Editorial: Get it together, Sonoma County Animal Services

Following two violent and heartbreaking incidents this summer, both of which seemed preventable, the county must investigate its Animal Services department.|

If you didn’t read Phil Barber’s heartbreaking story in The Press Democrat in July about a horse that was slowly killed by a vicious dog, the details are almost too terrible to stomach. For months, neighbors watched as a German shepherd harassed the increasingly emaciated horse, who could barely eat because the dog would not allow it.

“Day after day, for hours at a time, the German shepherd chased a paint horse around the property at the northeast corner of the intersection. The dog would bark and nip at the horse. The horse would kick and paw the ground, then attempt to flee. On and on and on it went,” Barber wrote.

Witnesses repeatedly contacted Sonoma County Animal Services, who seemingly failed to take the complaints seriously. Finally, on July 10, the horse could fight no more. After being taken to the ground by the dog, “The exhausted horse thrashed and shrieked, but was unable to repel a dog that was pouncing ‘like a lion on an elk’... Nothing could halt the attack. A veterinarian wound up euthanizing the horse that day.”

There was understandable outrage that more wasn’t done to protect the horse. At least 15 reports were made about the dog, sparking multiple visits by officials. But despite these warnings, no one had control over the vicious animal, and the horse’s fate was sealed by inaction.

At the same time, a similar story was playing out on Sonoma’s Sierra Drive. As you can see in our coverage this week, two pitbulls named Mac and Maggie had been terrorizing the neighborhood since at least 2018, when records indicate the first complaint was filed. Over the years, at least 11 reports were made about the dogs being violent toward other animals and human beings.

But it was only after a man was severely mauled on June 5 -- injuries that required six hours of surgery -- before the dogs were removed from the premises. They now wait at Animal Services, with a trial date on Sept. 20 to determine if the dogs should be destroyed.

As one Sierra Drive witness told a county investigator, “What is it going to take for something more to be done? Does someone need to die?”

The June 5 attack on a Sonoma man could have been prevented. The poor, terrorized horse could have been saved. There was ample evidence that intervention was warranted, and the lack of action leaves a trail of blood on the county’s hands.

Why aren’t clearly vicious dogs better contained? Why must there be so many attacks before something is done? And how can we make sure no one -- human or animal -- suffers a similar yet preventable fate?

The tragedies demand that the county thoroughly investigate its Animal Services department and require changes to its protocols -- anything less would be inhumane.

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