Sunday, July 17, 2005, 6:28 AM)
Chrystal and Matt Babcock,
divorced parents of
6-year-old Tyler Babcock,
who was mauled to death in
January by two dogs, show
photos of Tyler at Chrystal
Babcock's apartment. The
Babcocks have made public
appeals to Fresno County
supervisors pushing for
tougher vicious-dog laws.
John Walker / The Fresno Bee
Valley dog laws
The following cities
counties in the
Valley have laws
regulating dogs or
Leash law in effect
within the city
three dogs per
Leash law in effect
within the city
four dogs that are
per household. The
also is looking
at adopting a
in effect. The
ordinance that, if
require residents to
breed dogs, limit
resident to one
litter per year and
force residents with
pay a higher
found Tyler Babcock's naked body lying in a
a cold January afternoon.
dogs — including a pit bull mix — had
brutally attacked the 6-year-old boy.
tore apart his flesh and ripped his clothes
to shreds. Tyler's injuries were so
that nothing could be done to save his life.
The dogs that
killed Tyler were frequently spotted roaming
the Fresno County
neighborhood about a mile
east of Clovis, just north of Shaw Avenue.
weren't required by law to keep
them on leashes or confined to the back
family wants that to change.
turning their grief into action by pushing
for Fresno County officials to
the way they deal with dangerous and
aggressive dogs. They've made
to the Board of Supervisors asking for
tougher vicious-dog laws.
Their goal: a
ban on pit bulls and pit bull mixes in
county can't take such a restrictive step.
State law prohibits cities and
banning a particular type of dog. But a bill
being proposed by a state
allow cities and counties to regulate
impassioned pleas from Tyler's parents and
grandparents, Fresno County
now considering tougher regulations. If
passed, they would affect
anyone who owns a
dog in Fresno County.
Some of the
proposals include restricting the number of
dogs people can own, requiring
that all dogs
be spayed or neutered unless owners pay a
breeding fee and forcing owners
their dogs on a leash or behind a fence.
isn't alone in its pursuit of tougher
vicious-dog laws. Cities and counties around
the state are struggling with the same issue
after several dog attacks in the Bay Area.
With most of
the attention focused on pit bulls and pit
bull mixes, some owners fear the breed
be banned in the future. Owners and advocacy
groups say pit bulls are unfairly targeted,
and that most attacks are the result of
irresponsible owners who aren't properly
parents, Matt and Chrystal Babcock, believe
tougher regulations are necessary to
Babcock: "This is something that didn't need
to happen, but it did, and we don't want
ever see it happen again."
Rush to find him, save him
search unfolded in a rural Fresno County
neighborhood the day Tyler Babcock went
spent part of the morning of Jan. 2 with his
dad watching their favorite football team,
Pittsburgh Steelers, on television.
Tyler, who loved to collect bugs and dig for
worms, grew restless
and wanted to play
He left the
house about 10:15 a.m. No one really knows
what happened after that.
says he checked on his son about 20 minutes
later, but couldn't find him. He immediately
grew worried. It wasn't like Tyler to wander
He stopped by
several neighbors' homes, but no one
remembered seeing Tyler. Many joined in the
was in the back yard when he heard someone
shout: "Oh my God, it's the boy. The dogs
his cell phone from inside and jumped the
fence that separated his house from a
He ran through the
neighbor's back yard and out to the pasture
where people had gathered.
There, he saw
his son lying on the ground with only a sock
on one foot, his shredded clothes
Blood covered the grass.
immediately tried to console Matt Babcock,
who began screaming. Then he knelt down
beside his son
and put his hand in Tyler's
"I told him,
'Tyler, I love you, I love you. I'm so
sorry,'" Matt Babcock recalls telling his
looked into his dad's eyes. A tear rolled
down his cheek.
who lives across the street and is a close
friend of the family, covered the little boy
to Tyler and prayed with him. She told him
that the helicopter was on its way to take
him to the hospital.
