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By David Staba

You won't find too many endorsements of capital punishment in this space.

Actually, you won't find any. Especially since New York State's decade-old death penalty law remains so toothless as to be completely unenforceable, a wholly impotent sham meant to help then-Assemblyman Tom Reynolds eventually get elected to Congress. Which it did.

In the case of last month's dog attack on Whitney Avenue, though, Citycide is willing to part with strongly held personal beliefs. We regularly hammer government officials when we think they've wronged the people who pay their salaries, so it's only fair to offer a little praise when they do the right thing.

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Staba: Citycide

That's exactly what City Court Judge Angelo Morinello did last week when he ordered the immediate destruction of the four dogs involved -- the right thing.

On July 19, three pit bulls and a Labrador retriever set upon Lori DiLaura, putting her in the hospital for four days and leaving her with wounds that will require plastic surgery.

While the owners maintain that the dogs were gentle as could be and that they had never seen the dogs be hostile toward anyone, despite at least two reports to the contrary, they obviously were on at least one occasion.

And once is all it takes.

This doesn't come from a virulent dog-o-phobe like Niagara Falls Reporter Publisher Bruce Battaglia, who advocates euthanasia for all canines. My wife grew up in a family that bred and raised dalmations and pointers, and we still have a dog in the house.

Until six weeks ago, we had two. My wife had adopted Bing when he was a few months old.

Sweet-natured, if a touch neurotic about things like thunder, fireworks and flashbulbs, he'd never displayed a hostile trace in more than eight years with us. Even when a neighbor's little yappy dog, with whom Bing would exchange vicious barks when both were outside, slipped through a gap in the fence, the expected bloodshed didn't come close to occurring.

Instead, Bing -- whom our best guesses pegged as a greyhound/lab mix -- sprawled to the ground, paws out, encouraging his tiny enemy to play.

Early one Saturday evening a little more than two years ago, I saw a tiny, black puppy trotting down Mackenna Avenue near 19th Street, head up and without a care in the world. Or a collar. I slowed down and drove alongside the puppy for a couple blocks, looking for an owner, or even another dog.

With neither visible, I pulled over at 22nd Street. The puppy started to flee across a vacant lot until I called to it, then turned and sprinted to me. After circling the block a few times to see if anyone had lost the little girl and calling the animal shelter, only to be told I'd reached an answering service and couldn't bring her in until Monday morning, I took her home.

After some initial territorialism, Bing and Mackenna (a compromise spelling between the street and a beach on Maui with a similar name) developed a mutual tolerance that eventually inched into affection.

Following the birth of our son, both dogs seemed to understand that their household status had been knocked down a rung or two. This was especially distressing for Bing, who had been demoted from "only child" to older, less-cute dog to full-fledged pet in a span of two years.

Moving into a new house this spring seemed to further dampen his mood. Then a tussle with Mackenna over a scrap of food didn't end nearly as quickly as it should.

Since Jackson, then just over a year old, was sitting only a few feet away, we started considering taking my mother-in-law up on her offer to let Bing live with her outside of Gettysburg.

A few days later, when Jackson crawled near Bing's food dish and elicited a growl, there was no debate. As much as Bing meant to both of us -- and he had served as the ring bearer in our wedding -- keeping him wasn't worth the remote possibility that he might injure our son. Or someone else.

That's why Morinello's decision was absolutely correct. Four dogs, however gentle and loving they may have been until that moment, forming such a vicious pack on July 19 was horrifying for Lori DiLaura. To risk it happening again would have been absolutely unconscionable for all involved.

While I can't imagine why anyone would want to own a pit bull -- a breed whose natural inclination to fight is exacerbated by unscrupulous breeders -- in the first place, this isn't written without some sympathy for the dogs' owners, Janelle Micinilio and her daughter, Adrianna Page.

After a few weeks of running relatively free in my mother-in-law's huge, gated yard and sniffing the clean country air, a trip to the veterinarian revealed advanced bone cancer in Bing's leg.

With amputating a running dog's leg the only other option, we had him put down. Like Judge Morinello last week, we had but one real choice.

As we were reminded twice in barely a month, and as the judge's decision reaffirmed, the right thing isn't always easy.

This item stems from outside Niagara Falls, but there aren't too many Western New Yorkers who haven't experienced, or at least heard of, La Nova Pizzeria.

The Buffalo landmark, located on West Ferry Street, burned to the ground in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Three generations of Joe Todaros, from the founding grandfather to the grandson who oversees La Nova Wing Co.'s attempt to spread their trademark spicy chicken limbs throughout the land, regularly worked at the West Ferry location, which Papa Joe had converted from a gas station in 1957.

While a second location opened in Willliamsville a few years back, and you can get La Nova's goods at Tops or a number of vendors in the Chippewa bar district on a weekend night, West Ferry remained the heart of the operation. The Todaros sold more than $100,000 worth of pizza, wings and subs from that location, leading "Pizza and Pasta" magazine to name La Nova the No. 1 Independent Pizzeria in the United States.

Despite the quantity produced at La Nova, the quality rarely suffers. Some people will tell you the Anchor Bar on Main Street not only served the first chicken wings, but also the best. This self-appointed wing connoisseur believes the first assertion debatable, the second downright laughable.

For consistency of flavor and texture, La Nova stands alone. The Wing Co. ships its namesakes around the country, overnighting them to expatriate Western New Yorkers. When President Bill Clinton wanted wings on his post-impeachment victory tour stop in Buffalo, he got them from La Nova.

For some, part of the place's appeal stems from the Todaro name and its connotations. FBI agents have long asserted that Joe Sr. was a loyal soldier in the family of Niagara Falls' own favorite Mafioso, Don Stefano Magaddino.

Whatever. The bottom line -- these guys make great wings. And their pizza is pretty good, too.

In recent years, La Nova suffered from the increasingly dismal nature of the area around it. Crackheads and other small-time thugs, with little regard for whispered stories of the past, preyed on the pizzeria's customers and employees with increasing impudence.

Instead of fleeing, though, the Todaros announced plans to expand in the troubled neighborhood with a training center and test kitchen, adding dozens of jobs in a blighted area where they already employ 150 people.

They showed their resolve again Saturday, with cleanup from the blaze barely underway. By midafternoon, two of the plywood slabs boarding up burned-out windows announced in big, black letters: "We will be back."

When that will be remains uncertain. In the meantime, you can be absolutely sure of one thing. When La Nova reopens, the wings will still border on the divine.

David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter. He welcomes e-mail at dstaba13@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 31 2004