A black Labrador retriever bit a woman and mauled a puppy so severely it was put down, a December 14 ruling has determined, ordering the 4-year-old dog, named Benson, to be “humanely destroyed” for being a “dangerous dog.” His owners, Michael and Kelsey Hill, had asked that Benson be returned to them “under any conditions deemed necessary.” They plan to appeal the ruling.
Two separate incidents led to Benson’s death sentence, according to the administrative court ruling. On July 1, 2018, Michael Hill had been walking Benson off leash when his neighbors invited them to meet their new puppy. Benson grabbed the puppy by the back and shook her violently; the puppy was treated at an emergency veterinary hospital but was euthanized due to her injuries. Hill paid her vet bills and helped pay for a new puppy for the neighbors. The incident was not reported to Animal Services, said the puppy’s owner, as they were neighbors and understood the Hills’ love for their dog; the neighbors, however, told the investigator they no longer trusted Benson.
In the second incident, Hill had been playing fetch with Benson at La Patera School on October 21, 2018. Benson ran behind a hedge and there grabbed a six-month-old golden retriever puppy by the neck. The puppy was being walked on a leash by its owner, who had a second golden puppy on a leash. The owner got Benson in a headlock while he tried to bite her face and bit her left arm. Hearing the noise of the dog fight, Hill ran over and tackled Benson. The owner of the two puppies was treated at the hospital. Neither of her pups was injured, possibly because the one attacked was wearing a training collar, the owner testified; Benson had two cuts, Hill said. After this attack, Benson was first quarantined at home and then taken to a county shelter by the Sheriff’s Office.
The Hills had adopted Benson from the DAWG rescue group about a year ago, according to a petition at change.org, which has nearly 15,000 signatures to save Benson. The petition mentions an “altercation with two other dogs” but does not state a puppy died or that a person was bitten. The black Lab had been assessed to have a “healthy mental state,” the petition reads, and was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” At Kelsey Hill’s Facebook page, she wrote of the hearing: “We know that it will come with consequences but let us as humans face those rather than a dog who has no idea what he did wrong … .” In her post, she protested that the city process was unfair to a dog that was perceived by some as a threat, even when leashed and not biting.
The hearing, conducted by Vyto Adomaitis, the director of Neighborhood Services and Public Safety for the City of Goleta, had been held November 19 with the ruling and order coming about a month later. In them, Adomaitis states the city’s Dangerous Dog Ordinance does not permit him to return Benson to the Hills, after he’d been found to be a dangerous dog. Instead, “Any dog declared to be dangerous shall be humanely destroyed,” the ordinance states.
Goleta city attorney Michael Jenkins acknowledged in an email that Kelsey Hill is appealing the hearing’s decision to Santa Barbara Superior Court in late January. “The judge could come to the same or a different conclusion than the City,” Jenkins stated. “[I] f the judge concludes that Benson is a dangerous dog, the judge can order any number of remedies.” At the first hearing, held December 26, Judge Pauline Maxwell recused herself as she knew the victim, said Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte, and the case will go to Judge Colleen Sterne.
Addressing the petition and animal activists who have rallied for Benson’s defense, Jenkins wrote: “The City appreciates that issues involving domestic animals can evoke a lot of passion, including commentary from people out-of-state who may not be privy to all of the facts. … At bottom, the City exercises its authority with the sole purpose of achieving a safe physical environment for all residents and their domestic animals.”