Animal Control warns dog owners about their responsibilities |

Animal Control warns dog owners about their responsibilities

Susan Wood

On the heels of a recent fatal dog mauling and an attack on students Monday in the San Francisco Bay Area, El Dorado County Animal Control would like to remind pet owners to keep their dogs leashed and monitored.

The animal control office has experienced a surge in the number of strays picked up from 186 in 1999 to 474 in 2000 in the South Shore region. Four officers cover an area on the eastern slope of El Dorado County.

“There’s a big problem with loose dogs in Tahoe,” senior officer Robert Gerat said.

Dogs allowed to run loose may cover a wider area making it harder for pet owners to be responsible for any confrontations with other animals or humans.

Roaming dogs hasn’t always equaled attack animals on South Shore. There were only two serious dog attacks reported in the South Lake Tahoe area within the last five years.

However, one can affect the other.

And in a worst-case scenario, dog liability can ultimately wind up in the civil courts.

If a dog bites a victim, the protocol calls for a 10-day quarantine of the animal. If it’s not vaccinated for rabies, the quarantine will occur at the shelter, Gerat said.

If the dog has a history of aggressive behavior, the animal’s confinement will be evaluated in a court hearing to determine whether the animal is dangerous, he added.

If further animal-control laws are broken or the dog is involved in another attack, a “vicious animal” hearing will determine if the dog should be euthanized or not.

Sometimes, it’s one strike and Fido’s out, as in a case of a Placerville area pooch years ago, area animal control Supervisor John Vail said. A Rottweiler bit off a houseguest’s lower lip, half of his upper lip and a substantial portion of his chin.

The man underwent plastic surgery, and the first-time canine offender was euthanized.

“The man testified (in a vicious-dog hearing) that the dog ate the flesh,” Vail said, adding that every year, the Placerville animal control office reports a few serious dog attacks.

“In this business, we like to differentiate between a dog bite and an attack,” said Vail, the county animal control supervisor.

His colleague in the Placerville office, a veterinarian and statistician, has been conducting a study that has determined the most frequent targets of dog bites ride those new motorized scooters because of the noise and the speed, Vail indicated.

Out of the 159 dog bites reported in the South Lake Tahoe region in 2000, this kind of attack rarely happens.

But Gerat claimed euthanasia is what the authorities should have immediately done to the Presa Canario breed, a type bred to fight that brutally attacked and killed a Pacific Heights woman outside her apartment over a week ago.

“Absolutely, they should have put the dog down,” Gerat said.

The animal, determined to be a part of an attack-dog ring run by Pelican Bay State Prison inmates, charged the woman’s throat.

“It’s instinctive for them to go for the neck,” Gerat said of that breed of dog.

He should know. Gerat, who once worked in animal control in the Bay Area, witnessed a number of staged dog fights.

Most dogs bite and release. But fighting breeds like pit bulls, for instance, are bred to bite and hold their victims, resulting in the most damage, Gerat explained.

And if the dog is muscular and weighs more than the human, it will almost always win the tussle, Gerat said. This weight advantage can especially turn out to be dangerous for children.

The animal control supervisor warned pet owners to refrain from teaching their dogs to act aggressively when people come to the door, for example, or to attack other animals.

“Dogs for the most part will do what they’re trained to do,” he said.

Contrary to common belief, dogs that attack will not necessarily seek out the taste of blood after having it once.

Rather, the second attack shows a pattern of behavior.

“Once it shows the propensity of doing something like that, chances are high it will do it again,” Gerat said.

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