Santa Rosa council member looks to toughen city ordinance regulating aggressive animal attacks after 2 cats killed

“My plan going forward is to advocate for changes to the ordinance that would allow for accountability and justice,” she said.|

Santa Rosa City Council Member Victoria Fleming wants to toughen the city ordinance regulating aggressive animals in the wake of last week’s attacks in the Grace Tract neighborhood by two unleashed dogs who residents say killed two domestic cats.

“My plan going forward is to advocate for changes to the ordinance that would allow for accountability and justice,” she said. “It is my sincere hope that we put in place an ordinance that we don’t have to use.”

Fleming said she was appalled that the pit bull and shepherd mix dogs were immediately returned to their owner by the animal control officer right after the incident.

“My heart goes out to them,” Fleming said of the two families whose cats were mauled and killed in their own backyards on the night of Feb. 18. “I can’t imagine losing your pet that you consider a member of your family in such a vicious way.”

On Wednesday, the owner of the pair of dogs voluntarily agreed to designate the canines as “potentially dangerous” under a Santa Rosa city ordinance, an animal control official said.

That means the dogs will now have to stay indoors or in a secure enclosure in their owner’s yard. They’ll have to be muzzled and leashed and will have to wear a bright orange collar that says “potentially dangerous dog” when the owner takes them on walks.

In addition, there will be signs posted at the owner’s expense outside his home letting people know that potentially dangerous dogs live inside.

The owner will also have to pay a registration fee of $148 per year for each dog, and the designation will last for three years. The identity of the owner was not released by Sonoma County Animal Services.

Both dogs were also quarantined for rabies, as a precaution, for 10 days on Wednesday because one of the cat owners, Matt Malik, was bitten while trying to stop the dogs from attacking his cat. Santa Rosa has a contract with county animal control.

Some residents of the neighborhood in central Santa Rosa have been reeling ever since they learned of the dogs’ actions.

Lise Butier, who lives in the area where the dogs were roaming on Feb. 18, said she had to hide behind a car in a carport to fend off the dogs after one of them charged at her. She said she has filed a complaint with Animal Services.

Butier said she’d been walking on Grosse Avenue and noticed the unleashed dogs nearby. She said she turned around and began walking back the other way.

“As I was walking, I heard heavy breathing and panting from behind me. Then I heard the panting coming closer and closer to me. There was really nowhere to go,” she said. “There’s a carport there and I turned into the carport with a big SUV parked there. … I was thinking about getting on top of the car, but there was nothing to step on, so I just hid behind the car. I looked through the window of the car and saw the pit bull charging at me. I was freaking out thinking ‘Oh God, people are going to find me mauled and bloodied.’ ”

She said she kept going around the car saying, “It’s OK, just go home’ ” to the canines. Eventually they appeared to lose interest in her.

The incident and The Press Democrat story about it has led people to complain about Santa Rosa’s leash law. They are also sharing their own stories of pets, including two goats, that have been killed by aggressive dogs.

Many of the people in the Grace Tract neighborhood said they hadn’t seen the dogs running loose before, but according to county Animal Services Operations Manager Brian Whipple, the agency “did have a call of the dogs running loose in the past and there was an incident in a designated dog park, which was handled between the owners of the dogs involved.”

Both Whipple and Santa Rosa Assistant City Attorney Adam Abel said Animal Services Officer Andy O’Brien handled the case correctly, following the city code.

If the dogs had been acting viciously at the time he saw them, they might have been pepper sprayed and taken to a county facility.

Asked if it’s now safe to walk in the neighborhood, Whipple said, “Absolutely! We have done what we can do to make sure these dogs will be safe in their home and that the owner takes this seriously.”

In 2021, the county responded to 1,604 incidents involving animal bites, Whipple said. That amount is “fairly average; it can fluctuate year to year,” he added.

Pet owners aren’t always responsible about keeping their dogs inside or leashed, and it leads to tragedies, he said.*

In 2021, the county responded to 1,604 incidents involving animal bites, Whipple said. That amount is “fairly average; it can fluctuate year to year,” he added.

Pet owners aren’t always responsible about keeping their dogs inside or leashed, and it leads to tragedies, he said.

Under the Santa Rosa ordinance, after one incident in which an animal kills another and a person receives minor injuries, the animal is only considered “potentially dangerous” and not “vicious” until they’ve either killed twice or seriously injured a person.

Whipple said both the Santa Rosa and county codes are stronger than the state Food and Agricultural code, which requires the reporting of two incidents before an animal can be deemed “potentially dangerous.”

“I can understand the frustration and the trauma that comes with such incidents,” he said. “The code only allows us to go so far.”

Feeling that the ordinance favors those whose pets have acted badly, Malik, co-owner of Dale, a gray and white domestic cat killed Feb. 18 by the roaming dogs, said “the whole system is rigged, and it doesn’t benefit the victims.”

He said he and his husband, J Mullineaux, intend to hire a lawyer to help them file for financial relief as a result of damage done to their home during their efforts to stop the dogs from killing their cat.

“The dogs were also on the front porch of neighbors on Grahn (Drive) who have four cats,” Mullineaux said. “These dogs were hunting and they terrorized our neighborhood.”

Neighborhood resident and activist Beth Steffy has been in contact with Abel, Santa Rosa’s assistant city attorney, and Santa Rosa City Council Member Fleming about the incident.

“I feel the most important thing that can and should be done is to work to change the Santa Rosa city code that shockingly leans heavily in the favor of the offending dogs,” Steffy said Wednesday.

Abel, who handles dog attack cases in Santa Rosa, said if residents rally to strengthen the law, “I would be more than happy to amend the ordinance. I take direction from the council.”

Still, some residents might not be happy until the dogs are either relocated or euthanized.

“I filled out a report where I laid out a series of reasons why I think the dogs should not be allowed to stay in the neighborhood,” said Alan Butler, whose orange and white tabby, Bel, was also killed Feb. 18 by the same two dogs that killed Malik’s cat.

“It’s not our intent to sue; our damage is mostly psychological,” he added, saying his wife, Margaret, was awakened by a nightmare about the dogs on Wednesday. “We’d like to see the dogs removed from the area, improve the (city) code and establish a better warning system. We just don’t want anyone else to experience this.”

He and Malik suggested the county set up a Nixle Alert to let neighborhoods know when it gets a call about aggressive animals on the loose.

Alan Butler pointed out that Officer O’Brien told neighbors, these kinds of incidents are common.

“This happens in Santa Rosa all the time,” Butler said. “And it shouldn’t.”

*Editor’s note: The previous article has been edited to clarify Animal Services Operations Manager Brian Whipple’s response to the question of safety in the neighborhood.

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at or 707-521-5209.

Kathleen Coates

Windsor and Cloverdale, The Press Democrat 

As someone who grew up in a small town, I enjoy covering what's happening in Windsor and Cloverdale, which are growing in their own unique ways.  I delve into issues by getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in the community. I also pay attention to animal welfare and other issues that affect Sonoma County.

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