Gallatin Co. officials investigate fatal dog attack


BOZEMAN, Mont. - A Bozeman woman donated her organs and was taken off life support Tuesday after being mauled by two dogs Saturday.

Melissa Barnes, 65, was left brain-dead after the attack, according to Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin.

The first dog to attack was a pit bull. The other dog's breed has not been determined, Gootkin said. Both were voluntarily euthanized and did not test positive for rabies.

Under Gallatin County's vicious dog ordinance, a vicious dog is defined as a dog that bites or attempts to bite a person without being provoked.

Detectives and the Gallatin County Attorney's Office are investigating the attack.

According to J.D. Edelen, a Gallatin County Animal Control officer, if the animal has a history of biting people, the county attorney could find the owner to be negligent and press more serious charges.

Bozeman Animal Control officer Molly Reeve told NBC Montana the city and county animal ordinances apply to all dogs, regardless of the breed.

"Even if their dog is the nicest dog in the world and they're off leash, if they go up to a dog that may not have that same personality, there can be an altercation," Reeve said. "You never really know what's going to set your dog off."

Edelen and Reeve told NBC Montana that both Gallatin County and the city of Bozeman operate on a case-by-case basis when dealing with dog attacks.

Animal ordinances vary by each county across the state.

In Butte-Silver Bow County: -- A dangerous animal is defined as being "any animal which constitutes a physical threat to human beings or domestic animals," with the exception of animals protecting their owner or another animal. -- It is against the law "for any owner to keep, harbor, or maintain any dangerous animal at any time off the premises of the owner unless the animal is securely muzzled." -- If found guilty of the first offense the owner will be fined and the dog will be ordered to be confined.

In Flathead County: -- A vicious dog is any dog, licensed or unlicensed, which bites or attempts to bite any human being without being provoked or which harasses or attempts to bite another animal. -- It is illegal to "keep, harbor or maintain any vicious dog." -- Any owner keeping a vicious dog in violation of the ordinance is considered "guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars." -- The county may "regulate, restrain, control, kill or quarantine any vicious dog."

In Missoula County: -- There are two designations of vicious dogs. - Level I: Has caused death or severe injury or attacked or bitten a person without being provoked, has killed or seriously injured another animal off the property of its owner, or has ever been trained for dog fighting. -Level II: Any dog that is capable of inflicting death or serious injury on any person or other animal. -- The owner of a vicious dog must take the steps to secure the dog from the public, warn the public about the dog and properly muzzle or restrain the dog in public.