Santa Rosa dog implicated in fatal attack on other dog will be put to death, judge rules
A dog suspected of killing a woman’s dog in an attack earlier this year will be declared vicious and humanely killed, a Sonoma County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.
Judge Patrick Broderick determined Hennesey, a pit bull mix county officials seized from Santa Rosa resident Anthony Baca after connecting dog and owner to the fatal February attack, would pose “a significant threat to public health, safety and welfare” if she were returned to his care. Broderick handed down his decision after 3½ hours of listening to witness testimony and reviewing written evidence, in an unusually lengthy short-cause trial to determine the fate of the dog and her owner.
“I’m sad for the loss of the dog, but relieved for the safety of the public,” said Susan Standen, whose Maltese mix, Baby Ruth, died in her arms on the sidewalk of Summerfield Road the afternoon of Feb. 20, just 15 or so minutes after the attack at the heart of Wednesday’s trial. Standen and multiple witnesses said a large dog leaped from a red Jeep stopped at a light as she and her dog walked by. After the owner of the attacking dog separated it from Baby Ruth, they said, he put the dog back in his car and sped away.
Baca, 40, who represented himself in the courtroom, denied involvement in the incident and insisted Hennesey, who has been held at the animal shelter since April, is innocent.
“She shouldn’t be going through this, and neither should I,” he said.
Adam Abel, assistant city attorney for Santa Rosa, was able to seek the vicious designation because Hennesey had been implicated in a previous killing of another dog. Hennesey was declared “potentially dangerous” after that incident, meaning she was to be kept in a secure enclosure on her owner’s property, and properly restrained, including with a muzzle, whenever she was off the property.
Since animal control officials first knocked on Baca’s door the day after the February attack, he has maintained that he was at home when Baby Ruth was killed, and that his Jeep had not been drivable for some time.
In court, Baca told Broderick that the front license plate from his own red Jeep had been stolen at the beginning of 2021. He testified that he first visited the DMV about his stolen plate in January, and in May made a report of a stolen plate to the CHP, so that he could receive a new set.
The license plate and car captured in photos by witnesses at the scene of the attack, despite being the same make and model as his own, could not have been his for those reasons, Baca said.
Abel called witnesses to rebut Baca’s claims, including the CHP officer who took his May report and the two animal control officers who first visited Baca’s home in February.
Matthew Diaz and Chelsea Hayes both testified that Baca had not mentioned a stolen license plate when they asked him questions about his whereabouts and his dog during that February visit.
‘He said nothing about his plate being stolen,“ Diaz said. Animal control officials conducted drive-bys at the house in the months that followed, he said, and Baca’s vehicle would sometimes be missing from the driveway.
Baca in his testimony said he had mentioned the stolen plate to the animal control officers. He also said at varying points that Hennesey is a bull mastiff mix, arguing that she doesn’t match the descriptions given by Standen and other witnesses in their sworn statements.
“There’s a lot of inconsistencies on their part,” he said.
In his ruling, Broderick said the evidence Baca presented in support of his claims about his license plate and his dog was “inconsistent at best.” In some cases, Broderick said, Baca’s arguments “defied all logic.”
“All (arguments) were clearly rebutted and shown to be untrue,” Broderick said.
As part of the order, Baca will also be barred from owning animals for three years.
Baca was visibly agitated as Broderick read out his ruling, and once outside the courtroom, he began to cry. He said he hadn’t expected Broderick to rule against him and he wanted to appeal the decision.
Baca will have five days after receipt of Broderick’s order to file an appeal, Abel said.
Standen, who said she still misses her companion of nearly 12 years, had a mixed reaction to the ruling Wednesday.
“I feel like we’re moving towards closure, but I’m sad,” she said. “Because the pit bull is going to have to die because (her) owner didn’t take responsibility for keeping control of her.”
For weeks after Baby Ruth’s death, Standen said, she had gone over every detail of that day, to try and figure out how she could have done something differently. Now, she said, knowing more about Baca’s and Hennesey’s story has brought her to a place of greater acceptance.
“Knowing the history of the man and the dog and the court system, the regulations, it was going to be someday at some point,” she said. “All the pieces were in play before I walked out the door. If it wasn’t me, it was going to be somebody.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ka_tornay.