LOCAL SPIN: Scary and Scarier
Alarming Salinas dog deaths distract from the real danger.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Here’s how Sunday nights work at my house: We eat dinner around 7:30pm. Our idiot dogs – a dyspeptic Jack Russell named Oliver and an exuberant Corgi mix named Lola – stand in the window and bark their fool heads off at anything that moves, in the hopes we’ll notice what good guard pups they are and toss them table scraps.
Every time a siren screams down East Alisal Street, my oldest and I shake our heads and repeat our favorite Steinbeck adage: There’s always something to do in Salinas. The teenagers scatter and hope we don’t notice the kitchen is a wreck and the garbage hasn’t been taken out. And then my husband and I slump over with the reality that tomorrow is Monday and we get to do it all over again.
That’s pretty much how it was going this Sunday night, only the teen who was home hadn’t scattered when the unmistakable sound of gunfire rang outside our front door. I heard three shots. A friend who rents the studio apartment in our house thinks he heard four. Another neighbor heard six. I did what any sensible journalist does upon hearing a weapon being discharged nearby – I opened the door to see what was going on.
A neighbor’s pit bull, a female named “Hugs,” was being shot to death by the police. She ran down our sidewalk, her chest awash in blood, and finally dropped in my front yard in front of the pomegranate bushes. The police probably know me as that woman in the orange T-shirt who was screaming, “Oh my God!” as they yelled at me to get back in my house.
THE SIGHT OF THAT DOG BLEEDING TAKES THE SURREAL CAKE.
So I went back in the house and proceeded to get hysterical. I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff in 20-plus years of journalism – entire houses floating away off the Outer Banks during a hurricane, Los Angeles police sending an “officer needs assistance” call from their own headquarters as protesters chucked concrete through the windows during the L.A. riots – but the sight of that dog bleeding out as she took her terrified last steps in my yard takes the surreal cake.
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” my youngest said before taking a frantic Lola upstairs.
I believe those officers, who Salinas Police spokesman Miguel Cabrera tells me all have dogs of their own, would have rather done anything Sunday night than kill that dog, or my neighbor’s other dog, which they shot a few blocks away in Bataan Park. They did so after the dogs, which had slipped out of my neighbor’s yard under a fence board that popped loose, attacked one dog and then killed a chihuahua elsewhere in the neighborhood. The pit bulls, they say, were out of control, lunging at people, and posed a threat to human life. Police and animal control tried for more than two hours to corral the dogs.
All the more sad, then, that a friend of mine who dropped in for dinner about an hour before the shooting told us about the pair of pit bulls she nearly coaxed into her car. She was luring them with treats, but they were spooked by a police car honking at her to move her vehicle, and ran off.
I also know my neighbor – a sweetheart of a guy named Louie Arrey who collects antiques, swears his house is haunted and has offered to give my kids baseball tips in the parking lot next to my house – would much rather his dogs hadn’t escaped, something they’d done a few times before, or attacked the other dogs, or been shot dead by the police.
And he’d rather not carry this weight with him now: “I’m being portrayed as a piece-of-shit dog owner,” he told me Monday as we looked at the bloodstains in my yard and on the sidewalk. The dogs had never been aggressive before.
The comments left on the websites of local media outlets bear out the scathing opinion some now hold of him. I talked to Gary Tiscornia, executive director of the Monterey County SPCA, about the whole sad situation.
“The public wants an easy answer, but it doesn’t exist. There are a lot of good people who don’t necessarily know how to raise their dogs,” Tiscornia says. “It’s a tragedy all the way around, but I can’t find fault with the way the officers acted. If I was an officer and a dog had killed another animal I would find it a risk to public safety.”
I admit I didn’t see the pit bulls attack the other dogs, and I didn’t see them lunging at anyone. But as for what I’d rather – I’d rather the police hadn’t opened fire on a fleeing animal on my residential street. Pockmarks in the concrete mark where bullets ricocheted to who knows where. I’m grateful who knows where wasn’t my living room window, or the house next door, where the blood trail begins.
Sunday night, Oliver and Lola each got an extra bedtime cookie. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll hose the bloodstains off of my sidewalk.
I think the smell of death so close to home is making them more anxious than usual.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com.