HELENA- Just over a month ago, a Helena woman was jogging in Centennial Park when she was bitten by an off-leash dog. What started as a routine jog ended with her paying more than $7,000 out of pocket and getting nearly a dozen shots – and wanting to send a message so that no one else will have to go through the physical and financial pain she’s endured.
She had just finished her run and was slowing down to catch her breath when she came upon a man and his two dogs, which were not leashed. The larger one lunged, but the second dog – the smaller one – bit her twice.
She didn’t realize the blood was already dripping down her leg as she got the man’s name and number and had to leave to get her kids. She didn’t immediately call the police. Later, when she tried to contact the man to find out about the dog’s vaccination status, she realized the information he gave her was fake.
She said, “First I felt shocked, and then I became extremely angry and betrayed. I felt that if he lied about his information he probably lied about the vaccination, as well. I felt a whirlwind of emotions.”
Helena Police Department Animal Control Officer Mike Maynard says if you’re bit – call the police immediately.
“We want to get there to identify that dog and dog owner and try to identify the dog if it’s at-large,” says Officer Maynard. “Even if they don’t think it’s a serious thing if they get bit, they should call us.”
Maynard says dog bites often come as a surprise to the victim – and to the pet owner.
“If I were to ask most of the people who are owners who have dogs that have bitten, they’d probably say I never thought my dog would bite. But all dogs have the potential to bite for one reason or another,” says Maynard.
When it comes to areas like Centennial Park, Officer Maynard says individuals, families, runners, walkers, pet owners, all have a right to be here. But he says it’s up to the pet owner to make sure their pet is leashed when they are here to help prevent these types of incidents from occurring.
Dr. Heidi Wampler with Alpine Animal Clinic agrees.
“As an owner, especially when there’s a lot of people around in town, it’s our responsibility to control our animal at all times, that’s what the leashes are for. That’s what those extended leads are for,” explains Dr. Wampler.
She says if your dog bites someone – even if its vaccinations have lapsed – any information will help the victim. Hiding from what’s happened only multiplies their pain and suffering.
“Here, my dog has been vaccinated for rabies several times – here’s proof of that, even if it’s not current today. In the past, it’s had that vaccine, and that helps a lot.”
The victim we spoke with wanted to remain anonymous, but she also wanted her story told, to help prevent a similar incident from happening.
She says, “Had this man given correct information it would have saved so much heartache and money. If he had followed the park and city laws, to begin with, none of this would have ever happened. Laws and rules are there for a reason, even if you think they are silly, they are protecting others.”
In regards to Centennial Park, dogs inside the confines of the dog park do not have to be on a leash. But Officer Maynard says they must be leashed as they leave the fence, and while they are in the park and the parking lot.
Click here to go to the full City of Helena leash law ordinance: helenamt.gov/hpd/animal-control.html