She talked about how
happy everyone was that they finally found
him, and she told him that he was safe.
talked, Hanner put her hand over one of
Tyler's hands. Tyler put his other hand on
top of hers.
"It was like
he was trying to comfort me," Hanner says.
"I could tell that he was relieved that we
had found him."
breathing was shallow by the time the
helicopter arrived to take him to Children's
Hospital Central California.
word of the attack was just reaching Tyler's
Babcock was working that afternoon at
Fashion Furniture in Fresno when two
sheriff's deputies came to the store.
told Babcock she needed to come with them to
Babcock noticed the word "Chaplain" on the
back of one of the deputies' shirts.
told much — only that Tyler was hurt in a
minutes of arriving at Children's Hospital,
she saw Matt Babcock surrounded by hospital
approached. He told the Babcocks that
Tyler's heart had stopped pumping and
nothing could be done.
Their son was
Deep sense of loss
death left a huge hole in the Babcocks'
Matt Babcock are divorced but have always
maintained a close relationship because of
They shared joint custody of their
son, and both say he was the most important
thing in their lives.
was an active child who excelled in T-ball
and liked to climb trees. He enjoyed singing
He loved Spider-Man and would
beg his mom to let him wear his Spider-Man
costume to bed. He made
friends easily and
didn't like it when someone close to him was
He was in
kindergarten at Cedarwood Elementary School
in Clovis and even though he was only there
the school year, he made an
impression on his classmates. After Tyler's
death, his class shared memories of
a book. The school's yearbook was dedicated
to Tyler, and a Cedarwood tree was planted
in his memory.
also loved animals. His parents say he
wasn't afraid of dogs.
But he didn't
like the two dogs that lived next door. Matt
Babcock says the dogs had come into their
back yard once
before when Tyler was
outside, and Tyler's grandfather scared them
confirmed the two dogs killed Tyler. The
male dog, named Felony, was believed to be a
pit bull mix
because he had a large head and
other characteristics of a pit bull. But
investigators later said they weren't
the dog had pit bull in him.
The other dog
— a female dog named Blue — definitely was
part pit bull. A third dog, believed to be a
also lived on the property but was
not involved in the attack.
dogs were held in quarantine at the Central
California Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals
until the investigation
was completed, and then they were
lived on property owned by Roxanne
Montgomery, according to a Fresno County
Attempts to reach
Montgomery at her home were unsuccessful.
said that the female pit bull was owned by
charges were filed in the case. The Fresno
County District Attorney's Office said when
was complete that there
was "insufficient evidence to prove criminal
conduct on the part of those responsible for
remain about how the attack occurred.
was found in a pasture behind Montgomery's
property. There is a 4-foot wooden fence
Montgomery's back yard from
the pasture. A gate leads from the back yard
to the pasture.
body was found about 15 feet from the gate's
entrance, the Sheriff's Department reported.
arrived at the scene, the gate was pushed
open about 6 inches, according to their
report. But no
one knows whether the gate
was open earlier that morning. And no one
knows how Tyler ended up in the pasture.
say they want someone held accountable for
their son's death, and plan to file a
lawsuit. They have retained
San Francisco-based civil attorney Ronald
Rouda, who has worked on other dog
represented the mother of Diane Whipple, who
was killed by two presa canarios in the
hallway outside of
her Pacific Heights
apartment in San Francisco four years ago.
the owners of the dogs that killed Tyler are
liable for his death regardless of how the
"The owners were the
keepers of the dogs. They were responsible."
Fresno Co. rules reviewed
In the months
after Tyler's death, Chrystal and Matt
Babcock began a personal crusade.
learned their neighborhood, about a mile
outside Clovis city limits, did not fall
under Fresno County's
leash law. Only
certain county neighborhoods are covered by
the leash law. They set out to change that.
mom and grandmother Sharon Babcock appealed
to the Board of Supervisors asking that
become a designated leash
law area. They attended several board
meetings, and each time more than a dozen
and church members joined them,
wearing stickers that read: "Tyler Babcock
supervisors agreed it was time for a change.
