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Attack leaves beloved pet dead, Lodi woman calling for change

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Dan Evans/News-Sentinel

A pit bull presses its muzzle against its cage at the Lodi Animal Shelter on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. According to Jennifer Bender, Animal Services supervisor, 40 percent of the dogs at the shelter are pit bulls and mixed-breed pit bulls.

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Every day Julia Dare and her cinnamon-red dachshund, Shelby, had the same routine. They’d drive to Lodi Lake, walk around the park, meet other dogs and head home.

But April 11 would be their final walk.

Strolling through the Lodi Lake parking lot in the late afternoon, Dare and Shelby spotted a large pit bull, eyes fixed on the petite dachshund. Sensing danger, Dare started to walk away — but the pit bull attacked.

It broke free from its owner, shedding its collar and leash, and eventually killed Shelby.

“It was pretty brutal,” said Dare, struggling to recall the gruesome scene. “I wish my arm could have been in that pit bull’s mouth rather than Shelby. She was my baby.”

After the attack, Dare tried to contact the pit bull’s owner, only to learn that the man provided a false name, address and number.

Still haunted by that day, Dare hopes her experience can inspire Lodi to adopt stricter dog regulations. She adds that the city needs to get tougher on certain breeds, including pit bulls.

City staff are also advocating specific rule changes, but say they should apply to dogs that have committed violent acts, not entire breeds.

Dare believes that until changes are made, another dog — or even a person — could become a victim.

In Stockton, someone did.

The same day Shelby was mauled, a pit bull attacked and killed a Stockton woman.

“It’s like a ticking clock,” Dare said. “And eventually it won’t just be my dog.”

Dare described the pit bull that attacked Shelby as muscular, tall and intimidating. She said the dog was strong — too strong for a fabric leash. And certainly the dog wasn’t properly restrained.

She said that the mauling is an example that certain dog breeds are more prone to aggression, and adds that the city, in addition to requiring dogs be on leashes in public parks, should impose stricter rules.

Certain dogs should be required to wear muzzles in public places, she said.

“I don’t think the leash rule totally prevents (attacks),” Dare said, referring to a rule requiring dogs to be on leashes and not running loose. “From what I know, pit bulls are one breed that seems aggressive.”

But pit bulls aren’t more aggressive than other breeds, according to Jennifer Bender, Animal Services supervisor for the Lodi Police Department. They’re just prone to more violent attacks because of their size and strength, she said.

“Any breed out there is going to have a tendency to attack,” she said. “It’s just that pit bulls are a lot stronger, and they cause more injuries than little dogs that are running loose.”

Of the roughly 900 dogs impounded last year by Lodi Animal Shelter, 40 percent were pit bull mixes, Bender said. But people are more likely to report a loose pit bull than other dogs because of their aggressive stigma.

“Pit bulls have a bad rap out there,” she said. “So we get calls daily on pit bulls running loose because of the public fear of pit bulls.”

When a report is filed, the city will prosecute dogs that have attacked a person or animal. Since 2010, the city has deemed nine dogs (six of which were pit bulls) potentially dangerous, resulting in rules imposed on the owner or occasionally euthanasia.

In April 2012, a hearings officer ordered a pit bull to wear a muzzle at all times, except around family members, after it bit two people in Lodi. Eventually the dog was euthanized after it bit its owner in the neck.

On April 11, the same day Shelby and the Stockton woman were killed, three pit bulls mauled another dog in Lodi.

Bender believes more measures should be taken against owners of dogs deemed potentially dangerous.

She’s proposed a plan that would force owners of such dogs to pay $150 per year, in addition to licensing fees.

Owners would also have to show that they’d be covered by their homeowners’ or renters’ insurance. Some insurance companies don’t cover owners of certain breeds or potentially violent dogs.

“We need to make animal owners more responsible for their dogs,” said Bender, adding that Stockton and Sacramento have similar policies for vicious dogs. “We don’t need to target certain breeds, but rather prosecute animal owners with stricter laws for vicious dogs.”

Lodi has recently taken steps to better enforce current dog laws, such as hiring a part-time police officer to patrol city parks.

Jeana Helmick and Nick Ellis, both 21, routinely walk their friend’s dog at Lodi Lake and said people generally respect leash laws.

Helmick added that when she sees a pit bull at the park, she’ll take note of whether the owner is strong enough to control the dog, but she doesn’t believe certain dogs should be required to wear a muzzle.

She did add that if an owner thinks their dog could be aggressive, they should take certain precautions.

“If someone knows their dog is dangerous — people who specifically have guard dogs — if they’re going to take them somewhere (public), then they should be held responsible,” she said. “If they think their dog needs a muzzle, then they should be responsible enough to use it.”

But Dare believes the city needs to make changes. And in the meantime, Dare and animal services are still trying to track down the pit bull’s owner.

Dare described the owner as a white, 6-foot, 2-inches, muscular man in his early to mid-30s, with short brown hair and a sleeve of tattoos down both arms. The dog is believed to be a large white American pit bull with reddish brown spots.

Anyone with information is asked to call Lodi Police Department Animal Services at 209-333-6741.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

3 images

Dan Evans/News-Sentinel

A pit bull presses its muzzle against its cage at the Lodi Animal Shelter on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. According to Jennifer Bender, Animal Services supervisor, 40 percent of the dogs at the shelter are pit bulls and mixed-breed pit bulls.

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