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Pit bulls that killed dog on Graton trail will remain at county shelter

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Two pit bulls that killed a dog and injured a woman on a public trail in Sonoma County will remain at the county animal shelter while officials petition the court to place restrictions on the animals’ freedom.

The dogs were involved in a Nov. 3 attack on the West County Regional Trail between Green Valley Road and Ross Lane in rural Sebastopol, raising concerns among trail users about public safety were the dogs to get out again. The pit bulls mauled a dog — a 12-pound Jack Russell terrier-pug mix named Lucy — after ripping it from the arms of its owner, a 28-year-old Occidental woman.

The dogs have been in custody with the county animal services division and they will remain there until a civil hearing is held in Sonoma County Superior Court and a judge considers whether to designate the dog as dangerous, said Kevin Davis, field supervisor for the county’s animal services division.

“The dogs aren’t going anywhere until this goes to court,” Davis said.

Lucy’s owner, Jordan Simmons, said she was grateful to know the dogs will be kept at the shelter and not released back to their owner.

“I’m very relieved,” Simmons said. “ I’m happy they’re taking this to court for further consideration.”

The pit bulls had escaped from a nearby property and were running loose along the public trail about 3:30 p.m. Nov. 3 when Simmons was out walking with a friend and their two dogs.

The pit bulls began circling them, and it became clear they were focused on Simmons’ dog, she said. Simmons picked up her dog in an attempt to protect it, and the pit bulls began jumping up and nipping at her.

The pit bulls eventually grabbed Lucy from Simmons’ arms and killed it. Simmons said she was left with bruises and cuts from the encounter.

The pit bulls were taken into custody that day and automatically quarantined for 10 days and observed for rabies, Davis said.

Since then, an animal control officer conducted an investigation into the attack, interviewing witnesses, Simmons and the dogs’ owner.

“Once we completed all that and we had everything on one table, that’s when we made the determination the dogs are going to stay with us,” Davis said.

Davis declined to identify the owner because the case remains under investigation and the county has not yet filed a petition with the court.

The petition will request a judge designate the dogs as “potentially dangerous,” a designation that gives the county authority to inspect the enclosures meant to keep the dogs confined. The designation also adds requirements for the owner to have the animals micro-chipped, neutered or spayed and to keep them on a leash no longer than 6 feet when in public. A judge can add restrictions on a case-by-case basis, Davis said.

The designation lasts three years.

Animal owners have the option of voluntarily designating animals as potentially dangerous after an incident, but Davis said the county opted against releasing the animals and awaiting a voluntary designation.

“We’re going to petition the court and ask the court to hear all the evidence and make a decision on all the requirements,” Davis said.

Most animal attacks involving pets are the result of human error, such as failing to keep an animal secure on the property, Davis said. He said that failure to follow those restrictions put on potentially dangerous animals can result in criminal charges for an owner.

The county animals services division responds to reports of aggressive and violent animals almost daily, according to Davis. This case stands out because the animal died, although it is not entirely uncommon for one animal to attack and kill another, he said.

“I tell everybody that I know, especially elderly people, to walk with a walking stick,” Davis said. “That way you have something between you and the animal.”

Davis also suggested people jump over a fence, even a short one, which can provide enough deterrence to halt an attack. Davis cautioned people against intervening in an encounter between two animals, even if one of the animals is a beloved pet.

“Some animals out there, once they get into that mode, they’re not going to stop,” Davis said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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