But the discussions grew beyond just
designating the Babcocks'
neighborhood as a
leash law area. The supervisors wanted to do
Supervisor Bob Waterston: "To lose a child
in an attack like this that could have been
prevented, is just awful."
about 20 people a year die in dog attacks,
according to the National Canine Research
a nonprofit organization that
has studied more than 500 fatal dog attacks
data show that pit bulls and pit bull mixes
have been involved in more than one-third of
the 120 fatal attacks
over the past five
years — more than any other breed.
Not as much
is known about the types of dogs involved in
nonfatal attacks. An estimated 4.7 million
people will be bitten
by dogs this year, and
60% of those will be children. But there's
no agency that tracks which breeds are
involved in nonfatal
dog bite incidents.
didn't keep track of the breeds involved in
the 25 fatal dog attacks that occurred in
the state between 1991 and
information on the types of dogs involved in
attacks makes it hard for cities and
counties to enact laws that target
County officials are considering a
requirement that regardless of where a dog
lives in the county, it would have to be
under the physical control of its owner,
such as on a leash or behind a fence.
also is considering:
spay-and-neuter ordinance. The hope is that
the ordinance would reduce the dog
population in the county and deter
aggressive tendencies in some breeds. Owners
who don't want to have their dogs spayed or
neutered would pay a fee to be allowed to
breed their pets.
A limit on
the number of dogs allowed per household,
although a number hasn't been determined. A
household with more
dogs would be considered
a kennel, and the owner would have to obtain
an operating permit.
the process for determining whether a dog is
vicious and needs to be euthanized. If a dog
bites a person or
another animal at least
twice in 36 months, the dog is considered
"vicious" and a civil court hearing is held
whether it needs to be
euthanized or placed under strict
confinement. Sometimes it can take as long
as six months before
a case is heard.
Because it's such a lengthy process, very
few dog mauling cases ever reach the courts.
County will discuss these proposed
regulations in August. Public hearings will
be held before a final decision is
say they are pleased the county is taking
steps toward regulating vicious dogs.
Babcock: "I don't want to see anybody else
get hurt or killed."
Efforts to control breeds
been a rash of dog attacks in California,
most involving pit bulls or pit bull mixes.
residents in the Bay Area became enraged
after 12-year-old Nicholas Faibish was
mauled to death by his family's
mother said she locked her son in the
basement of her San Francisco apartment
while she ran errands because
one of the
dogs was acting aggressively. Nicholas found
a way to open the basement door and was
killed by at least one
of the dogs.
now faces felony child endangerment charges.
Nicholas' death, some Bay Area residents
began calling for a statewide ban on pit
bulls, sparking a decades-old
the need for breed-specific laws.
wrestled with banning pit bulls in the
1980s, but strong lobbying by various dog
advocacy groups squashed the
County officials say they are not attempting
to ban pit bulls, as other cities and
counties throughout the United States
successfully done. The city of Denver, for
example, has had an outright ban on pit
bulls since 1980.
More than 200
cities have laws in place regulating
specific breeds. Some have laws that require
certain dogs to be muzzled
walked in public. Others require dog owners
to carry liability insurance.
has a law that prohibits local jurisdictions
from enacting breed-specific laws. However,
a state senator is trying to
change the law.
Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, has introduced a
bill that would allow cities and counties to
enact laws targeting certain
types of dogs.
But outright bans on breeds would still be
legislative district covers part of the Bay
Area, acknowledges it won't be an easy bill
to pass. Her office has
already been flooded
with calls and e-mails from people opposed
to the legislation.
"We still believe this is the right step to
take at this time."
say breed-specific laws will help reduce the
propensity of certain dogs to attack.
