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Vicious Attack on Doctor by Dogs Probed : Pair of Animals Had Terrified Brentwood Neighborhood for Weeks

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles authorities began an investigation Monday into whether the owners of two powerful Rottweiler dogs allowed them to run loose, terrifying a Brentwood neighborhood for weeks and mauling a physician so brutally that it took 4 1/2 hours of surgery and 200 stitches to close his wounds.

The Animal Regulation Department expects to ask the city attorney’s office to seek criminal charges against the Rottweilers’ owners for allegedly permitting vicious or dangerous dogs to run loose, said Lt. Richard Felosky of the department.

At the same time, Animal Regulation officials acknowledged that a backlog of complaints prevented them from pursuing an earlier complaint against the Rottweilers. Officials said they had received a letter earlier this month from a resident of the Brentwood neighborhood calling the two Rottweilers “vicious,” detailing two attacks on his own dog and seeking to press criminal charges.

The two male Rottweilers, which weigh between 80 and 90 pounds and reportedly cost $5,000 each, were being held in quarantine Monday by the county Health Services Department. A woman who cared for the dogs at 1456 Jonesboro Drive said Sunday, “They’re being destroyed, definitely.” She refused to give her name.

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Multiple Cuts

Dr. Jerome Helman, 46, a Brentwood internist, was reported in good condition Monday at St. John’s Medical Center, recovering from multiple cuts to his head, arms and legs in the attack last Thursday.

The attack on Helman occurred amid growing controversy over maulings by pit bulls in California and nationwide. Rottweilers, like pit bulls, can be trained to be aggressive and have long been used as security and military dogs. The number of Rottweiler attacks in Los Angeles has been limited, animal control officers say, largely because the expensive breed is relatively rare and is generally well controlled.

Stunned residents of the affluent Brentwood neighborhood where the attack occurred expressed anger that the large dogs had been able to roam free, despite repeated complaints to the owners. In two cases, residents said they had contacted city authorities, but others said they had not told officials when the menacing Rottweilers had been on the streets unleashed.

“What’s infuriating is that these dogs were out,” said Sandra Helman, the doctor’s wife. “This is not the first incident.”

Helman and witnesses, including film director Daniel Petrie, said the attack occurred when the doctor was out for his daily 6 a.m. jog and lasted 15 minutes or more. The animals cornered Helman behind a trellis on Haney Place and repeatedly charged at him as he sought to fend them off and cried for help.

“He was really hysterical, and he was bloody from head to toe,” said Petrie, who had sought to come to Helman’s aid with a rake. “He was just cut to ribbons.”

Even after the dogs’ keeper emerged to call them by their names--Amadeus and Wolfgang--one of the animals kept turning toward Helman, who had collapsed on the sidewalk, said Joan Candy, another neighbor who drove her car between Helman and the dog to keep it at bay.

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Animal Control’s Felosky said a man named Robert Henderson had identified himself as the dogs’ owner, but authorities had not confirmed this. Helman said Henderson had met with his wife at the hospital and told her the dogs would be destroyed, even though they had cost him $10,000.

Henderson could not be reached for comment, but the woman at the home where the dogs were kept said Sunday that the Rottweilers “broke a hole in the fence” to get out. An opening in the seven-foot-high wooden fence was covered by two long boards and four boards had been nailed across other holes.

‘No Idea’

“We had no idea these dogs were capable of this,” said the woman, who appeared to be in her late 20s. “I have two very young children.”

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Asked about previous attacks on other dogs, she said the Rottweilers had been “in dog fights, regular dog spats.” They were not trained to attack, she said.

However, Ralph Obler, a resident of Longworth Drive, said Henderson had once discussed “the mystique of Rottweilers” with him. Obler said Henderson told him never to mention the German word for “attack,” which he spelled out--within the dogs’ earshot.

Other neighbors said the Rottweilers had been on the street or in their yards many times during recent months while the woman and dogs have been living in the tranquil neighborhood of $700,000 homes.

The Animal Regulation Department acknowledged Monday that a complaint about the two Rottweilers was received several weeks ago. Michael Asimow of Longworth Drive had sought to file a criminal complaint against the Rottweilers’ owner after the dogs had bitten his small puli on March 4 and June 29 when Asimow was walking him.

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Asimow said the Rottweilers had burst through a gate on one occasion and run through the wooden fence on the other. In both instances, he said, a man who identified himself as the owner agreed to pay the $200 in veterinarian bills.

‘Child Next’

“Two other neighbors have told me the Rottweilers have attacked their dogs,” Asimow wrote. “I’m afraid that it will be a child next.”

Felosky said the department had not acted on Asimow’s letters because “we have lots of cases.” He said a backlog of several weeks is “not unusual at all.”

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Earlier on the day of the Helman incident, Alan Toy, an actor who lives across the street from where the doctor was attacked, said he had been attacked by two Rottweilers at 2 a.m. Toy, who was disabled by polio as a child, said he fended off the lunging, growling dogs with his crutches until a friend turned a high-powered garden hose on the animals. He said he then called Los Angeles police to report the attack and was referred to an animal control officer who told him, “Maybe we’ll send somebody out.”

“I believed the whole incident could have been prevented,” Toy said. “I had told them these were very dangerous dogs and they were loose in the community.”

Animal control has no record of receiving Toy’s call, Felosky said. Los Angeles police could not immediately determine Monday whether the department has a record of Toy’s call, Officer David Lizarraga said.

Other incidents had occurred earlier. Neighborhood resident Frank Fleischer said one of the Rottweilers attacked his husky last April. He said the larger animal bit a hole in his dog’s neck. The Rottweiler’s owner apologetically paid the $200 veterinarian’s bill, Fleischer said.

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Two weeks ago, a man who lives across the street from the Rottweilers said the dogs charged at him as he was putting the garbage out. The man, who requested anonymity, said he held them off with the garbage-can dolly until he could climb into his car. He said he did not report the incident.


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