Man arrested in canine caper at Mendocino County animal shelter

Officials still don't know why a Ukiah man, suspected of a late night break-in at the Mendocino County animal shelter, illegally released 20+ dogs found wandering the property.|

Deputies suspect they know who let the dogs out at a Mendocino County animal shelter last week.

Two dozen hounds were set free late Thursday by a 19-year-old Hydesville man, Joseph Viltrakis, who authorities say broke into the Ukiah shelter while trying to retrieve his girlfriend’s service dog.

The freed canines didn’t get too far before deputies arrived. Most were found wandering around the property after authorities were informed about the caper around 11 p.m.

Viltrakis was in the parking lot with some of the animals when deputies arrived, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. He was arrested and booked into the Mendocino County Jail, where he remained Monday.

Authorities said they did not know which dog he was searching for on Thursday night.

“That doesn’t explain why he decided to let all the dogs loose,” said David Jensen, the county’s public health director, who oversees the animal shelter on Plant Road.

When deputies arrived, they found 10 to 15 dogs running around in the shelter’ parking lot. Others that had been set free from their enclosure remained in the facility.

Viltrakis told authorities that a shelter staffer had helped him, but deputies said the man forced open two locked gates and the dog kennels located out behind the shelter.

“He tore a hole in the fence and went back to the outside kennels and wrenched them open,” Jensen said. The initial damage estimate is more than $1,000.

“We’ll know more once the repairs have been made,” he said, adding that dog toys, metal treat containers and laminated cards with information on each of the dogs had been taken.

Jensen said 24 dogs, including German Shepherds, Huskies and Pit bull mixes, were kept in outside kennels, After the break-in, they were free to roam for at least two hours.

“What’s interesting is the dogs stuck around,” Jensen said, adding that a shelter employee who lives nearby helped deputies and Ukiah police get the animals back in their kennels.

One courageous hound did flee the property but returned, Jensen said.

Jensen said the animals were unscathed except for two dogs. One who suffered an ear bite and another had a wound on its hip.

“The most amazing thing was that there were only two injuries,” he said.

Shelter staff had been working to socialize the dogs, bringing them out regularly to play together since March.

That likely prevented a major dog fight, he said.Jensen said late Monday he did not have information available on how many animals were at the shelter at the time, including dogs and cats kept inside the building.

The shelter has come under some scrutiny after a grand jury alleged the shelter was overcrowded and that staff members suffer from low morale.

Mendocino County supervisors were looking to whether to let Petaluma Animal Services Foundation run the shelter. The nonprofit operates animal shelters for Petaluma, Healdsburg and Cloverdale.

No decision has been made on privatizing the shelter, Jensen said.

You can reach Staff Writer Elo??sa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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