Jeff Bertsch remembers reaching into the vicious jaws of one dog, then another, then another. With hands bitten and dripping blood, he tried to pry open each mouth clenched tight around each of his three small dogs.
It was the only way his pets could get free.
Bertsch first freed his miniature Doberman pinschers Fiona and Farrah, and then Sophie, a miniature Italian greyhound who suffered the worst of the assault. Just hours after the attack, Bertsch’s other miniature Italian greyhound Sebastian, who was unharmed but present at the mauling, suffered a stroke that Bertsch said was brought on by the trauma and died.
Several days later, as Bertsch and his three remaining dogs heal from the Nov. 1 mauling at the Vinewood Dog Park in Lodi, Bertsch continues to search for the owner of the Alaskan huskies involved in the attack.
This month’s attack comes at a time when city officials are discussing making alterations to Lodi’s dog ordinance. Those talks were sparked by an incident in April, when a pit bull mix mauled a petite dachshund to death at Lodi Lake.
In an Oct. 10 story in the Lodi News-Sentinel titled “Some Lodi dog owners avoiding parks,” several dog owners said they avoid the city’s parks because of irresponsible owners and sometimes aggressive dogs.
Now, in light of the attack on his dogs, Bertsch is asking the city to make dog parks safer, possibly by building a fence to separate big dogs and small dogs.
“That may be an idea the city might want to consider,” Bertsch said
Jeff Hood, director of Lodi’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department, said the city doesn’t have the $20,000 it would cost to build such a fence at each park.
He did, however, say the city will likely implement other rules, including limiting the number of dogs one person can bring into the park from five to either two or three.
“To me, (five dogs) is not a manageable number,” Hood said. “We’ll probably go in that direction.”
Hood added that city officials have also discussed other rules, including expanding the acreage at some parks, keeping dogs within a voice-controlled distance of the owner and banning dogs that are aggressive toward other animals or people.
Bertsch hopes that new rules will force owners to be more responsible for their dogs. He said when he and his wife, LaDawn, approached the park entrance, the owner of the huskies was on the other end of the park.
The huskies stood near the gate as Bertsch and his wife carried their dogs into the park.
“They looked like really beautiful dogs,” Bertsch said. “But as soon as we got in the gate and set our dogs down, (the huskies) went into wolf pack mode and started mauling my dogs.”
With all the force he could muster, Bertsch punched and pried open the Huskies’ mouths, grabbing his dogs and handing them one by one to LaDawn.
“If (Jeff) wasn’t there, I know my dogs would have died,” LaDawn said.
Fiona, Farrah and Sophie each received staples to close bite wounds, while Jeff was treated for bite wounds to his hands and face at Lodi Memorial Hospital.
As for Sebastian, a veterinarian told the Bertsches that the trauma from watching the mauling likely caused his heart rate to skyrocket, which brought on the stroke.
According to Animal Control Supervisor Jennifer Bender of the Lodi Police Department, it’s rare for the city to receive an aggressive dog report involving huskies.
“Huskies are pretty people-friendly and animal-friendly,” she said. “We haven’t had a report of huskies doing anything like that (in the past).”
With more than $1,000 in vet bills, the Bertsches are trying to find the owner of the huskies.
They are asking the owner to call them at 209-810-4514.
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.