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Caretaker, mauled by dogs, found dead at actor's home

It's unclear whether the canines killed the man, who was employed by Ving Rhames, police say.

August 04, 2007|Ari B. Bloomekatz and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

A caretaker at the Brentwood home of actor Ving Rhames was found dead early Friday after being mauled by at least two of the actor's dogs, identified by authorities as bullmastiffs, Los Angeles police said.

The body of the man, whose name was not immediately released, was found about 7 a.m. in the frontyard of the home in the 12900 block of San Vicente Boulevard by one of Rhames' relatives, police said. The victim, in his 40s, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The caretaker, who lived on the property and took care of the dogs, had worked for the actor for two years, Lt. Ray Lombardo said. Rhames, who starred in the "Mission: Impossible" movies with Tom Cruise, was working on a film in Germany and could not be reached for comment.

Animal control officers dispatched to the home seized four canines -- including three bullmastiffs and one English bulldog -- that belong to Rhames, authorities said. The dogs were placed under quarantine pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office had not yet determined the cause of death. Detectives said it was possible that the victim died of a heart attack or other medical condition.

But Lombardo said all indications were that the caretaker, who suffered multiple bite wounds, was fatally attacked by the mastiffs. They were described by authorities as "big as the lions at the circus."

Rian Lidschin, 66, Rhames' next-door neighbor, said a bullmastiff named Bruno weighs about 200 pounds. His daughter, Sarah, said she saw Rhames and his children playing with the dogs on their front lawn about two weeks ago.

"They were perfectly friendly," she said. "I personally was not afraid of his dogs."

Authorities are unsure of the circumstances of the mauling, but they said it appeared that the attack occurred sometime overnight when the caretaker was in an open area of the sprawling property, between a guest house and the main living quarters.

One theory is that after the dogs' attack, the caretaker fled through a fence that divided the property, police said. The man was able to close a gate behind him, locking the dogs on the other side of the fence. He then passed out from his injuries without anyone knowing, Lombardo said.

Neighbors said they never heard any cries for help.

If mauling did cause the caretaker's death, it would be at least the 14th time this year that someone in the United States was killed in a dog attack, said Richard H. Polsky, a West Los Angeles-based animal behaviorist who runs the website fataldogattack.com.

There are about 25 to 30 deaths from dog attacks each year, he said.

Polsky said bullmastiffs are a cross between two historically aggressive canines: English bulldogs and mastiffs.

"One was there to guard the property of the landowners and the bulldogs were used to grab along and pull the bulls," Polsky said. "Both breeds historically were aggressive."

Another animal behavior specialist said bullmastiffs require special attention and particularly devoted masters.

"They're guard dogs, and you have to understand what you have when you own these dogs; it's like a weapon," said Mona Lindau-Webb, who runs Alpha Dog Training in Los Angeles.

Lindau-Webb said she used to train traditionally aggressive breeds for celebrity movie actors but stopped because she became frustrated with their lack of attention for the canines.

"Movie stars never have time for the dogs," she said. "They have all of this staff and personal assistants to take care of the dogs.... The characteristic of the mastiff breed is they desperately need their own person, and they'll die for that person."

Scott Peterson, vice president of California Bullmastiff Fanciers, which has a membership of about 40 dog owners and breeders, expressed concern about the breed's reputation because of publicity from the case.

"The exact breed is still under investigation," Peterson said. "If they are not bullmastiffs, it hurts the breed because of the perception. If they are bullmastiffs, it's a tragedy and very unusual for the breed."

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com andrew.blankstein@ latimes.com

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