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Emily Welker, Published July 10 2013

Reports routine, charges seldom in dog-bite cases in metro area

DILWORTH – A woman has been charged criminally with having a dangerous dog at large after her bulldog got away from her disabled daughter and bit a young girl walking home from school here, according to the city’s police chief.

Sheila Marie Levesque, 39, of Sioux Falls, S.D., was charged Friday in Clay County District Court with one count of having a dangerous dog, one count of having a dog at large, and one count of great or substantial bodily harm caused by a dog, all misdemeanors.

The case is the only one of five dog-bite reports this year in Dilworth that has been charged out criminally, Ebert said.

That reflects a similar pattern in other cities throughout the Fargo-Moorhead area, where authorities routinely respond to reports of dog bites but rarely charge the owners.

“Most of them are pretty mundane – the neighbor kid gets bit because he walked into the neighbor’s yard, that sort of thing,” said Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel. “Ninety percent are dogs known to the victim. They aren’t dogs running loose or wild.”

Vettel said Fargo police have responded to 21 dog-bite reports so far in 2013, with two cases referred to prosecutors for potential criminal charges. Five remain under investigation.

In 2012, Fargo police had 44 dog-bite cases, with four going forward for potential prosecution. There were 57 cases in 2011, with five resulting in criminal charges being recommended.

The West Fargo Police Department responded to seven animal-bite reports so far in 2013, with three cases forwarded for charges, Lt. Duane Sall said. In 2012, there were nine reports, with five of them being charged out. There were 16 reports of animal bites in 2011, with four cases being charged out criminally.

So far in 2013, Moorhead police have responded to seven calls for animal bites, with one citation for dog at large among those calls. In 2012, there were 27 calls with one citation, and in 2011, 31 calls with two citations.

In the past year, the Moorhead department has declared three dogs as dangerous, which usually has its roots in the report of a dog bite.

“Anytime we feel that a dog is dangerous we have the ability to take that dog temporarily,” said Vettel, citing a case of suspected rabies as an example.

If the dog is deemed by the police to be fierce, dangerous or vicious, according to Fargo city ordinance, the owner is notified in writing and required to either surrender the animal for placement or destruction.

The owner can appeal in municipal court, which can then order the dog confined or order the owner to surrender it for destruction.

In the Levesque case, the victim, a 10-year-old girl, was walking home from Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton school May 16 in the 100 block of Fourth Street Northeast when the dog got away from Levesque’s daughter and bit the child, said Dilworth Police Chief Josh Ebert.

The girl suffered a puncture wound, although Ebert could not recall whether the child received medical care for the bite.

The daughter, who Ebert said has physical disabilities that made her incapable of handling the dog, was not charged. Levesque was not present at the time of the attack.

Levesque is not set to make an initial appearance on her criminal charges until Aug. 8. Ebert said the dog has already been implanted with a microchip, as required for dangerous dogs by the state of Minnesota, and Levesque has taken it back to her home in Sioux Falls.

“I have zero tolerance for animals that are not being cared for properly,” Ebert said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541