Vancouver man takes loss of pinky to dog in stride

He's not pressing charges against owner of black Lab

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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photoGerry Matthieu revisits the scene of a Sept. 8 attack by a dog at Greyhawk Community Park on Thursday. Matthieu lost his right pinky finger in the incident.

(/The Columbian)

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Greeting a group of women cost Gerry Matthieu one of his fingers.

Matthieu, 78, was on one of his daily outings to Greyhawk Park in the Pleasant Highlands neighborhood near his home on Sept. 8. When he lifted his hand to wave to three women walking a black Labrador mix, the leashed dog lunged at him, latching onto his thighs, knee and hand. Next thing Matthieu knew, he was lying in the grass with his pinky finger detached in the palm of his hand.

"I guess he didn't speak English," the man said. "I was saying, 'Good morning.'"

Matthieu, who has kept a lot of dogs in his lifetime — most recently a miniature Alaskan husky -- said he doesn't want to press charges against the dog's owner. After finding out the dog was involved in a similar incident two years ago -- something its owner allegedly didn't share with him — he agreed to give investigators information that can help build a case to have the dog labeled as dangerous.

When the incident happened, the dog was being walked by three women who were visiting its owner, Matthieu said.

"I'm not mad at them and I'm not mad at their dog," he said. "These things happen."

Matthieu was taken to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, where doctors removed what was left of his pinky finger. They bandaged bruises and scratches on his legs.

The dog was initially placed on in-home quarantine after the incident. Such measures are taken to see if the animal has rabies, said Clark County Animal Control officer Bill Burrus, who is investigating the case.

If a domestic animal is bitten by a rabid animal, it won't live more than five or six days, he said. So if a dog lives through the quarantine period, it doesn't have rabies. If it dies, it will be tested for rabies to determine if the victim will need to get a series of rabies shots. A rabies test cannot be performed on a live animal, Burrus said.

In this case, the black Lab showed no symptoms of being rabid, so Burrus released the dog from quarantine. He feels like he should pursue the dangerous dog label because it is at least the second time the animal bit a human's hand and "the loss of a finger is pretty darn serious," he said.

Matthieu didn't want to make a statement against the dog, but said he would confirm the events happened and provide medical records from the injuries, Burrus said. Animal control will build a case and put it before a hearings officer. The dog's owner will have five days to appeal the case.

If the dog is labeled dangerous, the owner can keep it but will have to follow certain restrictions. Those include not letting the dog out unless it is muzzled, on a chain or a sturdy leash with a harness, and is being handled by person who is 18 years old or older.

When dogs are labeled dangerous, Clark County Animal Control's policy is to attempt to get the owner to turn it over to be euthanized.

"They don't have to (turn it over)," Burrus said. "Animals are personal property."

Burrus said this is a case where animal control needs to step in.

"We're just going to go for the safety of the community," he said.

Attempts to reach the dog's owner were unsuccessful.