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Dog Kills Kaua'i Toddler

HonoluluAdvisor.com, Hawaii
By Jan TenBruggencate

February 24, 2004, MOLOA'A, Kaua'i A chained dog attacked and killed 17-month-old Truston Heart Liddle as he played Saturday near where his parents and grandparents were working on a farm plot.

The family was still in shock yesterday. "We're pretty confused," said noted surfboard shaper Greg Liddle of Kapa'a, the child's grandfather. The child evidently wandered away from where the family was doing farm work at about 5 p.m., and onto a neighboring farm lot, where several dogs were chained or caged. The young boy apparently got too close to a chained, 40-pound, mixed-breed male dog, which bit him repeatedly around the face and upper body.

"An unneutered chained male dog that's the No. 1 biting dog in our community," said Becky Rhoades, veterinarian and director of the Kaua'i Humane Society.

Police officer Eric Caspillo said the child's parents, farmer and KKCR radio announcer Damon "Dove" Liddle and his wife, Raven, told him the child had been playing near the adults, and that when he wandered away, they thought he was with his 6-year-old brother. But then the 6-year-old ran up, saying that the younger boy had been bitten by a dog.

"They found the dog still biting their son as he lay motionless on the ground," Caspillo said. The parents put the injured child into their car and called for help on a cellular phone as they headed north. There is a medical clinic in the nearby community of Kilauea. Police dispatchers instructed them to pull off the road near Kula School in Waipake as police, fire and emergency medical teams approached.

Caspillo said he arrived to find the child's father performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on his son on the ground alongside the family's car. Firefighters took over, and eventually handed the child off to emergency medical technicians. The child was pronounced dead at Wilcox Memorial Hospital, having suffered severe injuries to the head, neck and chest.

Kaua'i County spokeswoman Cyndi Ozaki said police know the identity of the dog's owner, but would not release it. The dog that bit the boy and four other canines on the property were removed by the Kaua'i Humane Society and will be confined at the animal shelter until the attack is fully investigated. Ozaki said no determination had been made about possible criminal or civil charges against the dog's owner. She said that state Child Welfare Services also is investigating. Liddle, the toddler's grandfather, said yesterday the family was not ready to comment.

Saturday's attack was the second fatal dog mauling in Hawai'i in less than three years. On June 9, 2001, 18-month-old Tyran Moniz-Hilderbrand was killed when a friend's pit bull got loose and attacked him at home in the Hawaiian Acres subdivision in Puna. The boy's mother, Luana Moniz, was seriously injured while fighting off the animal.

In 1981, a 6-year-old boy was killed by a pit bull in Kaimuki.

The Kaua'i dog attack occurred in an isolated agricultural area that was formerly pineapple fields until the early 1970s, and later mainly papaya. Much of it fell fallow before farmer Mike Strong, his wife, Candace, and partner Paul Huber bought the nearly 700 acres from Amfac/JMB in 1996. They cut the property into smaller farm lots using an agricultural condominium process rather than subdivision to keep prices affordable. Irrigation water is available, but roads are dirt and many of the lots cannot be used as homesites.

Much of the land is covered in an array of crops separated by windbreaks. The rough, dusty roads are mostly unmarked and many of the farm lots have no signs indicating their ownership. The site of the dog attack was down an unmarked dirt lane along a bushy ironwood hedge.

Caspillo estimated the dogs were restrained about 50 yards from where the Liddle family had been working. He said he saw two dogs on chains and another in a fenced area.

Rhoades of the Humane Society said although the animals were well-fed and watered, it appeared they spent most of their time restrained. She said a dog that is constantly chained is a risk for biting.

"All dogs are capable of attack if they are treated in certain ways. Intact male dogs kept chained are the No. 1 biting dogs in the nation. They can be very territorial and very aggressive," she said.

Rhoades said pet owners should spend time with their dogs, and spay or neuter them to reduce the likelihood they will become aggressive. Puppies should be taken to socialization classes and adult dogs to obedience classes. Humane societies offer these classes or can help pet owners find them.

People should report stray dogs, and should avoid dogs on chains, in cars or protecting their homes or owners.

"A dog on a chain that's not taken off and exercised regularly anyone may be at risk of being injured if they get within the limits of this dog's territory," she said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.