Off-leash areas for dogs come with risks, as Dorrie and Harold Powell witnessed on March 9, 2020, when their chihuahua, ChiChi, was killed by four Rhodesian ridgebacks on what their lawsuit calls “Mesa Beach.” The Powells have sued owner Edmund Marroquin for allegedly violating an off-leash ordinance, seeking punitive damages for gross negligence.

The Powells allege that after Marroquin’s large dogs ran up to them, one “seized ChiChi in its mouth and bit down, shaking her like a rag doll.” Their legal papers state Dorrie picked up ChiChi, raising her above the pack, while the ridgebacks “growled and snarled toward her.” Harold chased the dogs back down the beach toward Marroquin, who was “a considerable distance away” and unaware of the attack. ChiChi died in Dorrie’s arms shortly after.

The plaintiffs cite a county ordinance that requires that “all caretakers maintain voice control of their dog(s) at all times” and that “the caretaker … shall carry a leash for each dog and shall leash the dog(s) at the first sign of aggression or loss of voice control.” According to the Powells’ attorney, Marroquin had “no sufficient leashes for his animals.” The complaint also states the beach allows three dogs per owner, but Marroquin had four.

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From Marroquin’s perspective, the risk is mutual when you bring dogs to an off-leash beach. This is “the spirit of the ordinance,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t take his own kids to an off-leash beach. And while the complaint alleges that Marroquin’s dogs have attacked small animals before, Marroquin insists that while they have chased rabbits, they have “never caught one; never hurt one.”

Marroquin is an anesthesiologist and breeds Rhodesian ridgebacks. His business’s webpage states his dogs “are not bred as hunting dogs, only as show dogs and family dogs.”

Expressing his shock at the incident, Marroquin explained he has taken his dogs to off-leash areas such as Mesa Beach and Douglas Family Preserve since he moved from San Francisco in 2016. “No dog or person has ever been hurt,” he said. He expressed remorse that a dog was killed and claims that he reached out to Harold Powell following the incident, offering to pay for ChiChi, but Powell declined.

Judge Colleen Sterne heard Marroquin’s response to the Powells’ lawsuit in November and is allowing the Powells to clarify and reframe their complaint by November 30.

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