SAN ANTONIO – The Animal Care Services officers arrived at the home in the 100 block of Hartford Avenue shortly before the rain did on Tuesday afternoon.
A trio of dogs from the Southeast Side home were suspected in a Mother’s Day attack that had sent a man to the hospital.
A man at the home had refused to comply with the quarantine procedures required after a reported bite, ACS officers said. So, flanked by San Antonio police officers, they arrived with a warrant to take the dogs.
As thunder crackled in the distance, a barefooted man from the home led the dogs out one-by-one to load them into a waiting ACS truck.
“Don’t touch,” he told an ACS officer as he pushed the first dog into a crate on his own.
It was the latest investigation into what city officials freely admit is a big problem for San Antonio.
“Our dangerous dogs are out of control,” Assistant City Manager David McCary told the city council’s Public Safety Committee earlier that day. “We have so many dangerous dogs that we don’t realize are dangerous dogs at the time. But we have to do a better job in more aggressively holding owners that are irresponsible with these pets more accountable.”
The term “dangerous dog” is an official designation covered by state law that can be attached to a dog that bites or threatens a human while outside of its home. It’s a lifelong brand that carries extra requirements for its owner: a special enclosure, mandatory insurance coverage, a muzzle while being walked, and signage.
San Antonio has similar rules for “aggressive” dogs, which are generally pets that have attacked other animals. Unlike “dangerous” dogs, those restrictions last only one to three years, depending on the level of aggressive dog designation with which the dog has been labeled.
But ACS says both the “dangerous” and “aggressive” dog designations have to be preceded by investigations, which are not done automatically. They are prompted by sworn statements, or affidavits, from victims or other witnesses to an animal’s behavior.
ACS officers can also start the process if they observe the behavior themselves.
In the wake of the deadly Feb. 24 mauling of a Ramon Najera, 81, on the West Side, ACS says it has seen the number of affidavits for dangerous or aggressive dogs nearly triple, from 21 up to 58 per month. A spokeswoman it is possible some of the affidavits are for the same dogs.
“I think that’s two-fold,” ACS Assistant Director Brad Davenport said of the reasons behind the increase. “I think, one, is people are a little bit more cautious about animals that they’ve been okay with, and now they’re taking that precaution to sign it, which is completely OK.”
“I think the other thing is the awareness that affidavits exist. We’ve got an educational campaign that’s really introduced this idea to many for the first time.”
ACS website on dangerous or aggressive dogs
Simply filing the affidavit doesn’t guarantee the dog’s owners will be hit with restrictions. The majority of the complaints in the new surge were determined to be “unfounded.”
As of Sunday, 113 dogs in San Antonio were designated as “dangerous,” and 123 were branded “aggressive.”
“What’s interesting is that number hasn’t changed too much because as much as we’re designating new dogs, some are falling off due to euthanasia, owner surrenders,” Davenport said of the dangerous dogs.
If an owner surrenders a “dangerous” dog to ACS, it’s always put down, but what happens to surrendered “aggressive” dogs depends on the circumstances, a spokeswoman said.
Dogs that attack someone after they’re designated as “dangerous” may be euthanized, as can dogs whose owners don’t comply with the dangerous dog restrictions.
ACS reported there have been 38 non-compliance hearings since February, which resulted in:
14 dogs seized
13 reached compliance
2 owner surrendered
7 given additional compliance time
There were another five non-compliant owners who surrendered their dogs to ACS before a court hearing was requested.
In the case of the three dogs from Hartford Avenue, ACS says the severity of the man’s injuries means the dogs face more than just a “dangerous dog” designation.
Though ACS was unable to say how severe the man’s injuries were, they said he was still in the hospital as of Tuesday afternoon.
If a judge determines the inflicted injuries count as serious bodily injury, ACS said, the dogs would be euthanized.
ACS is expected to get a mid-year budget adjustment at Thursday’s city council meeting that would set it up to put more officers into the field by October. Davenport said that would free up veteran ACS officers to be transferred into new roles as bite investigators and dangerous dog investigators.
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