NORTH SMITHFIELD – A Fourth of July party turned into a scene of chaos and panic when a pit bull went on a biting rampage that didn’t end until the animal was shot dead by police.
Five people were taken to Landmark Medical Center with bite wounds, some serious, after the pit bull was killed about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, said police Capt. Glenn G. Lamoureux.
Two officers fired one shot each into the dog. Lamoureux said the officers had little choice because several people were on the ground bleeding and the dog was still going after people when the officers arrived. They tried pepper-spraying the animal before shooting it, but the dog showed no signs of giving up.
“As soon as they got to the scene they realized how chaotic it was,” said Lamoureux. “We’ve had our share of dog bites over the years but nothing ever like this in my recollection.”
The ordeal took place at 835 Eddie Dowling Highway, where Jennifer Gilmore was holding a combination Fourth of July bash and going-away party for her son, Joey Romeo Bishop, 18. Bishop is a recent graduate of Woonsocket High School and was due to report for active duty in the National Guard next week after a stint in the WHS Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
The dog, Bootsy, was an adult male pit bull left in her care by a neighbor who was away, said Gilmore. The dog was supposed to be confined to a sun room during the party, but someone apparently let it out.
The trigger for the dog’s temper tantrum was apparently some “horseplay” between her son and his friend, Phillip Alobwede, 18. The two teens were shoving each other when the dog went after Alobwede.
The dog went “straight for Phil and he was basically ripping up his leg,” said Bishop.
The victims were injured over the course of what were actually three separate attacks, he said. Bishop said he and others managed to subdue the dog and get it in the house following the initial attack.
They thought the dog was safely confined to the house, but it jumped out of an open window and resumed attacking him and others who had gathered at the party.
The dog was captured a second time and returned to the house, but before anyone figure out how he had escaped the first time, the dog jumped out the window again and started biting people.
“It was crazy,” said Bishop. “It was like a scene from the movie ‘Cujo.’”
Before it was over, five people were bitten seriously enough to be transported to the hospital. In addition to himself and Alobwede, Bishop said his teenage girlfriend and two adults in their 30s were also wounded.
Bishop said he suffered at least seven bite wounds and numerous punctures on his knee, torso and crotch. At one point Bishop remarked that he had come “within a centimeter of being neutered.” Bishop said doctors closed some of the most serious wounds with stitches.
During the attack, Bishop said his mother tried whacking the dog on the head several times with a massive cinderblock. Others tried striking it with a piece of timber and kicking it, but the dog just kept attacking.
When the police turned their firearms on the animal, said Bishop, his only reaction was a sense of relief.
“They really had no choice but to shoot this dog,” said Bishop. “We all backed away when it happened so they could take care of it.”
Bishop said he was more worried than frightened during the episode. While pit bulls are noted for their strength and powerful jaws, Bishop said what surprised him most was the dog’s unbridled determination to go after people and bite them, despite all the efforts of the humans to discourage him.
“This is a dog that escaped three times and kept coming,” he said. “The fact that he kept coming straight for me was kind of a worry.
Bishop said he was supposed to report to Fort Benning, Ga. for basic training early next week, but he’s fairly certain that will be put off until he’s well-healed.
Ironically, the attack comes just a day after the General Assembly approved a bill prohibiting cities and towns from enacting “breed specific” legislation to ban pit bulls or any other dogs. The law has no impact in North Smithfield, where no such ordinance is on the books, but it will force Pawtucket and Central Fall to stop enforcing longtime bans on pit bulls.
Woonsocket has twice considered enacting such a ban, but has tabled the proposal, citing the costs and difficulty in enforcing the measure.
The pit bull isn’t the first poster-dog for bad canine behavior, but it’s not the dog that’s to blame, state lawmakers say – it’s the people who raise them, often with the intent of encouraging aggressive behavior.
“Years ago it was German Shepherds that were ‘bad’ dogs,” the lead sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Thomas Palangio (D-Dist. 3, Providence), said in a statement. “Then it was Dobermans, then Rottweilers and today it is Pit Bulls. No specific breed of dog is intrinsically bad or vicious or dangerous.”
Bishop and his mother said they were very familiar with Bootsy and had never known the animal to behave in a vicious manner until Thursday. The dog barked at passersby from the driveway, but had never tried to bite anyone before, they said.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo