By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

Man's best friend was – for better or for worse – at the center of both local and national news this year.

On the national level, Michael Vick was arrested and sentenced to jail time in connection with a dog fighting ring that killed several dogs.

In Killeen, a young boy's death after a pit bull attack shocked residents.

Seth Lovitt, 11, died Nov. 6 after the family pit bull leaped off the couch, knocked Seth to the ground and bit him in the neck.

The attack happened while Seth and his brother, Brenden, 9, were running through their house in the 2900 block of Fairlane Drive.

After the incident, the dog was euthanized and tested negative for rabies, according to a police news release.

The attack came as a shock to some neighbors, who said the dog never showed signs of aggression and was frequently in the company of children.

"All these kids being in the backyard – I just cannot believe it," neighbor Kenneth Lawhorn said in a November interview. "Things just happen, I guess."

One neighbor reported that the pit bull had attacked her before, but the incident was never reported, according to a KPD news release.

Seth was a Palo Alto Middle School sixth-grader described by friends and neighbors as a child with a positive attitude who loved riding his skateboarding. He was the son of Jeffery and Misty Lovitt.

Only two months before Seth was attacked, on Aug. 12, three pit bulls attacked and killed a Pomeranian.

Even after the pit bulls were euthanized, the owners of the Pomeranian, Pierre, were not satisfied.

Ebony Irby had complained to KPD a few days before Pierre was killed, but the authorities told her they were unable to do anything unless the pit bulls actually went into her yard.

Just days later, the pit bulls did go into her yard, and Pierre was killed.

Killeen Animal Control reported seeing 10 to 15 cases of an animal biting another animal each month.

Incidents such as Seth Lovitt's death, and the Pomeranian attack only strengthened the negative reputation of pit bulls as violent animals.

Local experts and pet owners, however, said the pit bull's aggression is trained and does not hold true for each pit bull.

"Any animal can become aggressive or change its behavior based on how it's treated," said Capt. Steve Hoskins, of the Killeen Police Department.

Isaac Cabrera, of Belton, used to believe in the bad reputation of pit bulls, but not anymore.

"When I first got my pit bull puppy, I was scared to death of it because of what people said," Cabrera said.

However, after a year and a half with his pit bull, Molly, those fears were gone. He said Molly was a gentle pet.

Hoskins, who oversees Animal Control, said pit bulls are the top breed for fighting because of a history of aggression.

"They're breeding them because they have a tendency to be aggressive to other dogs," Hoskins said.

"Pit bulls are known to even break into people's yards to attack animals."

He added that pit bulls are usually friendly to people and the aggression can be controlled by how the owner treats the dog.

Area dogs were fighting more than just a bad reputation in 2007.

An airborne viral disease, distemper, reappeared as a concern for Killeen residents.

Tanicha Avila and her family spent a month with their new mixed-breed Rottweiler, Jinx, who they adopted from the Killeen Animal Shelter.

At first, Jinx appeared to be a healthy dog, but then she became increasingly ill.

Soon after, Jinx was diagnosed with distemper and subsequently euthanized.

"This is nothing new," said Hoskins in a November interview.

The Killeen Animal Shelter and local veterinarians had been battling distemper since August 2006.

The outbreak started in late 2006, when 16 cases were reported to the Animal Control Division of the Killeen Police Department by local veterinarians, according to Killeen Daily Herald archives.

"Distemper was running rampant six months ago," Hoskins said in November.

Local veterinarians said that after a sudden rush of distemper cases last year, the number of cases slumped before spiking again in the middle of 2007.

"We see them all the time," said Megan Jorcin, hospital director for Banfield Pet Hospital in PetSmart.

The incubation period for distemper is two days to three weeks, Jorcin and Hoskins said.

If the dog shows symptoms, veterinarians recommend the animal be euthanized, Hoskins said.

"Once you determine that it has distemper, the recommendation from the vet is to put it down," Hoskins said.

However, an annual vaccination can prevent the dog from contracting distemper.

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