Neutering male dogs, for
example, is thought
to make them less aggressive. Many want to
see a crackdown on pit bulls and pit bull
have been linked to some of the
more vicious attacks.
On the other
side are the dog advocacy groups that argue
breed-specific laws won't solve the problem.
They claim the
problem lies with
unscrupulous breeders and irresponsible
owners who mistreat their animals and raise
them to fight.
Kennel Club spokeswoman Lisa Peterson says
counties should be promoting responsible dog
than putting more laws on
the books that are difficult to enforce.
"Breed-specific laws really aren't the way
to protect a community," Peterson says.
"People who are irresponsible dog
really don't pay attention to the laws
anyway. They'll find ways to get around
County supervisors admit the regulations
will be hard to enforce. Waterston says the
county can't afford to hire
any more animal
only one animal control officer responds to
dog calls in Fresno County. SPCA Executive
Director Norm Minson
says the county would
need to have at least five animal control
officers to enforce any new laws
effectively: "Right now, we
don't have the
manpower to enforce it."
In the breed's defense
around Kevin Ramirez's front yard in Fresno
County, drinking water from a bucket and
roughhousing with her
two young pups.
tan-and-white pit bull may appear fierce to
some, but to Ramirez she is a friendly and
loyal member of the
had a more loving dog," Ramirez says. "She
would do anything in the world for me."
nine puppies three months ago. Ramirez bred
Chica with a male pit bull owned by a
friend. All but two of the
puppies have been
sold, but Ramirez couldn't part with little
Mercy and Mack.
other local pit bull owners say their dogs
are being misrepresented as fierce,
aggressive animals who are likely to attack.
came to America in the 1900s from Europe,
where they were bred to fight with other
dogs. There are now three
types of pit
bulls: the American pit bull terrier, the
American Staffordshire terrier and the
Staffordshire bull terrier.
pit bull terrier has long been a popular
American symbol. It's the only dog to appear
on the cover of
Life magazine three times.
The dog was also used to represent the
United States' presence in World War I.
dog from the "Little Rascals," was the first
American Staffordshire terrier to be
registered with the American
Kennel Club in
But as the
pit bull has grown in popularity over the
years, so have concerns about its
who works for Pit Bull Rescue Central in
Detroit, says the breed is loving and loyal:
"Are they for everybody? Absolutely not. But
that's the same for every breed."
Dr. Eric Weigand, a veterinarian for nearly 20 years
and president of the California Veterinary
says pit bulls' jaws
aren't physically different from other
breeds. But while other dogs tend to bite
and release, pit bulls
bite and hold on.
on, and they don't let go," he says. "They
are so powerful that if they do bite, there
is a real serious potential for
cautions that pit bulls are "purpose-bred
dogs" and their purpose is to fight: "When
you have a purpose-bred dog,
you have to be
careful with it. But every single dog has
the potential to bite."
pit bull advocates don't believe pit bulls
are any more likely to attack than other
dogs. They say the reason it appears that
pit bulls are more involved in fatal dog
attacks is their popularity has soared in
it's a cycle: "Dobermans were the pit bulls
of the '80s. In the '70s, it was the German
shepherd and in the
'90s it was the Rottweiler."
popularity came more backyard breeding, some
for the wrong reasons, Setter says. She
believes fatal dog attacks
will decrease if
there is more public education about pit
bulls, a crackdown on breeding and a push
for more responsible
"All dogs can
do some horrendous damage. They all have
teeth," she says. "At the end of the day, a
dog is an animal and
you have to treat it
agree that people who own pit bulls need to
be more responsible. But they also believe
pit bulls are
unpredictable animals that are
they want to see a ban on pit bulls in
Fresno County. But until that happens, they
plan to continue sharing
Tyler's story so
their son will never be forgotten.
that's what keeps me going, being able to do
something for Tyler," Chrystal Babcock says.
"But we miss him.
We weren't ready to give