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Court hearing could give dog another chance

POSTED December 7, 2012 11:20 p.m.

The saga of the Alaskan malamute Bolt, who is scheduled to be euthanized early next week, took another turn as his owner hired an attorney in his quest to save the dog’s life.

Dan Mendonca, Bolt’s owner, has retained attorney Carl Combs in his bid to have the dog spared from euthanasia. Combs filed a motion with the civil division of Stanislaus County Superior Court requesting a judge stay the order to euthanize Bolt. The hearing is scheduled to be heard Monday morning. A judge could order a temporary stay until the case has a hearing and a final judgment rendered. If a stay is not ordered on Monday, then it is likely Bolt will be euthanized on Tuesday.

Bolt was taken into the custody of Turlock Animal Control Services on Nov. 7 after allegations were made by McKenzie Leedom and Macie Gilstrap that the dog bit them in separate incidences.

Gilstrap was the first dog bite victim at Mendonca’s residence. She states that on Sept. 30 she was sitting on the floor petting the dog when it suddenly bit her.

“I was in shock; I didn’t know what to do,” Gilstrap said.

Gilstrap said the bite wound was primarily to her chin and that she was given antibiotics for it the next day after going to the hospital. At the hospital Gilstrap was required to make a report of how she sustained the dog bite. In the report she stated it was a stray dog that bit her.

“When I contacted Dan he made me feel pressured not to tell the truth about his dog,” Gilstrap said. “I was trying to protect Dan. I didn’t want his dog to get in trouble because he’s my friend.”

Almost a month later another woman was claiming to have been bit by Mendonca’s dog. Leedom said she was sitting on Mendonca’s bed petting Bolt when the dog bit her face.

“I kept my distance from the dog for the most part,” Leedom said. “I was cautious around it.”

Leedom suffered wounds to her cheeks, nose and eyes and required eight stitches at the hospital. In Leedom’s report she stated it was Bolt who bit her.

The encounters have left both women with scars on their faces.

Mendonca acknowledges that both women were bitten at his house but disputes the circumstances of Leedom’s encounter and claims it was his other dog that bit Gilstrap.

Mendonca says Bolt’s brother Milo bit Gilstrap after she sat down on Milo’s bed while the dog was sleeping and may have accidentally sat on the dog’s injured leg.

“I know it was Bolt that bit me, because he’s the bigger of the two,” Gilstrap said.

Gilstrap said Mendonca wasn’t watching when the dog bit her.

As for Leedom, Mendonca claims she was bit by Bolt because she sat down in the dog’s bed in the dark and tried to hug him.

"A dog’s bed is his domain,” Mendonca said.

Leedom’s mother learned her daughter wasn’t the first dog bite victim at the house and spurred an investigation into the attack, which eventually led to authorities contacting Gilstrap.

“When the police interviewed me, I told the truth,” Gilstrap said. “I wasn’t going to lie to the police. I felt terrible and responsible after McKenzie got bit.”

Bolt was taken into animal services custody and a city hearing, held at a later date, found the allegations to be true and declared Bolt a vicious dog. It was mandated that the dog be euthanized.

Turlock Municipal Code defines a vicious dog as one that has in part caused an injury to a person who was behaving peacefully and lawfully.

Mendonca doesn’t believe Bolt was given a fair chance at the hearing because a request to have an animal behavioral analyst examine Bolt for signs of aggression was denied.

Mendonca also said his other efforts to prove he can safely handle his dogs have been in vain. He has moved out of Turlock, built kennels for the dogs and purchased muzzles to use when visitors are around.

”They’re like my kids,” Mendonca said.

Bolt’s impending demise has prompted the Mendonca family to launch an online petition and a full-out media campaign in order to have his life spared. The public response has been overwhelmingly in support of sparing Bolt. A small group of people even held “Save Bolt” signs at the Turlock Christmas Parade Friday night and Mendonca was present with Milo on a leash, but no muzzle.

Some supporters have also launched attacks at Gilstrap and Leedom.

“After all this media and publicity, lies and twisted stories, I felt I had to tell my story,” Gilstrap said. “Bolt might not be a vicious dog, but he bit two girls. It’s up to the law what happens. It’s not in my hands.”

Leedom said she has been called names and the target of verbal assaults and rumors since the story went public. She’s also filed a civil suit against Mendonca claiming harassment.

Some of the attacks posted online against the two women have stated they were drunk and antagonized the dog.

As for if she was drunk, Gilstrap said it was “irrelevant.”

“I remember everything that happened that night,” Gilstrap said. “I didn’t do anything to provoke the dog.”

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