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Animal Control Laws
updated: Feb 14, 2013, 11:21 AM

By Elaine Gerson

This past Tuesday the 13th I witnessed a dog attack at Hendrys. A woman was walking her dog on leash (as required in front of the parking lot/steps area). An off-leash dog ran up, postured stiffly, and in the blink of an eye launched into an aggressive attack on her dog. It was not a tiff or "dogs working it out." It was a dangerous, unprovoked, prolonged mauling by a muscular, vicious dog. The victim dog's screaming could be heard down the beach.

It was horrible to witness. The owner was fending for herself as people stood by stunned. She struggled to pull her dog to safety. Incredulously, the owner of the dog attacking stood idly by, watching as the attack unfold and the owner of the leashed dog struggled to stop it by herself. He was nonchalant the whole time. Amazingly, the owner of the attacked dog managed to get her leg or foot between the dogs and pull her own dog away. The attacking dog ran back to the water, where the owner resumed playing fetch with it.

I have veterinary and animal control work experience, so instinctively I ran from the restaurant down to aid to the owner and dog. Miraculously, her dog had not sustained any life-threatening injuries, but he had several puncture wounds around his eye. Since the aggressive dog had drawn blood, I told the owner it was important to make sure the aggressive dog was current on rabies vaccine.

What ensued was beyond shocking. The owner of the aggressive dog never acknowledged what happened, tried to help, or apologized. He exhibited no accountability or remorse. He just kept playing fetch.

Wanting to make sure the wounded dog's owner could get at least proof of rabies immunization, I volunteered to talk to the biter's owner. He pivoted, feigned not hearing, and finally laughed and said, "Relax. It's what dogs do. He's had shots. You don't need to worry about it."

I suggested to the bitten dog's owner that we go to the grass and examine her dog and assess his wounds. At that point, the owner of the aggressive dog probably realized he could be in trouble, so he hurried to the lot. I asked him once more to provide information on his dog's vaccines. Even when I told him he was breaking the law leaving the scene after a dog bite (which was not true I later learned), he continued to laugh and got in his car.

As he grew increasingly hostile and verbally abusive, I used my cell phone to photograph him, his dog and his car. Even as he drove off, knowing I had pictures of him, he laughed and yelled, "I used to be a park ranger, it's no big deal."

No Hendrys rangers were around. I called County Animal Control only to find out that City Animal Control handles issues at Hendrys (even though the park is not in city limits)? I reached voicemail for City Animal Control. I left a message, but also called Dispatch to ask if they could reach Animal Control since I was calling about a dog attack. The dispatcher said, "We can only send the message and they answer it when they can, we have no way to reach them." I begged for some kind of help, but was told there was nothing that could be done. "They're probably busy."

The injured dog thankfully had no grave wounds. Calling 911 was not indicated. She decided to go home, and I offered to follow up for her and give animal control contact information for both of us, my photographs, and the name of another witness who reported she had seen the aggressive dog bite a dog earlier.

When Animal Control called back the next morning, the officer explained that the fleeing owner had done nothing illegal. There is no law requiring an owner of a dog who attacks a dog to provide rabies vaccination information or take responsibility. If a dog bites a person, there is a law. If they bite another dog? There are no laws or consequences. "We encourage people to exchange information; it's a civil matter between them."

Animal Control only "looks into it" if there is a long term pattern of vicious attacks on other animals. Even then they only "discuss" the situation with the owner and look for "alternatives." As far as the rabies issue, the officer said, "Usually the bitten dog is vaccinated, and that's good enough." Usually?

I've worked in and around animal control and veterinary hospitals in other communities across two states for 25 years. I have NEVER seen this dearth of laws for protecting pets in a community. Our laws are not lax, they are non-existent. Even some of the poorest municipalities have dangerous dog laws and procedures. State Humane Academies train officers in the gravity of dog bites. An owner whose dog has drawn blood has to be held to account! We would never allow a person to drive away from a car accident. We don't allow people to draw a gun in public and shoot off rounds, then drive leave. A dangerous, biting dog is no less of a threat to public safety. Dog attacks are rarely a one time occurrence--and usually escalate in intensity as the aggressive dog matures. A public attack such as I saw on the beach Tuesday is a warning sign to the community. This dog will attack again, and if it attacks a small dog, it will kill.

I want to know what others think. Is it OK that our laws are so lax? Are you happy with an Animal Control department that provides no one to answer a phone in an emergency, and provides no service past 5 PM? The officers probably mean well, but the laws and resources available to them are apparently sadly lacking if they can't respond in a timely or substantive way to this kind of blatant attack when there are witnesses and photographic evidence. Santa Barbara is so forward-thinking on most issues pertaining to quality of life, public safety and our beloved animals. But not when it comes to aggressive dogs, apparently.



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