Dog's euthanization on hold until Turlock owner can make case

12/10/2012 7:28 AM

03/31/2013 11:22 PM

Bolt the dog gets to live until at least Jan. 16 because a judge stayed his euthanization, which was set for today by Turlock Animal Services.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Timothy Salter issued a stay Monday morning until a scheduled hearing in January brought by owner Dan Mendonca to fight the 3½-year-old Alaskan malamute's designation as a "vicious dog" by the city of Turlock.

"I'm going to stay on this case because I want to make absolutely sure I am not making a mistake" Salter said. "The decision the other way would be irreversible."

The judge also ordered Mendonca to pay the city's cost for impounding Bolt through his Jan. 16 court date. City officials said they were unsure of the daily costs to animal services, but would determine them and charge Mendonca.

The Turlock resident has been fighting for his dog's life since he was impounded Nov. 7 by animal services after reportedly biting two women in the face in separate incidents.

Both women, 20-year-old Turlock residents Macie Gilstrap and McKenzie Leedom, said the bites were unprovoked while at Mendonca's house.

Both 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 sides of her face.

An administrative hearing presided over by Turlock Fire Chief Tim Lohman on Nov. 27 determined Bolt was "vicious," and Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden approved the recommendation for euthanization.

Bolt's plight became public after Mendonca launched an online petition and Facebook page to garner support for his cause. Both pages have close to 6,000 signatures and likes.

Turlock City Attorney Phaedra Norton opposed the stay during the short court hearing Monday morning. She refuted Mendonca's attorney's filed claims, including perceived bias by Lohman and being prevented from having an expert witness at the administrative hearing.

"The city had a fair hearing and the petitioner has not established there was no fair hearing," Norton said.

"In this case, this dog has bitten two women in the face when they were peacefully and lawfully at (Mendonca's) house. Based upon evidence, it was determined his dog Bolt is vicious as determined by Turlock Municipal Code. It is clear this dog meets the definition."

Wasden, Lohman and Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson were all present in court but did not speak during the 30-minute hearing. An attorney for one of the bite victims, Leedom, also was at the table and spoke briefly against issuing the stay.

Mendonca's attorneys Byron Nelson and Carl Combs, from the Law Offices of Carl E. Combs, asked the court for the opportunity to review the administrative hearing report, which they have not received from the city. They also contended that Bolt bit Leedom but that his brother, Milo, bit Gilstrap.

Combs said he was pleased with the court's decision and ready for the court hearing in January.

"There are unresolved questions and issues relating to the city of Turlock's prior administrative hearing and the conclusions reached therein, and we believe it is completely appropriate that there is judicial review in this case.

"We hope for and anticipate a full and fair examination of this case by the court," he said.

Nelson said in court that his client was open to abatement options — including donation to a rescue society — rather than euthanization.

As the case heads to the courts, Mendonca's legal wranglings continue to grow.

Last week, second bite victim Leedom filed a lawsuit against the 26-year-old Turlock man for harassment. The case will have a hearing to show cause Dec. 27.

Mendonca and his family have been collecting funds to help pay for legal fees and to date have raised more than $4,000 through online and in-person donations. Mendonca's family estimates it will cost $6,000 to take Bolt's case to court.

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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