Vernon municipal court judge orders dog euthanized due to dog bite.
VERNON — A 3-year-old pit bull mix that bit its owner's neighbor in the face last September is likely down to the final days of its life after being sentenced to euthanasia by a judge.
The order, which came at the conclusion of a hearing in Vernon Municipal Court, follows months of attempts by a team of volunteers led by a local animal advocate to assist the dog's owner in finding an alternative aimed at sparing the dog's life after the court declared the dog potentially dangerous in December.
The December ruling came after the dog, a male American Bully named Tank, had been impounded by Vernon's animal control officer in September for causing facial injuries to a man who had been attempting to secure it with a leash after the dog got loose and entered his property next-door, where his own five dogs were outside at the time.
Under the state's vicious dog law, which grants law enforcement the authority to impound a dog believed to have caused unprovoked injury to a person or another domestic animal, the court could have ordered the dog to be put down when the case first came up for a hearing in October.
Instead, in a consent agreement between the municipal prosecutor and the dog's owner aimed at sparing the dog's life, Vernon Municipal Judge James Devine agreed in December to allow the dog to be designated as "potentially dangerous," a classification one step removed from "vicious," which would have amounted to an immediate death sentence.
The consent order came with strict conditions requiring, among other things, that the dog's owner, Deborah Gonzales-Schwadtke, take out a $1 million liability insurance policy on her dog, which she says she has since done, and also that she commit to providing behavioral rehabilitation for her dog in the form of obedience classes.
But five months later, and after receiving multiple extensions of time from the judge, Gonzales-Schwadtke admitted in court Tuesday that she had failed to fulfill the court's other requirement that she erect an enclosed, escape-proof kennel in her yard to prevent her dog from ever getting loose again.
As she addressed the judge Tuesday, a tearful Gonzales-Schwadtke -- who had previously been reluctant to consider allowing a third party to adopt her dog -- said a person had told her recently that he was willing to adopt her dog and meet the court's conditions, including construction of the secure enclosure, but that he had since "backed out."
The judge, however, indicated Tuesday that he had heard this "four or five times" over the past several months and that everyone who claimed they were willing to adopt the dog had either changed their minds or been unwilling to fulfill all the court's conditions for adopting a potentially dangerous dog, including construction of the enclosure.
Municipal Prosecutor Alicia Ferrante, who was accompanied by Vernon Animal Control Officer James Epperly at Tuesday's court hearing, offered a similar assessment and said all possible avenues aimed at finding an alternative had been exhausted.
"For the record," Ferrante said, "I think it's worth noting that Animal Control has reached out throughout the course of this matter, to approximately 14 different organizations to try to find an alternative housing placement for this dog, and for one reason or another or no reason at all, all of them declined to take the dog."
Ferrante concluded by telling the judge that "we have exhausted all possible remedies for this situation."
As a result, said the judge, "I have no alternative but to authorize that the dog be euthanized."
Prior to the judge issuing his ruling, Gonzales-Schwadtke -- a 41-year-old mother of five who recently underwent treatment for cancer -- asked if she and her children could be allowed to visit with her dog one last time at the Vernon Animal Control facility, where it has been held for the last eight months, before being put down.
Epperly, the animal control officer, indicated he would be amenable to allowing this provided there were appropriate supervision and safeguards in place, including the requirement that the dog be fitted with a muzzle during the visit.
Although the judge did not stipulate a timeframe for when the euthanasia must be carried out, he indicated the onus is on Gonzales-Schwadtke to secure arrangements as soon as possible with a veterinarian of her choice to carry out the order. Epperly indicated he would follow up with her in the next few days if he does not hear back from her by then.
Separately from Tuesday's euthanasia order, the judge agreed to reduce the dollar amount of boarding fees still owed by Gonzales-Schwadtke to Vernon Animal Control, which has been billing her $8 per day for the care of her dog since impounding it eight months ago, from an estimated $1,600 to a lump sum amount of $1,000 -- a concession he said he was making out of consideration for her financial circumstances.
As she left the courtroom, Gonzales-Schwadtke -- who came alone and was using a cane for support -- wept silently and said she dreaded sharing the news with her children.
Notwithstanding the sympathy her case engendered from local animal lovers -- who collectively raised $4,500 over the past few months for fencing, brick pavers and other supplies to assist her in completing the court-ordered kennel enclosure in her yard -- nearly all of the volunteers in that effort ended up abandoning her recently, citing a lack of support from her.
In doing so, the person who spearheaded that effort openly accused Gonzales-Schwadtke and her family of failing to lift a finger to assist in their good-faith efforts and of neglecting other pets in their care. That person, Janine Hummel, had said they were "giving up on her but not giving up on Tank (her dog)."
Overshadowed by the dog's plight, meanwhile, has been the plight of the man who had suffered dog bite by her dog last year.
In a phone interview Monday, the man indicated he had incurred more than $10,000 in medical bills from the bite attack, which he said had caused part of his nose to be ripped off and resulted in him needing more than 60 stitches to his cheeks alone.
He added that he was still seeing a plastic surgeon and, despite the likelihood of requiring further reconstructive surgery to his nose, was likely to suffer permanent disfigurement due to dog bite.
Contributions : Eric Obernauer