An 18-month-old Westminster toddler remained in intensive care at Childrens Hospital of Orange County on Sunday after undergoing surgery to repair deep wounds he suffered in an attack Saturday by a pit bull terrier.
Police said Claremont Brown was with his mother, Christina Brown, 23, in the backyard of a house where they were staying in the 14600th block of Allen Street, when the dog attacked the child with no apparent motive about 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
"The pit bull dragged the child approximately 20 feet before Christina (the mother) was able to free the child from the dog," Westminster Police Sgt. Phillip Martinez said. A large portion of the child's right face and neck was torn away in the attack.
Paramedics treated him and his mother, who was bitten in her right hand, at the scene and transported both to Humana Hospital in Westminster. After being treated in the emergency room, the child was transfered to Childrens Hospital, where he underwent corrective surgery Saturday evening and is listed in stable condition.
Christina Brown was treated at Humana Hospital for the dog bites and released, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The dog is owned by Jeffrey Howell, 23, who lives at the home with his mother and stepfather, according to neighbors. Christina Brown and her son also live in the one-story home.
An animal control officer took the 45-pound dog, named Jake, to the Orange County Animal Shelter in Orange for quarantine. No one has been cited, Martinez said.
Reached at the home where the attack took place, Christina Brown declined to comment. "I just rather not say anything about it," she said Sunday. "It's a family matter."
Neighbors, however, were surprised to learn about the attack, noting that Jake was not known to be a vicious dog.
"I was never scared of that dog," said one area resident who did not want to be identified. "He never gave me any trouble."
He added that Jake would sometimes even seem scared of people. Other neighbors echoed that assesment.
"He's never tried to hurt anybody," said Pat McNeely. "Jeff took good care of him. I don't think it's anything to be taken out of proportion."
Another neighbor said Jake "never bit anyone" that he knew of, but added that small children should avoid the dogs.
"It's not the kind of dog to put with a baby in a backyard," said Bill Hudson, who also owns a pit bull terrier. "Pit bulls are known to attack babies, or anyone." Hudson said the dogs can be mild pets, largely depending on their breeding.
He said Howell had warned Christine Brown about the dogs being aggressive at times.
Although dog experts contend that pit bulls, bred to have strong legs and jaws, are no more aggressive than other dogs, there is agreement that pit bulls have the potential to inflict a much more serious injury.
Pit bulls--often used in illegal dog fights--have powerful jaws that can exert as much as 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch when biting, compared with about 700 pounds per square inch for a Doberman pinscher, according to dog experts.
Despite owners' descriptions that the terriers are not aggressive and make excellent pets, recent pit bull attacks have led to government restrictions in some cities.
The City of Santa Monica, after numerous complaints of attacks by pit bulls in beach areas, requires that all pit bulls and other dogs that the city declares vicious be muzzled in public.
After several pit bull attacks in San Diego, the county Board of Supervisors in March gave animal control officers authority to declare dogs vicious and place conditions on their owners.
Last March, Pasadena police booked a pit bull owner for investigation of assault with a deadly weapon after the pit bull, on orders from its owner, chased and bit the leg of a teen-aged girl.
Westminster has no restrictions on the possession of pit bulls.
Dogs determined to be vicious can be destroyed with the owner's consent or a court order, said Len Liberio, director of Orange County Animal Control. However, Liberio did not know any specific details about the Westminster attack and could not comment on the dog's status.
He said a dog can be kept under quarantine for up to 10 days while tests are done to determine if rabies exist, or for other reasons, such as evidence for a criminal investigation. Liberio said owners of animals deemed vicious can be cited if they refuse to turn the animal over to authorities or confine it completely.
Times staff writer David Reyes contributed to this story.