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Santa Rosa woman presses authorities to act after her dog is killed in sidewalk attack by another dog

Susan Standen and her Maltese mix, Baby Ruth, were inseparable. When Standen would get up to go to another room, she could count on Baby Ruth hopping off the couch to follow.

“She was my shadow,” Standen said. “I’d had her for almost 12 years.”

But emptiness and silence have filled Standen’s Santa Rosa home since Baby Ruth was killed Saturday afternoon in an attack by a large dog that leapt from a nearby vehicle as Standen and Baby Ruth walked their usual route in east Santa Rosa.

The motorist left his vehicle in the middle of the road and raced to pull his dog off of Baby Ruth. It took a few minutes to do so, Standen and witnesses said, and then he got back in his vehicle and drove away.

Baby Ruth died in her arms minutes later as they waited for help on the sidewalk.

The loss and grief for Standen have been compounded in recent days by her wait on word from Sonoma County animal control officers that the other dog’s owner will be held responsible for the fatal attack — reassurance that Standen said she wants so that no people or other animals are harmed by the same dog in the future.

“My main concern is there is an aggressive dog out there, whose owner does not keep them constrained in such a way as to keep them from being a danger,” Standen said.

Multiple people witnessed the attack, and at least one followed the car and snapped pictures of the license plate, returning to the corner of Summerfield Road and Hoen Avenue to make sure Standen got them.

She filed a report with animal control authorities that day, providing the same license plate number. But the vehicle owner has denied any involvement, according to what Standen has gleaned from authorities.

When officers visited his Santa Rosa home on Sunday, the vehicle an older, red SUV, was up on blocks and the man said it had been undrivable for some time, Standen said animal control officer Chelsea Hayes told her.

Brian Whipple, operations manager for Sonoma County Animal Services, declined to confirm details of the site visit, including an account from Standen that officers spotted the suspected dog at the property.

Whipple said the initial visit proved inconclusive and that animal control officers continue to investigate the incident with interviews of witnesses and gathering evidence.

“We absolutely feel bad that something like this took place,” he said. “And we will do what we can to find a resolution and to hold somebody accountable for this incident.”

On Saturday afternoon, as they often do Standen, 54, a masters student at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and Baby Ruth had set out from her home, joined by a friend’s dog, a whippet, with both animals on leash.

It was about 2:45 p.m. and they were they were walking south on Summerfield Road, approaching the intersection with Hoen Avenue.

At that moment, a large golden-colored dog jumped from the back of a red SUV stopped at the traffic light and raced down the sidewalk toward Baby Ruth and her friend’s dog. It all unfolded too fast for her to react, Standen said.

The dog clamped its jaws over Baby Ruth’s back and shook her “like a rat,” Standen said. She screamed, and Baby Ruth cried out in pain.

The SUV driver was out of his vehicle and on the sidewalk fast, Standen said. He threw himself onto his dog, laying his weight on top and trying to pry its mouth open to get it to release Baby Ruth. In the struggle, the dogs were pulled into the street.

Bystanders noticed and were approaching to try and intervene.

It took the dog owner a few minutes to pry his dog off Baby Ruth. One driver who had left his car and ran over to help yelled at the man to get the dog out of there, even stepping between the two animals to ward off another fight.

The driver, Nicholas, recounted what he saw in an interview Tuesday but declined to give his full name out of concern that he might be targeted for providing details as a witness. At the time, he said he didn’t realize the other man was responsible for the attacking dog.

Standen said the dog owner looked her “square in the face” after the dogs had been separated. He picked up the dog and put it back in his vehicle before taking his seat behind the wheel.

“And I wondered at that moment if he was going to apologize or offer to help with vet bills,” she said.

But then she watched in shock as the man’s vehicle began moving forward and then sped south on Summerfield Road.

As one driver followed the vehicle and took down its license plate, other witnesses began calling veterinary centers, many of which were closed on Saturday. Nicholas returned to his vehicle, which his friend had parked a short distance away, to grab a sweatshirt to help stop Baby Ruth’s bleeding.

She was losing a lot of blood and appeared unable to move properly, Standen said. She tried to move her as little as possible while pulling her back onto the sidewalk and held her in her arms while waiting for a vet technician friend to arrive. Before she did, Baby Ruth stopped breathing.

“It was just horrible, I don’t know how else to express it,” Standen said. “I felt like I had failed to protect her and she had been so healthy and playing with a ball a half-hour before that, and having a happy walk.”

“I’m bereft, she said. ”I live alone and she’s been my quarantine buddy. She was such a loving little dog.”

Standen said the dog that attacked Baby Ruth appeared to be a pit bull. She stressed, though, that she sees the most relevant factor in the attack to be owner negligence.

“I don’t consider it the dog’s fault,” she said. “However, I’m really concerned that this dog has now had a taste of blood and could be more dangerous in the future.”

In an instance when a dog attacks or kills another dog or domestic animal, Whipple said, his agency’s strongest course of action is to have the dog designated as “potentially dangerous” following an investigation. If an owner declines to voluntarily designate their animal as such, the county can initiate a process to force the issue in court.

Potentially dangerous dogs must be kept on the owner’s property in an enclosure, and if leaving the owner’s property, the owner is required to have it on a leash no longer than 6 feet and with a muzzle, according to Santa Rosa city code.

“We want to make sure ... that it doesn’t happen again, and do what we can to prevent that,” Whipple said.

He couldn’t provide a specific timeline for the investigation in Baby Ruth’s death.

Standen paid $155 to have Baby Ruth cremated and her paw print preserved, but she said she isn’t interested in financial recompense. Bringing a lawsuit against the owner at this point would be hampered by the fact that she still doesn’t know who he is. Officers have not released the man’s name.

She doesn’t want to see the dog that attacked hers be killed, but Standen thinks it’s important that the dog either be placed in a new home under the care of a responsible owner, or stays with the current owner with legal stipulations in place to keep others safe from the dog.

“I don’t want to punish anyone,” she said. “I simply want the community and other owners of small dogs and children to feel safe. And I want owners of large dogs to be aware of their responsibilities.”

“It’s scary to think if I ever have another small dog, that they’re like a walking target for anybody that has an aggressive dog who doesn’t have full control over them,” she said. “That awareness and training of owners is foremost in my mind after grieving of my dog and the emptiness of my home and my heart.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or kaylee.tornay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.

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