A beloved family pet is now slated to be euthanized, over disputed allegations that it bit two women in the face.
Dan Mendonca‘s dog “Bolt,” an Alaskan malamute, was taken into Turlock Animal Services custody on Nov. 7 after friends McKenzie Leedom and Macie Gilstrap said Bolt bit them.
A Turlock Animal Services investigation agreed with Leedom and Gilstrap’s claims, and Bolt was recommended for euthanization following an administrative hearing overseen by Fire Chief Tim Lohman.
“Based on the evidence presented, it was determined the dog had bit two people,” Turlock Police spokesperson Officer Mayra Lewis said. “… Any dog that bites can be determined to be vicious.”
Lohman’s recommendation was then approved by City Manager Roy Wasden. The dog is set to be euthanized on Tuesday.
But Mendonca disagrees with some of Leedom and Gilstrap’s claims, arguing that Bolt and his brother, “Milo,” are among the nicest dogs you’ll ever meet.
“Pretty much everybody that sees them when I’m walking them has to pet them,” Mendonca said.
It’s undisputed that on Oct. 28, Bolt bit Leedom sidelong across the front of her face.
Leedom said she was sitting on Mendonca’s bed, nowhere near Bolt’s bed at the time of the attack. She was weary of Bolt and was carefully petting the dog, she said, when he suddenly struck.
“Next thing I knew, Bolt had my face in his mouth,” Leedom said.
Mendonca agrees that Leedom was bitten, but disagrees with how it happened.
According to Mendonca, Leedom sat down on Bolt’s bed in a dark room and tried to hug the dog while he was sleeping.
While Mendonca said he takes the dog bite seriously and feels badly that the injury occurred, but that he understood how a drowsy dog might try to defend its space against a perceived threat.
“A dog’s bed is his domain,” Mendonca said.
Both agree that Leedom had visited the house a few times and met Bolt with no prior issues.
The earlier incident, when Gilstrap was bit in the nose by one of Mendonca’s dogs on Sept. 29, is more heavily disputed.
Mendonca says it was Milo who bit Gilstrap, after Gilstrap laid down on Milo’s bed while the dog was sleeping. Mendonca says he believes Gilstrap may have accidentally sat on Milo’s injured leg, hurt from a car accident years prior.
Leedom claims it was Bolt who bit Gilstrap.
“(Mendonca) told me himself it was Bolt who bit (Gilstrap), and that is why I was always careful around him,” Leedom said.
The Journal was unable to contact Gilstrap. But the Turlock Police Department said that, following contact from Turlock Animal Services, Gilstrap initially reported that a stray dog had bit her.
Turlock Animal Services’ became involved with Bolt’s case on Nov. 6, when Leedom’s mother contacted the department asking why the incident had not been investigated.
According to Lewis, Turlock did not originally receive notification of the dog bite. Instead, notification mistakenly went to Stanislaus County.
An investigation followed, leading to a report on the potentially vicious dog. During the process of compiling this report, Gilstrap stated that it was Bolt who bit her.
Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson then recommended the case go to an administrative hearing. At the hearing, Lohman took testimony from victims, witnesses, and the dog owner.
Based on that testimony Lohman recommended, pursuant to Turlock Municipal Code, that the dog be determined vicious and should be euthanized.
Mendonca believes, however, that the Turlock Police Department didn’t give him a fair shake during the hearing.
A request to have an animal behavioral analyst examine Bolt for signs of aggression was denied by Animal Services, he said, as it may have put the analyst in danger. Lewis was unable to confirm or deny that Mendonca’s request had been denied.
Mendonca says he’s doing all he can to prove he can safely own his dogs. He moved out of Turlock, to Modesto. He built kennels to keep the dogs in when visitors are over. And he purchased muzzles to use while the dogs are in public.
But Mendonca says his efforts were ignored, and that he was characterized as a bad dog owner. That’s despite a community petition drive, collecting more than 1,000 signatures from friends and family in support of Mendonca and Bolt.
Mendonca has hired a lawyer to appeal the decision. The legal work is expected to cost as much as $6,000.
But it’s worth it, Mendonca said. He’s sad every time he goes to the shelter and sees his once proud, immaculately groomed dog now dirty and lonely.
”They’re like my kids,” Mendonca said.