Courtesy Photo

The owner of three large dogs that mauled a 46-year-old woman last November pleaded with a Santa Barbara judge this week to reverse the order to euthanize them, describing them as “loving” pets and calling the attack “provoked.” Joseph Martinez said his dogs — named Sterling, Annabelle, and Big Bubba — hadn’t “shown a propensity for aggression” before and always displayed “a nice disposition towards visitors and family.”

Martinez claimed the victim, a friend he asked to feed the dogs at his Dibblee Avenue home while he was out of town, tried to push the animals back into the house with a gardening stool as she was leaving, which they interpreted as a sign of hostility. This prompted them to become protective of the property and each other, he said. “I believe they were provoked.”

The dogs attacked the victim in the home’s front yard; neighbors who heard her screams pulled her over the fence to safety. She suffered severe injuries to her legs, and first responders said she likely would have been killed if the neighbors hadn’t intervened. Martinez’s two other dogs, Queen Bea and Hendrick, were not involved in the incident. Police described all five pets as pit bulls and pit bull mixes; Martinez has said they are certified Olde English Bulldogges.

In his petition to Judge Colleen Sterne, Martinez said the attack was the result of his own “error and miscalculation.” Never again would he allow people into his home without being present, he said, listing other precautions he had taken or was willing to take in order to regain custody of the three dogs. Martinez said he increased his front yard fence height from four feet to seven feet, reinforcing it with corrugated aluminum and installing metal screens across small gaps. He also planted a fast-growing hedge to obscure views into the yard, and said he would sign up for obedience classes. Three of Martinez’s friends provided Sterne with letters of support that stated he was the responsible owner of well-behaved pets.

Sterne, however, upheld a prior order from a city animal control supervisor that the dogs be put down. The original decision, the supervisor said, was based on testimony from the victim, her husband, the neighbors who saved her, and other nearby residents who talked about the dogs’ history of violence. One man said he had to fend off Sterling with his lawnmower during a previous attack after the dog escaped Martinez’s yard. Martinez’s own uncle, who lives with him, told police he was bitten just a month earlier. He showed the scars on his arms to prove it.

The consensus among neighbors and city officials is that the dogs are a public danger, according to court records. One report stipulates that the victim didn’t behave aggressively toward the dogs, she had interacted with them on other occasions, and she had permission to be on the property. The same report describes the brutality of the mauling and its aftermath: “The scene of the attack was straight out of a graphic horror film as [the victim’s] blood was on the porch rails, mail post box, and sidewalk.”

When police officers responded to the November 5 incident, they said one of the dogs, estimated at 120 pounds, kept trying to push through the yard’s front gate to reach the victim on the sidewalk. The two other dogs remained similarly aggressive and had to be subdued with pepper spray and tranquilizers.

Martinez, a customer service manager at Lazy Acres, declined requests for comment. He instead accused the media of “sensationalizing and causing an uproar in these types of cases.” The Santa Barbara Independent has also received messages accusing it of unfairly “demonizing the dogs” and perpetuating an “anti-pit bull bias.”

A GoFundMe account has been created to help with the victim’s ongoing medical expenses. It can be found here.


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