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Dog that killed Wheeling man to be sent to Washington County facility

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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Kennels, with barking dogs heard inside, are covered with a tarp at the South Hills Pet Resort in Union, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. According to reports, a pit bull terrier was allegedly responsible for the death of a man in Wheeling, West Virginia, on March 8. The man was mauled by the dog after trying to give aid to the dog's owner, who was having an apparent heart attack. This facility has provided shelter for the dog.
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Nick Ferraro, animal behavioralist, and dog Sheba at the South Hills Pet Rescue and Rehabilitation Resort.

A dog in West Virginia that killed a man trying to help the dog’s owner during a medical emergency reacted as any breed of dog would have to protect its owner, the operator of a local pet rescue facility said.

“She was doing what she thought was right to protect her owner,” Ashley Rittle, who co-owns South Hills Pet Rescue and Rehabilitation Resort in Union, Washington County. On Wednesday, the facility was to take ownership of a pit bull terrier that had been kept at the Ohio County Animal Control in Wheeling, W.Va., since she fatally attacked Roy Higgenbotham Jr., 62, March 8.

Higgenbotham had come to help the dog’s owner, David Wallace, 63, who suffered a heart attack.

“Unfortunately, the aid he was giving to Mr. Wallace was believed to be misconstrued by Mr. Wallace’s dog as an attack on Mr. Wallace,” Wheeling, W.Va.’s city manager, Robert Herron, said in a prepared statement.

Higgenbotham died from his injuries, Herron said. Wallace died, too.

The dog’s actions fall under Wheeling’s vicious dog ordinance, Herron wrote. He authorized the release of the dog to the South Hills Pet Rescue and Rehabilitation Resort, which approached Wheeling officials about taking the dog, he said.

The state-licensed rehabilitation and placement facility has a behavioral trainer, and it will make “every effort to retrain and rehabilitate the dog,” Herron said.

The dog will not be allowed to return to West Virginia, Herron wrote.

Herron did not return calls for comment.

Rittle’s husband, Nick Ferraro, an animal behaviorist, bought the pet resort three years ago. Rittle added the rescue operation a year ago, she said.

The state Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement inspected the facility on Tuesday, according to a report online.

It issued verbal and written warnings for kennel maintenance violations.

The warden “observed some of the wire that connects fencing to fence post in individual kennel area to be sharp and sticking out, kennel fencing pulled and damaged, materials used to repair damaged fencing had sharp edges, broken kennel latches, dividers between kennels becoming separated, damaged guillotine doors and cables, plaster board walls needing repaired,” according to the report.

The warden directed the owner to keep the kennel building and grounds maintained and clean. A follow-up inspection was to take place later, according to the report.

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety cause the damage, but repairs are made daily, Rittle said.

South Hills Pet Rescue and Rehabilitation Resort is a nonprofit that dates to the 1960s, she said. About 50 dogs are being kept at the facility, which adopts out dogs.

“We bought it in 2012 and we’ve made many modifications to the facility but we’re not millionaires,” she said.

They are seeking grants and donations to make upgrades, she said.

“We’re really asking for help from the communities,” she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or [email protected].

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