Residents are upset because the Chester County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was contacted by a neighbor about 20 minutes before the attack, a fact confirmed by Scott Barnes, SPCA's chief humane agent. However, Barnes said, the shelter's only animal control officer on duty was on a call in West Vincent at the time.
As it often does, the SPCA suggested that the neighbors confine the dogs until the agent was available.
"If the township has contracted with the SPCA to enforce the leash laws, why aren't they doing their job?" asked Bonnie, a Gail Road resident who asked that her last name not be used. "These dogs have been loose in our neighborhood before. Loose dogs and young children are potentially a very dangerous situation. What's to keep them from coming back again?"
Bonnie and several other neighbors, including the parents of the bitten child, were so concerned about the reappearance of the dogs that they planned a neighborhood meeting Friday. Their intent is to go before the West Goshen supervisors Tuesday about the lack of animal control in their neighborhood.
West Goshen Township, like 36 others in the county, contracts with the SPCA for services, including the pickup of stray, injured and dead animals. West Goshen pays $4,211 a year to the shelter.
Barnes and shelter director Gary Patronek said that the role of the SPCA was often misunderstood.
"We're not dog catchers, we don't have a big net, and we don't shoot the animals," Patronek said. "If someone in Oxford calls to tell us that there is a dog loose in their neighborhood, more than likely it's going to be gone in the time it takes us to travel to Oxford. That's why we ask people to confine the animal if they can so we can warn or cite the owner."
According to Barnes, the dogs belong to Chris Zeller of Phoenixville Pike and have been found loose by the SPCA on several occasions. "What we found works best is to warn the owner on the first couple of occasions that he's in violation. After the third offense, he is cited," Barnes said.
Zeller, who has been warned in the past, according to Barnes, will be charged with failure to confine his dogs, failure to collar his dogs and failure to have licenses for his dogs. The maximum fine, according to Barnes, is $300 and/or 90 days in jail per dog.
District Justice Dawson R. Muth of West Chester said last week that offenders were rarely fined the maximum.
"I don't ever think I've seen a dog owner go to jail over something his dog has done," he said.
Repeated attempts to reach Zeller for comment were unsuccessful.