From: SF Chronicle
Henry K. Lee, 06/19/13
A 6-year-old boy who was playing with a relative’s dog in Union City died after the animal bit him, police said Tuesday.
The dog, a 2-year-old male pit bull mix named Kava, attacked Nephi Selu at a home on Elizabeth Way about 11:30 a.m. Monday where he lived with his extended family, which includes seven cousins, police and family said.
“It sounds like they were engaged in some type of horseplay with the dog. The boy was actively playing with the dog and may have attempted to climb onto the dog’s back,” said police Cmdr. Ben Horner. “We think he may have been trying to ride it, like a little horse. The dog attacked the boy and bit him on top of his head.”
Relatives quickly pried the dog off Nephi, but he died at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford shortly after 4 p.m. Monday.
The dog was quarantined at the Tri-City Animal Shelter in Fremont. A preliminary investigation determined that the dog was properly licensed and had its required antirabies inoculation, Horner said. The dog’s fate is uncertain – it could be euthanized or be sent to a rehabilitation center, authorities said. The family says it wants nothing to do with the dog.
“A dog mauling certainly conjures up visions of multiple bites, and that doesn’t appear to be the case here,” Horner said. “It looks like it was a single bite of a large and strong animal and a young child, and that’s not a good combination.”
The owner was distraught and said the dog “had never been involved in a biting incident in the past,” Horner said, adding the dog appeared to be “fairly well socialized” at a home where many children are present.
Police said Nephi lived in Dixon but had been on an “extended visit” at his grandparent’s home. The boy, who has a mild form of autism, recently graduated from kindergarten in Union City.
The boy’s mother was at the home when her son was bitten, police said. The boy lives at the home with other relatives, including his grandparents, his parents and his aunt and uncle.
“This is the biggest loss in our family right now,” Nephi’s aunt, Iona Keanaaina told reporters. “He’s my sister’s son, but he was just like my own. He was a great kid.”
As for the dog, Keanaaina said it was “good with kids, very obedient, he was never allowed in the house, he stayed right at the door, so we never had any problems with him at all. It’s a huge shock.”
Keanaaina’s husband, Keala Keanaaina, is a San Mateo police officer and their seven children also live at the home. Attorneys Michael Rains and Harry Stern, whose law firm represents police officers, addressed the media from the home Tuesday.
Keala Keanaaina, a former player on the UC Berkeley football team, “heard a commotion downstairs,” Rains said. “He went downstairs, and he saw that the dog had the child, and then he just went to the dog immediately and took a hold of the dog in the jaw, and the dog released.”
Stern said the boy was coherent, conscious and talking “for hours” after being bitten, and everybody assumed he would be fine “after a couple of stitches.”
The officer, Stern said, is “beyond distraught. My understanding of the facts leads me to this conclusion: this unfortunate tragedy could have happened to anyone. The breed of the dog is irrelevant. The dog’s been part of the family for several years and had exhibited no signs of aggression whatsoever.”
A “Beware of Dog” sign is posted on a fence leading to the side yard of the well-kept, two-story house, with rose bushes and small palm trees out front.
‘Tails always wagging’
A neighbor, Arthur Kouns, said the family keeps two pit bull mixes in the backyard and that the dogs had never been a problem.
Kouns said he heard the dogs barking only “once in a blue moon. I’ve seen the dogs myself and been next to them in person, and they’re nice. Their tails are always wagging and stuff.”
Nephi was one of several children who frequently play at the home, Kouns said.
“They’re real respectful kids, real nice kids,” Kouns said.
The boy’s death is the latest of several cases in the Bay Area in which pit bulls have killed members of the families that owned them.
In 2011, a pit bull in Pacifica fatally mauled its owner, 32-year-old Darla Napora, who was pregnant. The year before, three pit bulls killed 2-year-old Jacob Bisbee at a relative’s home in Concord.
In 2005, two pit bulls fatally mauled 12-year-old Nicholas Faibish at his home in San Francisco.
Dogs of other breeds have also been implicated in other incidents.
A Pleasanton couple was arrested this month after their Presa Canario bit their 5-year-old son in the face twice in a three-month period this year. The most notorious mauling case involved Diane Whipple, a 33-year-old lacrosse coach at St. Mary’s College who was killed in 2001 in her San Francisco apartment building by a Presa Canario.
Donna Reynolds, director of Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls, said Tuesday, “Dog bite fatalities are exceedingly rare, but it’s normal to feel rattled when they occur. It’s important to avoid simplifying these events into breed generalizations if we truly want to understand why they occur.”
Reynolds added, “Most in-home bites can be prevented by monitoring children closely when they play with dogs and adhering to standard dog-bite prevention practices. That sobering advice is hard to hear on the heels of a death, but can’t be repeated often enough.”
According to Colleen Lynn, director of the nonprofit Dogs Bite in Texas, pit bulls kill more people than any other breed. From 2005 to 2012, pit bulls killed 151 people in the U.S., accounting for 60 percent of dog-related fatalities, Lynn said.