Three dogs that attacked a Santa Barbara woman last month have been declared vicious and ordered put down. The attack took place in the front yard of a Dibblee Avenue home and left the 46-year-old victim, who was feeding the animals while their owner was out of town, with severe injuries to her legs that required more than 100 surgical staples. She remains confined to a wheelchair as she recovers.
Police seized all five of owner Joseph Martinez’s dogs following the incident. The two not involved in the attack were returned to him. The remaining three were the subject of a teary four-hour hearing during which Martinez, the victim, her husband, and the neighbors who pulled her to safety provided statements about the incident, as well as the dogs’ history of aggression.
Sergeant Riley Harwood served as the case’s hearing officer and rendered the final decision to have all three animals humanely euthanized. He said it’s rare for dogs to be put down, but the brutality of the mauling, coupled with the dogs’ hostile reputation around the neighborhood, made it the appropriate course of action in this instance. Harwood sat in for the Santa Barbara Police Department’s current animal control supervisor, who was unavailable to hear the case; Harwood has overseen the division in the past.
“The testimony provided by the witnesses was very, very compelling as to the severity and ferociousness of the attack, and the fear that other people have of these dogs,” he explained, noting their history of biting. “Had this women not been rescued by her neighbors, she would have been killed,” Harwood declared. He said it remains unclear why the dogs went after the victim, but he stressed it did not appear to be a “provoked” attack. “She had contact with these animals before and had permission to be on the property,” he explained.
In deciding whether to declare each of the three dogs vicious, Harwood said he relied on five specific criteria spelled out in the City of Santa Barbara’s municipal code — “whether or not the dog has bitten any person at any other time; the circumstances surrounding the occasion indicating the temper or ferocity of the dog; the reputation of the dog in the community with regard to its temper and ferocity; its propensity to bite persons or animals without provocation; or its general menace to the public.”
Not all dogs declared vicious are euthanized, Harwood said. In some cases, they may be returned to their owner with certain conditions, like keeping them confined or on a chain at all times. “These animals were attacking the victim in concert,” he went on. “People did not express any ill will toward Martinez, but they did express significant fear of these dogs.”
Martinez was notified of the decision by mail. He received the letter this Friday, and now has five calendar days to challenge the result. Martinez told The Santa Barbara Independent he intends to appeal. That next step in the process will take place in Santa Barbara Superior Court. The dogs remain in quarantine at a county shelter.
Martinez, a customer service manager at Lazy Acres, declined to comment on the attack or his attempts to reclaim his dogs, but he wished to “set the record straight” on their breeds. Police have repeatedly described the dogs as “pit bulls and pit bull mixes.” Martinez claims they are actually Olde English Bulldogges.
When officers responded to the November 5 attack, they said they found the victim “bleeding profusely” on the sidewalk outside Martinez’s home. At least one of the dogs, estimated at 120 pounds, kept trying to push through the gate to reach the victim. The two other dogs also remained aggressive and agitated, and all were subdued with pepper spray and tranquilizers.