By Thomas Vogel
River Forester Lee Neubecker was walking his greyhound, Roxie, in mid-April about a block from his house when a pit bull came bounding toward him and his dog, knocking the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Neubecker into a bush, scratching his chest through his shirt.
The 44-year-old Neubecker got up, grabbed a tree branch as protection, and ran toward his fenced-in backyard with Roxie, where the pit bull caught up to the pair and began attacking Roxie, who by then was trying to crawl under the locked gate.
"It went right for my dog," Neubecker said. "It was on a mission to kill it."
The pit bull, Neubecker said, grabbed Roxie by the neck, ran about 30 yards away and began shaking the greyhound. Then, Neubecker said, the dog's owner, a 69-year-old woman, came around the corner and called off the pit bull.
Neubecker grabbed his injured dog and rushed to a nearby animal hospital on North Avenue, where Roxie, bleeding "profusely from her neck," racked up about $1,400 in medical bills. A police report on the incident notes Neubecker had blood on his shoes and socks and there was blood on the concrete near Neubecker's backyard gate.
"She's disfigured as a result," Neubecker said, referring to Roxie. "She won't be doing any dog shows. She rebounded, but it's still really traumatic."
The police report also notes the dog's owner told police the pit bull is a rescue dog. The 69-year-old told police on the day of the incident she was "working in the house and the wind caused the door to open and the dog ran outside."
Before he headed to the veterinarian, Neubecker managed to snap one photo of the pit bull's owner, who turned her head away from the camera and refused to identify herself, even after Neubecker asked.
Neubecker shared the photo, which included a witness in the background, on social media and asked neighbors to help identify the dog's owner. He later filed an official police report and the River Forest Police Department sent out a community bulletin about the attack.
Eventually, in June, detectives with the department, after following up on a half-dozen leads and using the photo Neubecker took, identified the dog's owner, who lives just about a block from Neubecker, on Jackson Avenue. The woman was cited for several village ordinance violations and given an August court date at River Forest Village Hall.
She told officers her husband took the dog out of River Forest. A next-door neighbor also confirmed to officers he hadn't seen the dog, which was often heard barking in the backyard, for some time.
"The last information we had, the dog was in Michigan," Deputy Police Chief James O'Shea said July 19. "There was another rumor that it may be in Lake County. I'm not sure if it's in Lake County, Illinois or Lake County, Indiana."
Either way, if the rumors are true, the dog is out of the jurisdiction of River Forest's law enforcement, who could impound the dog if it were found to still be in the village.
O'Shea, a 23-year veteran of the force, said the incident is troublesome and a bit unique. Usually in his experience, pet owners involved in incidents like this one, are upfront and apologetic and work collaboratively to fix the issue, accepting blame and offering help, financial or otherwise. That didn't happen this time and the pit bull's owner did not come forward immediately.
"It was very disappointing," O'Shea said July 19. "That bothered me a little bit. It bothered some of the officers and investigators. They probably worked a little bit harder on the investigation because of it."
The uncertainty caused a "mini-crisis" in the neighborhood, with residents unsure if their pets or young children were at risk, said O'Shea, who stressed that residents should call authorities immediately if they witness or are involved in an attack.
"We'd want someone to pick up the phone right away and call 911," O'Shea said. "Just like if someone is robbed and waits an hour too long, it can slow down our investigations."
The dog's owner, Neubecker said, did eventually come by his house to apologize at the beginning of July, after admitting to police she was the pit bull's owner. Neubecker said the woman told him the pit bull was at a shelter in "Lake County," but refused to elaborate when pressed for details.
Neubecker said he still may seek restitution in civil court. The woman is reportedly also being sued in Michigan for a similar incident, he said.
"I'm not on a mission to kill the dog," Neubecker said. "I just want to make sure it won't happen again. I don't want anyone else going through this."
The pit bull's owner could not be reached for comment by press time. Several calls to a phone number listed at her Jackson Avenue address were not answered.
Answer Book 2017
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