Pit bulls’ owner cited, but not charged criminally in attack on jogger

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Stanley Lee shows how he used a baseball bat to beat off the two pitbulls that attacked and left a jogger in critical condition outside their home at 7730 S. Shore Drive in Chicago. The jogger’s shoes are still on the ground where it happened. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Wooden bat in hand, Stanley Lee said he sprinted from his South Shore apartment Monday morning to fend off two big pit bulls that were attacking a jogger “like he was a piece of steak.”

The jogger, 62-year-old Joseph Finley, remained in critical condition at Stroger Hospital on Monday night after undergoing surgery for bites on his feet and legs. Finley was alert when paramedics took him to the hospital, authorities said.

Meanwhile, police issued citations to the dogs’ owner, who lives near the scene of the attack, for not properly restraining the dogs and not having a license. Police do not plan to charge the owner criminally, police spokesman Ron Gaines said early Tuesday.

It appears the dogs escaped through an open gate, said Chicago Animal Care & Control Commissioner Cherie Travis, who spoke with the owner and a relative.

A bloody patch of grass, two shoes and ankle weights marked the spot of the 6 a.m. attack at Rainbow Beach Park on the 7700 block of South South Shore Drive.

The two pit bulls “came out of nowhere” and attacked Finley, according to police.

The jogger’s cries of “Help me! Help me!” and the barking dogs sparked Lee, 35, to get out of bed.

“I hurried up and put my clothes on and grabbed a bat and ran out and saw two pit bulls just going at this man,” Lee said. “So I just started beating the dogs with the bat. I was trying to beat them dogs’ heads in. It was just horrific. And these dogs weren’t like your ordinary pit bulls. It was like they were bred exactly for fighting. They just wouldn’t let the man go.”

Lee said his wife called the police after he left. Police responded and saw the dogs. One of the pit bulls, Lee said, charged the officers, who shot each dog multiple times, killing both.

Lee escaped unscathed, though his bat has bite marks on it.

Later Monday, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th) visited the scene of the attack and praised Lee for helping Finley.

“I ain’t no hero,” Lee told the Sun-Times. “The biggest thing in my heart, man, was to help that person, and the only thing I’m anxious to do. … I just want to know who he is and go see him.”

The full-grown male pit bulls were wearing matching black nylon collars without tags, Travis said. Neither dog had been neutered.

“Each weighed about 70 pounds,” Travis said. “For a pit, that’s a pretty good-sized dog, and they were pretty muscular.”

The dog’s owner, 57-year-old Jimmy Johnson, who lives in the 7600 block of South Coles, was cited for not having a license or proper restraint for the animal, Gaines said.

Johnson was not being held by police and is not facing any criminal charges, Gaines said.

Travis said the owner and a relative came to Animal Care & Control and identified the dogs.

“They did express concern for the victim. I believe they are quite upset about” the attack, Travis said. They have been “extremely cooperative” with authorities, she said.

Travis said she has no record of previous complaints about the dogs.

While the attack is “scary,” Travis said she isn’t aware of a recent uptick in dog attacks.

Nearly two years ago, a 56-year-old man was found mauled to death by his daughter’s pit bulls inside his South Side home. And a series of dog attacks in 2003 – including one where two pit pulls killed a 48-year-old Evergreen Park woman who was jogging in the Dan Ryan Woods – forced authorities to close that South Side forest preserve for months.

Animal Care & Control fielded 1,850 dog-bite reports in 2011 as of Oct. 25. Inspectors for the agency are charged with following up on the most severe attacks, which are categorized as “dangerous dog investigations.” More details weren’t immediately available.

The Chicago City Council in 2007 weighed banning pit bulls and other dog breeds that are often trained for fighting. But aldermen ended up increasing fines and jail time for negligent dog owners instead.

“There’s a kneejerk reaction when pit bulls are involved . . . but I’m hesitant to malign an entire breed,” Travis said.

Contributing: LeeAnn Shelton, Tina Sfondeles, Stefano Esposito

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