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March 17, 2023

Pa. woman fatally attacked by her neighbor's Great Danes

The breed generally is not considered aggressive, but the dogs can become territorial with strangers

Investigations Dangerous Dogs
Great Dane Attack Woman Killed Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Pennsylvania State Police are investigating a deadly dog attack in New Bloomfield, Perry County. Kristin Potter, 38, was fatally injured by her neighbor's Great Danes while visiting to feed the pets.

A Perry County woman was mauled to death Thursday by two Great Danes when she visited her neighbor's home to feed the pets, authorities said.

The attack happened around 5 p.m. in Centre Township, about 150 miles west of Philadelphia. Kristin Potter, 38, who had been feeding the dogs for their out-of-town owners, suffered multiple traumatic injuries in the attack, the Perry County Coroner's Office said. Her death was ruled accidental.

Both of the Great Danes were euthanized after the attack, police said. A third dog at the property was not involved in the attack. A Pennsylvania State Police spokesperson said there is an active investigation into the attack, but declined to provide additional details. It's unclear whether the attack happened indoors or outdoors.

Great Danes are recognized among the largest and most powerful dog breeds, along with Irish Wolfhounds and English Mastiffs, but they generally are not considered dangerous and aggressive dogs. They're often described as gentle giants that are good with children and other dogs, but some Great Danes can be become timid, anxious or territorial with strangers if they are not socialized with outsiders as puppies. They are known to guard their homes, according to the American Kennel Club

Potter's husband, Jacob Presley Fickett, told The Daily Voice that his wife was a mother of three and previously had lost one of her sons after he was struck by a car near their home. The family had been planning to move to Florida.

"She was the Light of my life," Fickett said. "She has done nothing but good to anything she touched. I love her so much I can't even believe that (she's) gone."

There have been reports of other deadly Great Dane attacks in the U.S. in recent years, including some pets who killed their owners. 

In Iowa, a woman was found in a ditch after authorities determined she had been killed by her five Great Danes last August. Another woman who had rescued two Great Danes in Ohio was killed when they attacked her in 2019. Her husband said one of the dogs had shown signs of aggressive behavior in the weeks before the attack and warned others not to ignore those behaviors.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Dangerous Dog Registry, which includes hundreds of pets, only lists two Great Danes — both in locations other than Perry County.

State law requires dog owners to register their pets on the list if a dog has attacked a person without provocation on public or private property, or if the dog has severely injured or killed another domestic pet while off the dog owner's property. A single incident can result in a dog being placed on the registry. And if a dog attacks a person, a criminal complaint may be filed that results in charges against the owner. Many attacks also result in civil litigation.

Attorney Thomas Newell, who has represented dog bite victims in 38 counties in Pennsylvania, said many dog owners choose to euthanize their pets after serious attacks instead of keeping up with the state's requirements to maintain ownership.

Owners of dangerous dogs must pay annual $500 registration fees and must keep their dogs in enclosures that meet state standards. The dogs need to be neutered or spayed and must be muzzled and restrained whenever they are outside their enclosures. Other requirements include liability insurance and clearly posted signs outside the homes where they live.

If a dog attack results in a person's death, the dog is almost always voluntarily put down, Newell said. If not, a complaint is typically filed by the county dog warden or police. Dogs with prior attacks that are already on the dangerous dog registry also are generally euthanized if the second attack was unprovoked.

"The substantial majority are pit bulls or pit mixes — with a mastiff, Rottweiler, akita and sometimes a shepherd in there," said Newall, whose clients are often left with disfigurements from dog attacks.

But sometimes dog breeds not commonly associated with attacks can become aggressive. The state's registry includes some Golden Retrievers, who are usually friendly, but can become reactive.

Though he has not worked on any cases involving Great Danes, Newell noted that the breed is not as commonly owned as other dog breeds that have developed reputations and biases for aggression.