Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Colorado: Former Animal Control officer says dogs that attacked Garrett Carothers had history

COLORADO -- A former animal-control officer for the Pagosa Springs development where an 8-year-old boy was mauled by two dogs says she cited the pets’ owner for dogs being at large when she worked there.

Helena Grandquist – who said she was fired from her job with the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association in October – said the property-owners association was "grossly negligent" in how it handled problem dogs.

"It was totally preventable," Grandquist said. "I could have prevented it if I had been allowed to do my job."

Garrett Carothers was mauled by two dogs Dec. 23. Hoping to go sledding, Garrett walked from his Canyon Circle house in the Pagosa Vista subdivision to a friend’s home across the street.

On his friend’s porch, he knocked on the door about 1 p.m.. No one answered. As Garrett walked off the porch, a pit bull and a Rottweiler-retriever cross attacked him, pulled him off the porch and dragged him 30 feet across the street to his front yard. Passers-by pulled the dogs off the boy.

Walt Lukasik, general manager of the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association, confirmed that Grandquist worked for the association for about three years and that she left in October. He would not comment on her allegations against the association or why she left her job.

Capt. Bob Grandchamp, lead investigator for the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office, formerly served on a committee that reviewed animal-control citations for the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association – a committee that Grandquist charges showed favoritism and routinely overturned citations.

Grandchamp on Monday suggested Grandquist is a "disgruntled employee."

Meanwhile, Garrett was released from Mercy Medical Center on Saturday. Garrett underwent 10 hours of surgery at Mercy the day of the attack. His scalp was reattached and his face sewn back together.

Garrett’s left ear was almost torn off, his mouth droops on one side, one eyelid does not close properly, and nerve damage is suspected. Garrett’s family has appointed his aunt, Deanna Hockett, as family spokeswoman after receiving advice from an attorney not to discuss his case.

The family is considering legal action.

Steve Benson, who lives two houses from where the attack happened, said his 9-year-old son, Daniel, was bitten on the legs, buttocks and arms by the dogs suspected of attacking Garrett about three weeks before the mauling. The bites didn’t break the boy’s skin, Benson said.

"We didn’t report it," Benson said. "We chose to talk to the people individually. That was the first indication that we’d better watch out for those dogs. Unfortunately, we chose to talk to the owners instead of the authorities."

Sandra Schultz, mother of the dogs’ owner, denied in a Monday telephone interview that anyone ever talked to her about the dogs biting a child.

Grandquist, who now works as an animal-control officer for La Plata County, said she worked for the homeowners’ association from September 1999 until October. She said the homeowners’ association was uneven in its enforcement of covenants governing animals.

"There’s just numerous cases where they let people off with dangerous dogs," she said. "It depends on how nice these people’s houses are – if they’re rich. All I wanted to do was do public safety, and they sabotaged my efforts at that all the time."

Grandchamp, the sheriff’s investigator, denied the appeals board showed favoritism.

"We listened to the complaint," he said. "Listened to both sides, and then we made a panel decision. We overturned some of (Grandquist’s citations), but there was extenuating circumstances."

It was the practice of the homeowners’ association to warn property owners rather than pet owners, Grandquist said. So she dealt with Schultz rather than Schultz’s son, Grandquist said.

"She always complied," Grandquist said. "She always put the dogs up. She tied them up, and she got them rabies vaccinations. She did the best she could."

Grandquist said if she had been allowed to do her job then she would have warned Schultz again, and the problem would have been fixed before the attack on Garrett. But she said she was not allowed to patrol the area where the attack occurred.

"It’s gross negligence on the part of the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association," she said. "They were so focused on trying to get rid of me that they were negligent in not letting me patrol that area."