Court hearing Monday will determine Turlock dog's fate

12/07/2012 5:29 PM

12/07/2012 5:33 PM

A court hearing Monday will decide the immediate fate of Bolt, the dog who remains on course for euthanization Tuesday by the Turlock Animal Shelter after biting two women in the face.

Dan Mendonca, the owner of the 3½-year-old Alaskan malamute, has a hearing before a civil court judge who will determine whether Bolt will be issued a stay pending his case hearing or will be put down as scheduled.

Thursday, Mendonca’s lawyer, Carl Combs, filed a writ with Stanislaus County Superior Court against the city of Turlock. The civil case was given a Jan. 16 court date, which would be after Bolt’s slated euthanization date. Mendonca hopes to present a case at that time against Bolt’s classification as a “vicious dog” and spare his life.

Combs said he has also requested Turlock officials to voluntarily stay Bolt’s euthanization until the court hearing in January.

“I’ve asked them to do that and so far they’ve not agreed to do that. We’ve asked them every day since Wednesday and they responded that they will not agree to that,” Combs said.

City Manager Roy Wasden would not comment on the case Friday, but said the city has followed the administrative process and any decision is now up to the courts. Wasden said he, along with Turlock City Attorney Phaedra Norton and Turlock Fire Chief Tim Lohman, will be at the hearing at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Bolt was impounded by Turlock Animal Services on Nov. 7 after reports were filed by 20-year-old Turlock residents McKenzie Leedom and Macie Gilstrap, who were bitten on the face in two separate incidents in the past three months at Mendonca’s house. The women and Mendonca were friends and said they were sitting about eye-level petting Bolt when they were bitten.

The women went to Emanuel Medical Center for their injuries. Gilstrap, who was bitten Sept. 29, required a staple in her chin; Leedom, who was bitten Oct. 28, had at least eight stitches to close punctures on both side of her face.

Bolt had an administrative hearing Nov. 27 in front of Lohman, who determined he was a “vicious dog” and recommended euthanization. Wasden approved the recommendation and Bolt’s euthanization date was set for Tuesday.

Since then, Mendonca’s family has taken the fight public, launching an online petition called “Free Bolt” (www.thepetitionsite.com/204/437/473/free-bolt), as well as a Facebook community page titled “Save Bolt” (www.facebook.com/SaveBolt) to plead its case. The sites have gained more than 1,000 followers and signatures each day.

In a previous interview with The Bee, Turlock Animal Services Supervisor Glena Jackson said the legal definition of a “vicious dog” is clear. According to Turlock Municipal Code, that definition includes any “attack that results in property damage or in an injury to a person when such person is conducting himself peacefully and lawfully.”

Under California law, a “severe injury” is any bite that results in “muscle tears or disfiguring lacerations or requires multiple sutures or corrective or cosmetic surgery.” Dog owners also are required under state law to report any dog bite that breaks the skin.

Mendonca did not file reports on either bite, but the women filed reports with animal control.

“Here there were two bites in a 36-month period and that’s why this process was moved forward,” Jackson said earlier this week. “I understand that this is very volatile. It’s not easy for my department, either. This is emotional roller coaster for anyone who goes through this. The owner has to take some of the responsibility and face that he is bound to accept this and take dutiful care it doesn’t happen again.”

Mendonca has contended it was Bolt’s brother, Milo, who bit Gilstrap. But he acknowledges Bolt bit Leedom. He also claims the women had been drinking. Neither woman would comment on whether alcohol was involved, but they said it was irrelevant and the attacks were unprovoked. The women are also dog owners themselves.

Mendonca’s sister, Diane Rodrigues, said the family hopes Bolt will get his day in court.

“We feel disappointed by the city of Turlock’s actions. We would appreciate if they worked with us rather than against us to have a neutral party, who doesn’t have to fear a lawsuit, evaluate this case and a professional animal behavioral specialist to evaluate Bolt,” she said. “You can’t undo an execution. It’s final.”

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on www.twitter.com/turlocknow.

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