A candidate in the Democratic primary for the Athens County Common Pleas Probate-Juvenile judgeship is warning other political candidates this election season after he was attacked and injured by a county resident’s two dogs while knocking on doors over the weekend.
Rusty Rittenhouse, who has been a local lawyer at Lavelle and Associates since 2005, posted on Facebook over the weekend that he was going door-to-door Sunday in the New Marshfield area when, upon knocking on the door of a home, two apparent pit-bull terriers rushed from a “doggie door” and attacked him. The dogs stopped biting him after the owner called them off. He ended up getting 17 stitches, 14 in his leg and three in his hand, after going to the hospital, Rittenhouse wrote in a social-media post on his campaign page.
Rittenhouse stressed, when The NEWS reached contacted him on Monday, that he did not blame the homeowner for the injuries. He said he did not fully understand the signs posted at the house when approaching the front door. Specifically, he reported seeing a “no trespassing” sign in the woods surrounding the driveway leading to the home as he drove up. However, he did not realize that meant “no solicitation” and said he thought it only referred to the woods around the home. He said he also saw a sign as he got closer to the home that read something like “beware of dog” or “dog on duty,” but, with the sign sitting next to a dog statue, he thought it was a joke referring to the statue. He added that he has dogs at home, and said he did not see any dogs as he approached the door or hear any barking.
“It didn’t register to me,” Rittenhouse said. “I’ve gone to hundreds of houses and have seen signs on the way saying ‘beware of dog.’ If I see a dog, I’ll leave.”
When he went to knock on the door, the dogs came through a dog door that he hadn’t noticed initially, he said.
On social media Rittenhouse mostly received sympathetic comments wishing him well in his recovery. However, a few blamed Rittenhouse for the injuries he suffered, despite him saying he didn’t blame the homeowners for the attack.
One person – who appeared to be the owner of the home – posted that “he ignored posted signs on our property that he admitted to ignoring.”
“Our dogs were protecting our house from an unwelcome guest,” the person wrote. “He is more than welcome to call us or drop off a flier in our mailbox trying to get support but don’t come up our driveway (very secluded) and ignore signs saying trained guard dogs on duty.”
Rittenhouse said his main point of the post was to let people know to be “careful” and “mindful” of signs posted on properties while campaigning, even “if the sign is unclear or ambiguous.”
Rittenhouse in his post warned Democratic opponent Zach Saunders, an assistant county prosecutor who is running for the same seat, as well as Republican primary contenders Ken Ryan, a local lawyer, and Scott M. Robe, another local lawyer, about the incident.
Various legal websites that address the issue of dog attacks and “beware of dog” signs note that in some cases, posting such a sign can increase liability for the owner of an aggressive dog since it appears to acknowledge that the owner knows the dog is dangerous. However, prominently placed “no trespassing” signs can mitigate or erase that liability.