SCHENECTADY — First the dogs seemed excited to see the child and her grandmother emerge from the house during what should have been a pleasant early-summer cookout.
But the two pit bulls went from what Lynn DeCenzo described as “happily jumping” to lunging for the 3-year-old child.
DeCenzo scooped up her granddaughter after she fell down, holding her with one arm and a tray of hot dogs in the other.
“They were jumping up and I grabbed her,” DeCenzo said. “They grabbed her by the leg.”
When they wouldn’t retreat, DeCenzo yelled, dropped the hot dogs and kicked the younger of the two canines, Damon, who retreated.
She held the child high to protect her against scratches. But Styles, the other dog, ultimately wrestled the girl loose and dragged her what DeCenzo estimated was 30 feet.
The pit bull, who DeCenzo estimated weighs twice as much as the child at between 70 and 80 pounds, only relinquished his grip after her son and the dog’s owner, Salvatore DiNovo, struck him in the head with a shovel.
A visibly emotional DeCenzo said she didn’t observe either dog biting the girl.
“She was crying and then she went quiet,” said DeCenzo, who estimated the entire incident happened in less than a minute.
“It happened so fast, and it was over so fast.”
DeCenzo testified in City Court on Monday in a hearing under the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law to determine if the dogs are dangerous. If so, they could be euthanized. City Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico, who represented the state at the hearing, is arguing that the dogs should be labeled dangerous.
DeCenzo admitted during a redirect by Falotico that her actions may have escalated the situation.
“I think my hollering, and the baby crying, made the situation worse,” she said. “I don’t think I should have done that.”
The toddler, who The Daily Gazette isn’t identifying, was attacked on May 31 at the Clayton Road home in the city’s Woodlawn neighborhood she had been sharing with DeCenzo, her father and an uncle and aunt for the past six months.
The girl was discharged from Albany Medical Center on Friday and is staying with her father at an undisclosed location, said DeCenzo.
“I’ve seen her stand and move around, but not walk,” DeCenzo said. “She’s going to need physical therapy.”
First responders described injuries to the girl’s head, puncture wounds on her torso and abrasions to her back.
DiNovo, who is being represented by Brendan Keller from the county’s Public Defender’s Office, declined to testify on Monday.
Falotico is representing the city with Assistant Corporation Counsel Meghan Fitzpatrick.
DiNovo, 28, also faces several misdemeanor charges, four for each dog, under the city’s dog ordinance.
Falotico pressed DeCenzo on if she could identify when the dogs went from “happily jumping” and “jumping up to say hi” to attacking the child.
“If the dogs were 'happily jumping,’ why would you be worried about the baby being scratched?” Falotico said.
DeCenzo said she could not identify an exact moment. The dogs, who live with DiNovo in a separate downstairs apartment, have jumped up before, she said, but never when she was carrying the girl.
Several first responders testified at the hearing.
After arriving at the scene, police Patrolman Mark Kopcyznski saw DiNovo sitting on the stoop with blood on his shirt.
He found DiNovo's little niece face-down on the couch covered in blood. She seemed to be in shock, he said.
City Court Judge Robert Hoffman prohibited witnesses from offering testimony on what DiNovo told them that evening, citing an exemption against hearsay.
As such, footage from Kopcyznski’s body camera was shown to participants, but not the portion containing his interaction with DiNovo.
Falotico repeatedly attempted to challenge the decision, but Hoffman struck him down each time, citing such testimony was beyond the scope of a civil Ag and Markets hearing to determine if the now-quarantined dogs could be considered dangerous.
Falotico said he planned on calling a case worker from Child Protective Services who is assigned to the family to testify, but declined to do so on Monday, citing Hoffman’s decision.
The hearing will resume Tuesday afternoon. Falotico said he plans on presenting a formal argument against Hoffman’s decision by that time.
“Additional information hangs in the admissions the defendant had made,” Falotico said.
DiNovo is scheduled to appear in court for the misdemeanor charges on June 24.