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Girl bitten by dog remains in critical condition; dog in quarantine

Statistics show pit bulls are involved in most serious, fatal dog attacks

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 6-year-old girl remains in critical condition more than a day after she was attacked by a dog in her Arlington home.

Police and firefighters were called to a house on Herrick Drive in Arlington around 10:15 a.m. Sunday by a neighbor who heard screaming and saw the girl's mother carry the girl's unconscious body outside.

“I just kept hearing somebody (yell), 'Help me, help me!'" Timothy Hightower told News4Jax. “She came out of the house and laid the baby down right there and told us to call the paramedics, and that’s what we did.”

Jaelah Smith was taken to Memorial Hospital with what police described as “very serious, life-threatening injuries.” She was transferred to Wolfson Children's Hospital.

The girl's 7- and 9-year-old siblings were not hurt.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office believes the dog that bit Jaelah was a mixed-breed pit bull. The dog was picked up by Animal Care and Protective Services and placed on a 10-day quarantine and is being medically observed.

Police said there was more than one dog at the home at the time and the dog that attacked Jaelah was not the family’s pet, but a dog they were watching while friends were on vacation.

The I-TEAM reviewed numbers of dog bites and found pit bulls were involved in more serious or fatal dog bites than other breeds.

"Need to be extra vigilant and careful when there is a new dog in your home or when your child is visiting a home," said Colleen Lynn, founder of DogsBite.org.

Lynn founded the group after she was attacked by a pit bull 11 years ago. Since then, she has devoted much of her time to researching attacks.

She points to 2017 statistics showing that pit bulls contributed to 74 percent of U.S. dog bite fatalities, even though they only make up 6.5 percent of the American dog population. She says this breed is more likely to bite multiple times and not let go.

"The injuries inflicted are more severe. That’s the issue," Lynn said. "It’s not that they attack more, it’s that when they attack, the injuries are worse. And sometimes fatal, too."

Lynn said she didn't want to address this case because not enough is known about what happened.

"But nine times out of 10, there are so many red flags. Where was the parent? Why was the child alone with the animal? Was the animal familiar with the family? Was the animal spayed or neutered? It does make a difference," Lynn said.

Cynthia Saben, who owns three pit bulls and volunteers with PitStop PitBull Rescue Transport, doesn’t blame the breed and urges parents to be careful when children are around any animal.

"It is a stronger dog than a Chihuahua or a poodle. Even more reason to be the first line of defense as a parent or guardian for the child and the animal," Saben said. "As a rescue, that’s the last thing I want to hear is that a child is hurt by any dog."

The Department of Children and Families is investigating the incident, what led up to it and whether there are any other safety concerns in the home.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.