bull is a local renter in Valley Village, Calif., and she said she couldn’t pay the veterinarian or doctor bills, nor did she get a fine from police or animal control. The dog is still in the neighborhood after a 10-day house quarantine.
On Wednesday, Howard who retired from working in theaters on Broadway, and Stephen, a retired psychotherapist, told their story to a horrified audience at the Studio City Neighborhood Council. Things became heated when some of the council offered advice or suggested certain actions.
Youth Board Member Jon Epstein suggested that it wasn’t the breed of the dog, but perhaps the cruel owners that cause Pit Bulls to be vicious. “It’s the people not the breed,” he said.
Howard retorted, “No, we’ve done research and found out that these dogs will attack without provocation and are a dangerous breed. There were children at the bakery when we were attacked, what if the dog went after one of them?”
Stephen added, “We had heard that the Pit Bull had an incident with another dog earlier that day just a few blocks away at the Starbucks. This is a safety issue.”
SCNC President John Walker said, “I am truly sorry that you all went through this terrible tragedy. I think we are all shocked about what you went through. ”
Newly-elected board member Lawrence Beer said, “We are in utter horror over what you were subjected to, and I think there must be something that can be done.”
Another newly-elected member Alex Izbicki pointed out, “If a little terrier is raised poorly that won’t be as bad to the general public as something like this. I think there is some licensing or liability insurance that is definitely a possibility for breeds like this.”
Stephen and Howard would like to see a ban on Pit Bulls all together, or at very minimum some sort of liability insurance for people who want to have a Pit Bull because of their aggressive nature.
“These dogs were bred to kill, and if people get them from rescues or shelters, they don’t know what the dog’s background is at all,” Howard says. “This kind of thing will affect business along Ventura Boulevard.”
They have an attorney who can get little information from Animal Control about the status of the dog, or if there’s any other action pending. The woman could declare bankruptcy and avoid paying any of their medical expenses, Stephen says.
“I had a few city officials tell me that it was my fault that I lost my finger because I tried to save my dog and put my hand down,” Stephen says.
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian talked to the men in private outside the meeting and was aghast about the incident and how the men were treated. His staff is looking into the issue and what can be done.
“This was the worst experience of my life. I don’t want this to happen to anyone ever again, and we want to educate people about these dangers,” Stephen says. “I want to do this in the memory of Vargas, and I don’t want his death to be for naught. He was a sweet little dog.”
Contact Stephen and Howard through SMEBD@aol.com or 323-378-6545.