March 1, 2013

Bolt the dog released to rescue group in Southern California

Bolt the dog is free, released to a Southern California rescue group this morning in a settlement between his owner, Daniel Mendonca, and the city of Turlock.

Video above shot on Friday as Bolt leaves courtesy of Save Bolt Facebook page.

Bolt the dog is free, released to a Southern California rescue group Friday morning in a settlement between his owner, Daniel Mendonca, and the city of Turlock.

A lawsuit had been filed and a hearing scheduled for March 8 in Stanislaus Superior Court to spare Bolt, who has been deemed vicious by the city and slated to die after biting two women on the face last fall. The 3½-year-old Alaskan malamute has been impounded with Turlock Animal Services since Nov. 7.

In the settlement, the city agreed to release Bolt to a rescue organization. Mendonca agreed to drop the case against the city, relinquish ownership of Bolt and pay all costs associated with his adoption by the rescue agency.

The agency, whose name is not being released, agreed to disclose Bolt's history to any potential adoptive owners, never place him with anyone in Stanislaus County or with Mendonca and his relatives and to assume all risk and waive all liability to the city with regard to the dog.

Bolt's attorney, San Francisco animal rights lawyer Bruce Wagman, said the decision is a win-win for Mendonca and the city.

"In a perfect end, Bolt would be home with Daniel. We don't think he deserved the 'vicious' designation," Wagman said. "But those were factual issues we'd have to fight about. Daniel made the altruistic decision to give up his interests and sacrifice his for Bolt's."

City Manager Roy Wasden said he was pleased with the peaceful end to the case. Bolt's saga had caused a firestorm of public interest since Mendonca took the case public in early December. Supporters on both sides have contacted the city and raised their voices online.

The City Council approved the settlement in closed session on Tuesday night in a unanimous 5-0 vote.

"We are pleased. It is one of those things that comes with the territory and we think it is a good resolution and we feel good about it," Wasden said. "I've owned dogs and had dogs as part of my life. I know now how attached people are."

Bolt, a 150-pound black-and-white bear of a dog, bit 20-year-old Turlock resident McKenzie Leedom on the face while she was at Mendonca's home over last Halloween weekend. The wound required at least eight stitches.

Mistaken identity?

A subsequent investigation by Turlock Animal Services found Bolt also bit another woman, 20-year-old Macie Gilstrap, on the face Sept. 30 at Mendonca's home, requiring a staple on her chin. Mendonca contends it was Bolt's brother, Milo, who bit Gilstrap.

Both women were friends of Mendonca's before the incidents.

Told Friday night about the settlement, Gilstrap said, "I think that's great news. Honestly, I never wanted Bolt to die," she said. The dog going with a rescue group and hopefully finding a home with someone who can train him properly is the best outcome, she added. "Nobody wanted any of this to happen. ... This is exactly what I hoped for."

Leedom could not immediately be reached.

Bolt was classified as "vicious" during an administrative hearing Nov. 27 overseen by Turlock Fire Chief Tim Lohman. Wasden approved Lohman's recommendation of euthanization and Bolt was slated to be put down in December. Mendonca has been fighting the ruling since then.

The family started a Facebook page, Save Bolt, which garnered more than 9,000 likes. The family also launched online petitions and fund-raisers. Family members and volunteers have helped with the effort throughout. The group posted videos of Bolt's "ride to rescue" and released a statement Friday night. It reads in part:

"Daniel asks that all his supporters take great satisfaction in the result, and now let both Daniel and Bolt step out of the public eye and move on with their lives. We are grateful to the City of Turlock for working with us. And we accomplished what we ultimately set out to do, which was to Save Bolt. Thanks to you all."

Mendonca paid for Bolt's impoundment since he entered the shelter 115 days ago, a $6 daily fee that amounts to $690. Wagman said the fees associated with Bolt's adoption are minimal.

The family has paid more than $5,400 in legal fees for Bolt's first attorney, Modesto lawyer Carl Combs. In February, Wagman, who has a nationally recognized animal law practice, took over the case and began working on an out-of-court solution with Turlock City Attorney Phaedra Norton.

Wagman said the city has been "very cooperative and agreeable" as they worked out an agreement.

The rescue group that took Bolt does not work with Alaskan malamutes exclusively, but has experience working with large-breed dogs.

Lawyer says owner pleased

Wagman said Mendonca, who has been able to visit Bolt only in the shelter behind fencing and on Saturdays because of his work schedule, is pleased with the outcome.

"It's best for everyone. We felt we had a decent case, but it would have been a long case, with Bolt behind bars, and the judge could have decided against us." Wagman said. "Bolt is free and has a good life ahead of him, and that's what Daniel always wanted."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on

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