CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It was supposed to be a fun day of playing in the snow with her friends, but Jan. 25, 2013, quickly turned into a day of terror for Ashley Casto.
The then-12-year-old went sleigh riding in the woods with a friend after an early dismissal from school. Around dinnertime, she started walking toward her Cottageville home when she noticed two large dogs — described in a criminal complaint as a bulldog/mastiff mix and a pit bull/boxer mix — were following.
She called for Buddy, her neighbor’s chocolate lab, to escort her, but it was too late. The dogs attacked.
They grabbed onto her legs as she tried to hit them with her gloved hands. Buddy dove in and attacked the smaller dog, according to the complaint.
She screamed for help repeatedly until neighbor Jim Taylor arrived and fought the dogs off with a shovel.
“I was thinking I was going to die,” Ashley said.
Ashley went to the hospital where she received stitches in her leg. As a result of her injuries, Ashley sports 27 scars, including a particularly large one on her leg.
“They tried to bite her thumb off because she was trying to swat them with her glove,” said Shelia Casto, Ashley’s mom. “Luckily she had heavy snow clothes on or they would have done a lot more damage to her. She’s seeing a plastic surgeon now to maybe help with some of the scarring issues. The one on her leg in particular is pretty deep and big.”
Her medical bills currently stand at about $5,000.
But Ashley’s trouble with the dogs didn’t end there. When her parents attempted legal proceedings against the dogs’ owner, they hit a roadblock.
“We tried to do everything legally,” Shelia said. “My husband is torn up about it because he’s her protector.”
The Castos called police that evening to report the incident, although Ashley’s father wanted to kill the dogs himself. The family took the case to Jackson County Magistrate Court, but the judges couldn’t help because of state law.
A 2011 state Supreme Court case denied a private cause of action for the family of a 2-year-old girl who was also attacked by a vicious dog. The court found the Legislature needed to change the law in order for victims to have a private cause of action against a vicious animal.
“There was nothing in there to protect you, me, or in this case Ashley from being attacked,” said Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson.
Westfall joined Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, on House Bill 2757, which calls for the humane destruction of dogs that attack humans. It gives families like the Castos a private cause of action in seeking the euthanasia of an animal if the attack causes more than $2,000 in damages or attacks twice within a 12-month period. The bill passed both the House of Delegates and Senate unanimously.
However, not everyone supports the bill…