Bartow, Florida -- On Thursday, a hearing officer issued a death sentence for two pit bulls that viciously attacked a 6-year-old Lakeland girl earlier this month.
With her head barely peering over the witnesses stand, 6-year-old Alicia Battles recounted one more time the horrific dog attack she'd endured two weeks ago today.
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A pair of dogs jumped a neighbor's fence and mauled the little girl as she played in her back yard.
"I just really don't believe it was my dogs. My dogs have never jumped the fence. Ever," said the dogs' owner, Tanya Morse.
The hearing was brought about by Morse, who'd declined to sign away custody of the canines.
Despite several witnesses identifying her animals, she tried to create doubt during the hearing.
"It could have been any stray dog that was out there. I don't see any evidence of it on my dogs," she told the hearing officer.
Morse said if it was her dogs they must have been teased or provoked. But witness after witness testified the dogs were vicious and relentless in their attack.
In addition to biting Alicia, they'd attacked her 8-year-old cousin, her aunt and Good Samaritan Sherri Tanner, who'd stopped to help when she saw the commotion.
"It took four grown men to get the dog off of me and he was still trying to bite me," said Tanner.
Hearing Officer Maria Gallo, having seen the severity of the injuries and no proof the animals were provoked, declared Morse's dogs, named "Bossman" and "Promise" a menace.
"So I'm gonna find that the dogs are in need of destruction. That they're dangerous dogs. And that they need to be put down," said Gallo.
Outside the courtroom, Morse hugged Alicia and the little girl's mother, expressing concern for them and the other victims.
Alicia, still limping, left the courthouse saying she was "Happy. Because I don't ever have to see the dogs again."
She probably won't see the dogs again, although, the law does allow animal owners 10 days to appeal. Morse, who called the dogs her "babies" and her "everything", has vowed to do just that.
"Do whatever it takes. Get a higher fence. Keep them on a chain. Keep them on a muzzle. I don't care. I just want them. I think they deserve another chance," she said.
If Morse follows through and does file an appeal within ten days, it could take another month or perhaps as long as six months for a judge to review today's hearing.
Morse would have to pay the $30 per day expense of boarding her dogs at Polk Animal Control during that time.
If she does not appeal within 10 days, the dogs will be destroyed.
Alicia will not have to go back to court and re-live the attack yet again. An appeal in such a case merely means a judge will review what the hearing officer did in order to make sure there was due process was afforded and legal procedures were followed.
Several people at today's hearing who are familiar with such issues say they believe this ruling would undoubtedly be upheld and the dogs will be put down.
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