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    Family dogs attack girl, 17

    Four Rottweilers bite Tanya West more than 100 times. Her winter clothing may have saved her life.

    By KATHRYN WEXLER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 2000


    PLANT CITY -- People visiting the West family's 2 1/2-acre grassy property on Bob Smith Avenue were warned to keep clear of the Rottweilers' wire pen.

    But to Tanya West, 17, the four dogs were family pets, meant to be doted on and even played with.

    On Wednesday, something inexplicable happened.

    It was Tanya's first day of Christmas break from school, and, just after 8:30 a.m., she was playing with the purebred Rottweilers. She was pulling the sole male among the four dogs back toward the pen when it started to growl, said Sgt. Lois Wimsett of Hillsborough County Animal Control.

    Unnerved, the Plant City High School senior let go of the dog and bolted toward the house. Her jerky movements may have incited the other dogs, Wimsett said. In an instant, Shy, Sam, Iver and even Toby -- Tanya's favorite among the Rottweilers -- turned on her.

    In an attack that was thought to have lasted barely a minute, Tanya was bitten more than 100 times on her face, arms and legs. The dogs dragged Tanya 50 feet before her 20-year-old brother, Ricky, heard her screams and ran outside.

    The four dogs immediately fell back. Ricky pulled Tanya inside and dialed 911. She was flown by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital where she was in fair condition late Wednesday.

    "There was blood all over the place," Wimsett said. "Part of her scalp was lacerated showing the skull."

    Tanya was wearing extra layers of clothing because of the cold weather, and that may have saved her life, Wimsett said. The extra clothing acted as a distraction. Her shoes, pants and sweat shirt were strewn across the yard, suggesting the dogs shook and mauled the clothing as they tore it off her body.

    "If she had not had all that clothing on, there's a possibility they would have continued the attack until they finished," Wimsett said.

    The Rottweilers were taken away and killed by toxic injection. State law requires dogs that inflict such severe injuries be put to death.

    Wimsett said records show the dogs' registration expired in May, meaning they may not have had current rabies shots. Their tissue will be tested for rabies.

    Northeast Hillsborough is home to many dog breeders and dog trainers. Just around the corner from the West home is a dirt lane: Rottweiler Road, reads the sign.

    "When you get out in the country, that's a lot of what's out here: dogs and horses," said Monica Melton, a friend of Tanya's who lives nearby.

    The tail of Tanya's beloved horse, Toy, swished Wednesday afternoon from behind the family's plywood-paneled mobile home. It was not known if Tanya's parents, Richard and Pamela West, had been in the house at the time of the attack.

    Tanya loved to be with the Rottweilers, Melton said. "She would go out there every day and feed them and play with them."

    Attachment ultimately doesn't matter, Wimsett said, if a dog hasn't been trained to respond to an oral command.

    "When one dog attacks, it incites the others," she said. "It's a pack mentality, sort of like a shark-feeding frenzy."

    Sherrill West, Tanya's aunt, said the Rottweilers, which had been kept by the family for several years, always seemed fierce. People knew to stay away from their pen.

    "I hope they didn't get her face too bad," said Sherrill West. "She's a beautiful girl."

    Rottweilers have been responsible for the deaths of at least four children in Florida in the past five years.

    - Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Kathryn Wexler can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or wexler@sptimes.com.

    How to avoid an attack

    Some tips to avoid getting bitten by a dog:

    Never pet a strange dog without letting him see and sniff you first.

    Never turn your back to a dog and run away. A dog's instinct is to chase and catch you.

    Don't disturb a sleeping dog, or one that is eating, chewing on a toy or tending puppies.

    Always assume that a strange dog will see you as a threat.

    If a dog appears poised to attack, remain motionless, hands at your sides and avoid eye contact with the dog. When the dog loses interest, slowly back away.

    If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears and remain motionless. Try not to scream or roll around.

    Source: the Humane Society.

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