Trying and failing to fight back tears, a Lodi woman agreed in court Monday to allow her pit bull to be euthanized after it brutally attacked an elderly man and sent him to the hospital for almost two weeks.
Rather than face a fine of up to $1,000, Sonja Gabales, 40, also agreed to own no dogs for three years. She has two weeks to find homes for her six-pound Jack Russell terrier and 110-pound Swiss Mountain dog, neither of which were involved in the attack.
The dog in question, 4-year-old, 70-pound Brutus, had a history of running loose and twice bit other people though not to the point that medical care was needed, according to police reports.
On May 26, 85-year-old Donald Morita approached Gabales' door to ask her to keep the pit bull in the house while workers installed a new fence - the result of numerous problems involving the dog and Morita's sister, who lives next door.
Brutus ran out the front door and knocked Morita to the ground, tearing into the man's arm to the point that surgeons had to reattach tendons. The fall left Morita with a cracked vertebra, leaving him with major back problems.
"I can't believe (Brutus) did it," Gabales told San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt. "It's awful what happened. … Ever since my husband died, he's been overprotective."
Gabales' husband died two years ago, and her youngest child is 4.
The dog was closest to Gabales' teenage daughter, who sat beside her mother at the defense table and would have argued to keep the dog if her mother had let her.
• A survey by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta concluded that dogs bite nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population - more than 4.7 million people annually.
• Almost 800,000 bites per year - one out of every 6 - are serious enough to require medical attention.
• Dog bites send nearly 368,000 victims to hospital emergency departments per year (1,008 per day).
• 16,476 dog bites to persons aged 16 years or greater were work related in 2001.
• Every year 2,851 letter carriers are bitten.
• An American has a one in 50 chance of being bitten by a dog each year.
• In the U.S. from 1979 to 1996, 304 people in the U.S. died from dog attacks, including 30 in California. The average number of deaths per year was 17.
When her daughter wasn't home, Gabales said, Brutus would sit at the front door and wait for her, as he did the day Morita walked up the sidewalk.
Gabales asked if she could at least keep her terrier and give her other dog to her brother, but Deputy City Attorney Janice Magdich said an order wouldn't allow exceptions.
"This was a brutal attack," Magdich said. "We don't feel she should own dogs for three years as a penalty."
Gabales ultimately agreed, in exchange for avoiding a fine. Magdich gave her two weeks to find homes for the dogs.
However, Monday's proceeding was a civil matter, and the city has also cited Gabales for having an animal at large. That matter, which is an infraction under Lodi's municipal code, will be taken up in criminal court at a later date, Magdich said after Monday's proceedings.
In a criminal case, the city can seek restitution, which could be very costly, regardless of whether insurance covers some of the care.
Morita was at Lodi Memorial Hospital until Thursday, when he went to Dameron Hospital in Stockton for vertebroplasty, a process where bone cement is injected into the spine, said his daughter-in-law, Nancy Morita.
He is now home on bed rest but moves a little each day with the assistance of a walker.