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Owner of dog that bit girl's face feels 'bad'

TAMPA - The owner of a mixed-breed dog that bit the face of a 3-year-old girl on Monday is apologizing for the attack while awaiting word on an investigation by authorities. "I feel bad. I feel so bad," Tanya Okeke said. Investigators already are saying Okeke should have been more diligent when the canine was around children. She was given citations twice last year because of her dog's vicious behavior. "Some poor decisions have been made," said county animal services investigator Pam Perry. "Why didn't she put the dog up?"
Perry said her agency continued to interview witnesses Wednesday and gather evidence to see whether they should seek criminal charges against Okeke. The dog owner can be charged for culpable negligence and "reckless disregard" for knowing of an animal's propensity for violence but doing nothing about it, Perry said. Both charges are misdemeanors. Perry said she has met with prosecutors at the State Attorney's Office and discussed the case. Okeke, 41, said she tied her dog Bear to the railing of a staircase at her Palm Breeze Apartment complex to give him a bath. That's when a group of children approached, calling out to Bear. "I told them to get back," said Okeke, who lives at 8010 Tommy Court in Palm River. Okeke said Destiny McKenzie, the 3-year-old girl, was walking down the stairs, behind the dog, when she slipped and fell on top of the canine. "He thought she attacked him and then he attacked her," Okeke said. "I was beating, beating, beating him to make sure he got off her." Said Perry, "There are conflicting stories that (Destiny) fell on the dog, or the dog broke loose or that she fell in front of the dog. "We'll probably meet with the State Attorney's Office next week and lay out our case. We want to make sure we have the correct and true story." Hillsborough County deputies, who investigated the case before turning it over to animal services, said, "the dog, for unknown reasons, broke from the owner's control and bit the child on the face," sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said. Destiny had severe lacerations and was treated at Tampa General Hospital. She was released from the hospital Tuesday and is recovering. "She's home now," Perry said. "That's a good sign." Destiny's family could not be reached for comment. Two-year-old Bear was euthanized Tuesday afternoon at animal services. In July, Okeke was given a citation after Bear attacked a neighbor's dog. Okeke was cited again in December after a different neighbor's puppy somehow got in the way of Bear and its food when Bear was tethered outside. Bear latched on to the puppy's neck and bit the puppy's owner, who was trying to separate the two, Perry said. Animal services did not file charges against Okeke for those two incidents because Bear wouldn't have become aggressive if not for the two other animals, Perry said. Okeke was ordered by a judge to put Bear into a program where the dog would be neutered and to take the dog to obedience training. But Okeke never enrolled in the program and kept asking the judge for a continuance on her case, which she received, Perry said. "And now it's too late," Perry said.

rreyes@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7920 News Channel 8 reporter Josh Green contributed to this report.

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