Tuesday, June 23, 2015

New Mexico: Killer pit bull dogs aren’t vicious, owner Maria Escamilla claims at hearing

NEW MEXICO -- A Ventana Ranch resident whose three dogs attacked and killed a neighbor’s Maltese as he was being walked by his owner on a leash testified Monday that she didn’t believe her dogs pose a safety threat.

Maria Escamilla testified at a city hearing that she was on vacation when the attack occurred in April, but that her dogs – Zoey, Rocco and Benji – are “happy,” play well with her grandchildren, and had never before got loose in the neighborhood.

All three dogs still live at the home. Neighbors have questioned why city animal control officers did not seize the dogs after the attack.

“I just don’t think these animals are vicious,” Escamilla told city hearing officer Willard H. Davis Jr., who will determine within 10 days whether to declare the dogs as dangerous – a legal status that would impose certain restrictions and requirements on Escamilla and the dogs.

Escamilla is also appealing a determination by the city Animal Welfare Department that she is an irresponsible dog owner, as defined by city ordinance.

During the 90-minute hearing, one neighbor testified that she heard a “horrible, horrible noise” as the 2-year-old Maltese was being mauled. His owner, Jack Cash, had been walking the dog, named Duncan, on a leash on the sidewalk about 50 yards from Escamilla’s house.

An Albuquerque animal control officer later found the body of the little dog in the backyard of Escamilla’s home, carried there by one of the dogs after the attack, which also injured Cash.

Even if the three dogs – two pit bulls and a boxer – are deemed “dangerous dogs” under city ordinance, the law doesn’t provide for automatic removal of the dogs from the home.

Duncan, who was fatally attacked April 27
on a neighborhood walk, was described
as “10½ pounds of fluff and love.” 

But another provision of the law states that the mayor may order that a person deemed to be an irresponsible owner be “barred from the ownership, custody or control of animals in the city for so long as the mayor deems necessary.”

Escamilla testified that her brother George Escamilla, who was housesitting her home, told her that he “might have left the gate open” that night.

Brandy Loeske, who lives across the street from Escamilla’s house on Acton Court NW, testified she was upstairs putting her children to bed when she heard “a horrible, horrible noise” and looked outside the window.

“It sounded like an animal was dying,” Loeske testified. “I was in shock as to what I was seeing.”

She recalled hearing a man yelling “get away,” “no, no” and “help.” Then she said she saw one of the dogs run away with something it its mouth, while the two pit bulls stood in the street “very aggressively.”

Loeske testified that she would see Cash and Duncan walking “multiple times a day.” After the attack, Loeske testified that she couldn’t believe the city hadn’t seized the Escamilla dogs to protect public safety.

“I didn’t think it was fair to the rest of the neighborhood,” Loeske said.

Cash testified that he and his girlfriend, Jennifer Braziel, who live one street away from the Escamilla house, were so protective of Duncan that they wouldn’t allow him in their backyard, for fear of his being attacked by coyotes.

“We used to say he was 10-1/2 pounds of fluff and love,”Braziel testified, wiping away tears. “He never met anybody he didn’t like.”

Cash testified that he was walking Duncan about 8:30 p.m. April 27, the evening of the attack.

The three dogs came from behind, Cash said. He said the attack was unprovoked.

Jack Cash and his girlfriend, Jen Braziel

Cash testified that he tried to intervene, but “they were keen on him (Duncan). The challenge was, every time they bit him, I felt the life coming out of him. Every time I’d fight one off, another one would come at us. They had us surrounded.” He said he sustained a number of bite wounds and a shoulder injury.

Cash and Braziel said Escamilla never offered an apology or compensation after the attack.

Escamilla testified that was because “we didn’t know who he was.” Escamilla said the two pit bulls were owned by her son, but she takes responsibility for them.

“I’m sorry for what happened to the dog,” she told Cash and Braziel, who were present for the hearing. “It was not my intention for my dogs to ever do that to your dog.”

Owners of dogs deemed dangerous by the city must confine the dog to a secure area of their property; carry an insurance policy with a minimum $100,000 coverage for any damage or injury caused by the dog; keep the dog on a leash if outside the property; and allow inspections of the property by city animal control officers. The dog and address of the home is posted on a city website.

There was no evidence presented during the 90-minute hearing that the three dogs, ages 18 months to 3 years old, had attacked anyone or any other pet prior to or after the April 27 incident.

But two other dogs belonging to Escamilla, a pug and an older boxer, were seen outside running loose in the area in the days after the attack, testimony revealed.

City animal control officers investigating the attack testified they noticed dog feces in the front unfenced yard of the Escamilla home. Escamilla said the feces were from her pug – not the bigger dogs.

Assistant city attorney Nicholas Bullock told the hearing officer that Escamilla didn’t provide adequate security measures for the dogs involved in the attack and noted that her other dogs “have free roaming access to the front yard.”

He said without the city taking some action in the case, “This (mauling) could very well repeat itself once more.”

Escamilla said she’s had dogs for 11 years, and noted there is a 6-foot concrete wall in her backyard to confine the three dogs involved.

Afterward, Escamilla and her 24-year-old son, Randy Garduno, declined to comment when approached by a Journal reporter.

Cash said he was disappointed by the testimony.

“I think her comments show she doesn’t even understand the gravity of what happened here,” Cash said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t make our neighborhood any safer.”

(ABQ Journal - June 22, 2015)

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