SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. – SCRAPS’ investigation into a dog attacking a three-year-old jumping on a trampoline is now complete. Despite the toddler requiring sutures for her injuries, SCRAPS says based on the evidence, they are deeming the dog ‘potentially dangerous’ instead of the more severe ruling of ‘dangerous.’ The family wants the ruling changed.
The determination of a dog being ‘potentially dangerous’ vs ‘dangerous’ is a crucial one, because 'dangerous’ has more strict protocols that dog owners must follow. The family worries that ‘potentially dangerous’ is not a strong enough designation to protect their children.
“When he grabbed her leg, he started pulling on it like he was trying to rip her leg off of her,” said the victim’s father, John Morrell who witnessed the attack.
The Morrell family says it all started back in June when they went to their neighbor’s home for a playdate.
“We were out on the back patio and the neighbor's (child) asked if my daughter could come jump on the trampoline,” John said.
The family said yes, and John went next door with his little girl.
"My daughter started jumping on the trampoline...and the dog jumped out of a window of their house, ran across their yard, jumped between me and the neighbor and jumped into the trampoline … to bite my daughter,” he said.
John says he got the dog off of his daughter and had him in a chokehold.
He says when he saw the wound, he packed up his family and drove her straight to the ER.
“They cleaned it and looked at it and determined she had to have the two main puncture wounds closed,” her mother Melissa said. “She ended up having five openings total, but only those required sutures to close.”
The couple says the know their daughter was in pain from the bite, but it was nothing compared to her emotional scars. They say she frequently wakes up with nightmares.
“We ended up doing trauma counseling, and she was diagnosed with acute stress disorder because of it,” Melissa said.
The couple filled out a bite report form for the Department of Health. John says he filed a SCRAPS report online, and Melissa says she did so over the phone. They say as the process got going, the investigator reached out to them and wanted to get a statement from John. The couple says when he wanted to get one, John was not available because of work.
“And then (we heard) nothing for a couple of weeks,” Melissa said. “We assumed it was so straight forward, he didn’t even need (the statement.)”
But later in the summer, they were told the ruling had been made. While they hoped the dog would be deemed ‘dangerous,’ they learned the finding was ‘potentially dangerous.’
"(The SCRAPS official) told me, ‘in my opinion, your daughter's injuries weren't severe enough,’” Melissa said. “I thought, did it have to be her face? What did it have to be?”
A finalized Animal Control Issue Summary lays out more about what happened.
“Neither party ever tried to say this was provoked,” Melissa said.
In the report, you can see the dog's owner's told SCRAPS he believed the dog was ‘just over stimulated.’
The same document also notes the ER visit for the toddler, and that it resulted in three stitches and antibiotics.
"The big issue we have is that he has it marked as not a serious injury, but then it defines serious injury (in the RCW) as (a bite requiring) sutures or broken bones, and there are pictures of sutures in her leg,” Melissa said.
A notice dated June 20th, says SCRAPS would be preliminarily deeming the dog 'potentially dangerous.’ A determination that would go on to final. That meant, according to the document, the owners needed to keep the dog indoors, except when on a leash and under physical control of someone at least 15. The document also notes a muzzle requirement when ‘people are over.’
But the Morrell's point to a video taken July 6th, days after that notice, showing the dog who bit their child across the street from his home and seemingly unleashed. They also captured footage in August, from their own backyard, of the dog on the other side of the fence, in his yard. They allege aggressive behavior from the dog has gotten worse since the attack and say they sent both of the videos to SCRAPS.
“I'm going to have three kids under three,” Melissa said. “(I told the SCRAPS officer) if that dog does jump that fence, which child do I grab first? He just said. ‘sorry.’”
The couple provided records of emails they have sent to other departments hoping an outside source can jump in and help them. They also printed their phone records to show KHQ how many calls they have put in to SCRAPS. They say they have done all they could, and at this point, believe it’s not just about them.
“We were worried other people were having the same problems we are,” John said. “We felt that maybe it's not just our problem with SCRAPS, but maybe a lot of people are having them too. It's really taxing when you're hitting your head against a brick wall because you're not getting anywhere. It's wrong.”
A county spokesperson told KHQ Tuesday that the investigation has been completed and the matter is closed.
They went on to state that, ‘the dog in question in this case was deemed potentially dangerous. According to Spokane County Code, SCC s. 5.04.020(22), "Potentially dangerous dog" means any dog that when unprovoked: (a) inflicts a bite on a human being or animal either on public or private property, or (b) in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack snaps at, growls at, barks at, jumps upon, restrains, chases or approaches a human being on public or private property, or (c) in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack snaps at, growls at, barks at, jumps upon, restrains, or chases another animal while the dog is off the owner's or keeper's property.
With the “potentially dangerous dog” designation, while other-than-household members (i.e., guests) are over, the dog must be kept indoors at all times, except when (1) on a leash adequate to control the dog and under the actual physical control of a competent person at least 15 years of age or (2) muzzled.’
When asked why that determination was made and not escalated from potentially dangerous to dangerous, they said it was all based on evidence.
‘These situations require due process of the law. With this incident, SCRAPS Officers ruled the dog “potentially dangerous” based on the evidence they had at their disposal. As outlined above, this designation comes with requirements of the dog owner to prevent future aggressive incidents. Please note that the evidence needed for the designation of an individual’s dog to be deemed “dangerous” typically includes and is predicated upon a witness attestation. From what I understand, the victim’s father, who witnessed the incident, declined to provide a witness statement of what he had observed. In the absence of such a witness statement, the investigating officer resorted to attaching a lower legal designation with care requirements, crafted specifically to prevent a similar incident from reoccurring.’
The family says it’s ‘frustrating’ that they were once told the determination was based on the extent of their daughter’s injuries, but now is said to be the result of a SCRAPS claim that John wouldn’t give a statement.
“Why would we do all this and not give a statement,” Melissa said. “That just makes no sense.”
And newly troubling for the family, the say despite filing a public record’s request back on July 14th and receiving what they thought were all responsive documents shortly after, on Tuesday, the day the story was set to air, they were notified what they received was not, in fact, everything. A page from the officer’s report was not included in what they were given. The county says it was due to an error in their software system.
The newly received page includes ‘outcome notes’ and status history for the case. It is the first time they saw the officer’s statements that John was unwilling to give a statement.
KHQ was told today that SCRAPS phone calls are not recorded. We did reach out to the phone number listed on document associated with the dog’s owner but did not hear back.
The county says SCRAPS is working with the vendor to understand why this document was only just now recovered and released, and to figure out how to prevent it from happening in the future.