LAKE COUNTY, Calif. — At the end of a special meeting on Tuesday evening, the Lakeport City Council overturned the appeal of the owner of two dogs that have been deemed vicious after numerous complaints and the killing of pets over a 15-month period.
Maria Anderson filed an appeal with the city over the decision made by Lakeport Police Chief Brad Rasmussen and Lake County Animal Care and Control Director Jonathan Armas to declare her dogs “Bane” and “Bandit” as vicious and require her to follow 10 requirements as part of a vicious animal abatement order.
The vicious animal abatement order, which is in effect for three years, was issued on May 10 for Bane, a 3-year-old neutered male German shepherd mix, and Bandit, a 1-year-old neutered male pit bull mix.
That was three days after Animal Care and Control received the last complaint of the two dogs attacking ducks on a property where they had previously killed a rabbit and attacked chickens.
On the same day as the order was issued, the dogs were impounded from their Second Street home and are being held at the Animal Care and Control shelter in Lakeport.
The order’s conditions include Anderson having public liability insurance; posting “beware of dogs” signs at her home; obtaining and keeping current dog licenses and rabies vaccinations; constructing a 10-foot by 10-foot chain link kennel with a cement floor, padlocking gate and solid roof; keeping the dogs at the property except for veterinary visits; photographing them and notifying police of moving them to new ownership or a new residence within 10 days.
During the hour-and-a-half-long meeting, the council heard testimony from Animal Care and Control staff, neighbors whose animals had been killed and Anderson herself.
Deputy Animal Care and Control Director Jessica Leishman told the council that there were 11 instances of the dogs running loose and attacking animals from Feb. 19, 2020, until the date of their impoundment earlier this month.
She said her agency received calls about the dogs killing rabbits, chickens and cats.
Anderson, who adopted Bandit from Animal Care and Control late last year, previously had another dog, “Cissy,” who Animal Care and Control also had received complaints about until she was hit and killed by a car on 11th Street while running loose in July.
Animal Care and Control Officer Hailey Del Fiorentino went over the numerous complaints with the council. She said they had received three complaints for Cissy, seven for Bane and three for Bandit.
Julianna Bisaccio, offering testimony via Zoom, was shown a picture of the dogs and identified Bane and Bandit as having been responsible for killing her 8-year-old daughter’s young cat at her home on Second Street. She said the dogs wouldn’t leave the cat alone despite an attempt by the neighbor to squirt them with water to make them leave.
Bisaccio said she saw the dogs attack another cat along with a chicken. She said they are very aggressive, and with so many children in her neighborhood, she said she was concerned they would attack a child.
Stephanie Del Bosco said the dogs attacked her cat, “Bones,” nearly a year ago, in an incident on Oak Crest Drive near her home.
Bones survived the attack but the veterinary care to save his injured leg cost Del Bosco nearly $1,400. “We’re grateful he survived it,” she said of the attack.
Michelle Dollosso, who lives on 11th Street with her family, identified the dogs in a video of them carrying off her son’s pet rabbit, which they had killed. She said they broke into her rabbit hutch as well as the chicken coop.
“They’ve come in the yard more times than I could count,” she said, noting they had to chase them off. “It was traumatizing for our children.”
Owner apologetic; wants opportunity for dogs to be trained
A tearful Anderson, who was present in the council chambers, apologized to the women whose pets had been killed or injured.
“They’re our family,” she said of the dogs, noting that she’d had them since they were babies and they play with her children and live with other pets every day.
“I feel horrible that when they get out they are killing other animals but they are not mean dogs,” she said, adding that Bane loves to be free and run, and it’s a game for him to get away.
Anderson said she has gotten the vicious animal insurance and constructed the 10-foot by 10-foot enclosure on her property that’s required as part of the abatement order.
She said she had appealed the order because it doesn’t allow for them to be taken from her property unless it’s for vet care, and she wants to take them to a trainer as well as other places, like her father’s property and on trips to the ocean, as well as to allow for her children to walk them.
“All the things that you do when you have dogs, we wouldn’t be able to do,” she said.
During the discussion, Anderson said they also have reinforced their gates and fences, installed latches and purchased electric fencing.
Councilman Michael Green asked if staff had considered another alternative — having the dogs euthanized.
“Ordering a destruction, I believe, would be a high level order, one that I don’t take lightly,” said Armas.
The council also asked about the possibility of success with following the abatement order.
“If the appellant can follow these 10 conditions as outlined, then the dogs can be safely kept on her property,” Rasmussen said.
Armas noted that in his five years with Animal Care and Control, he’s only had one person fail an abatement, and he said his department is in the middle of a hearing on that matter right now.
The vicious dog determination would remain in effect for 36 months under California Food and Agriculture code. At the end of that time, that determination can be removed, said Armas.
Anderson also must complete all of the steps outlined in the order before the dogs will be released to her. While they are impounded, Anderson must cover their costs.
Councilwoman Stacey Mattina said she believed the order’s conditions are reasonable considering the amount of time the police and neighbors have chased the dogs, as well as the heartache of people losing their pets.
“They appear to be a threat to the neighborhood if they do get away,” she said.
Councilwoman Mireya Turner agreed with Mattina and said she appreciated Anderson’s attempts to follow the order and the fact that she expressed regret for her dogs’ actions.
While Turner said she understood that the dogs are different when they are with Anderson’s family, when they get out of the home, they are no longer family dogs. “They’re pack dogs,” and are roaming more than a mile away from their home while causing damage and trauma to people and other animals.
Based on his assessment of the dogs’ conduct, Green suggested that the council should order Bane’s humane destruction. He questioned if it’s humane to keep dogs caged up in the backyard.
Mattina moved to deny the appeal with Turner seconding and the council approving the motion 5-0.
Following the meeting, Rasmussen told Lake County News that he believes Anderson should be done implementing the conditions of the order and ready to call for an inspection within a few days, which will allow the dogs to be released to her.
Rasmussen said this is the first vicious abatement hearing he recalls during his nearly 10 years as chief, explaining that the hearing was the result of the appeal being filed.
He said the last vicious animal case his department dealt with happened in July 2019 and involved a dog that was impounded, held for a long time and ultimately destroyed after the owner failed to comply with the abatement conditions.