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‘I knew we were dead meat’

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

In the city’s upscale Four Hills Village, neighbors had an inkling about the dangerous dog that lives on Wagon Train Drive.

From behind a large picture window of the house, they would hear barking and the sound of dogs body-slamming the tempered glass.

Betty Reeves' dog Angel was 6 years old when she was fatally attacked by a neighborhood Rottweiler while on a walk. Reeves said she felt victimized again by the city's handling of the case. (Courtesy of Betty Reeves)

Betty Reeves’ dog Angel was 6 years old when she was fatally attacked by a neighborhood Rottweiler while on a walk. Reeves said she felt victimized again by the city’s handling of the case. (Courtesy of Betty Reeves)

“I used to pray that we could just get past this house,” said Betty Reeves, of the morning walks she would take with her terrier mix named Angel.

There was no turning back the morning of May 6 when Reeves, walking Angel on a leash, spotted a Rottweiler in the front yard of that home on Wagon Train.

“I knew then that we were dead meat. I knew it was all over.”

In the ensuing attack, the Rottweiler tore off Angel’s skin from the back to her stomach. The little dog was euthanized three days later.

Two months after the attack, Reeves says she is still reeling, not only from what happened to Angel, but from the way the city handled the subsequent “dangerous dog” case against the Rottweiler and its owners.

Reeves and four of her neighbors showed up at a scheduled administrative hearing on the case on June 19 before a city hearing officer.

One of those neighbors was prepared to testify that the Rottweiler attacked one of her two standard poodles six years earlier as they walked by the same Wagon Train house.

Though the woman never filed a report with the city’s Animal Welfare Department, she brought other records to try to show the Rottweiler was a repeat offender.

Four Hills Village resident Betty Reeves stands in front of the gate to her home, where her dog Angel was mauled by a neighborhood dog. Reeves, with contributions from neighbors, put up a memorial of flowers, stuffed toys and balloons to honor her pet, who was euthanized after the attack. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Four Hills Village resident Betty Reeves stands in front of the gate to her home, where her dog Angel was mauled by a neighborhood dog. Reeves, with contributions from neighbors, put up a memorial of flowers, stuffed toys and balloons to honor her pet, who was euthanized after the attack. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Under city ordinance, which happens to be named after a boy named Angel, dogs that inflict serious injury can be deemed dangerous, triggering certain restrictions and requirements on the dog’s owners. Owners themselves can also be found to be “irresponsible owners,” and could be banned from owning dogs.

But while Reeves and her neighbors were waiting for the hearing to begin that day, an assistant city attorney approached Reeves to say the matter had been decided and she could go home, she said.

An attorney representing the Rottweiler’s owners had worked out a plea deal so that the Rottweiler would be declared dangerous in exchange for the city dropping the “irresponsible owner” determination, she said.

“I couldn’t get anything out of my mouth, I was so stunned,” Reeves recalled. “How could you hear one side and not the other? I was never so upset.”

Escape a ‘fluke’

Brian Close, the lawyer who represented the dog’s owners, Marilou and James Cochran, said the city would have had problems proving his clients were irresponsible owners. He said the dog’s escape from the home was a “fluke.”

“We were willing to say, ‘We’re not here to argue that she’s dangerous. We’re willing to comply with Angel’s Law and here’s all the insurance and here’s what they’re going to do for remediation so this never happens again.’ We had a case that they’re not the type of owners that are anticipated by that (law),” Close said.

The assistant city attorney who handled the case, Nicholas Bullock, didn’t return a Journal phone call last week seeking comment.

“I feel like I’ve been victimized twice, once by the dog and now by the city,” Reeves said. “I want the dog out of my neighborhood. It’s gotten out of the house before. You can’t tell me it’s not going to happen again.”

Animal Welfare officials have said the dangerous dog law generally doesn’t allow the city to remove dogs that attack other pets or people because the animals are considered an owner’s personal property.

As of Sunday, the name of the dog, and its Wagon Train address, still wasn’t posted on the city’s Animal Welfare website – a requirement for dogs deemed dangerous.

City officials say they are considering ways to strengthen the 10-year-old law named for an Albuquerque boy who was mauled in 2004 while trying to protect his little sister from a dog attack.

One idea is to raise the $100,000 minimum liability insurance a dangerous dog owner must carry.

There’s still a pending criminal case against Marilou Cochran in Albuquerque’s Metro Court related to having an unleashed dog, which is a petty misdemeanor, Close said.

Marilou Cochran told the Journal last week that she reimbursed Reeves about $1,889 for veterinary bills and has apologized to her.

“The law doesn’t require us to give our dog up,” Marilou Cochran said. “The animal control officer never asked us to give our dog up. I love her to pieces. I know she did a horrible thing, but how do you turn your dog over and let them be killed? She would do anything for us.”

She said she recently lost another pet Rottweiler to cancer.

“I wish I could take back what happened, but I can’t,” she added.

Home known to others

Reeves said some people in the neighborhood weren’t surprised to hear where the attack occurred.

Reeves didn’t want to give out the address but told one neighbor the name of the street.

“She said, ‘Don’t tell me it was the house where the dogs hit against the window.’ Most everybody already knew the house.”

Mike Lucero, who rushed from his home that morning to help Reeves, also knows the Cochrans.

“It’s a horrible story all the way around,” he said.

According to an Animal Welfare report:

The Cochrans told a city animal welfare officer that they had accidentally left an exterior door open that morning in their haste to take their other sick Rottweiler to the vet. While they were gone, their Rottweiler named Kera broke out of her crate and got outside, according to an animal welfare report.

Since then, the Cochrans have installed a better lock/catch system on the exterior door, and added extra clasps to the crate where the dog stays when they aren’t home.

James Cochran is quoted in one city report as saying that he “is aware that his dog is animal aggressive, but fine with people.”

Cochran added that “he knows the dog is an escape artist,” the report stated.

Reeves said the picture window of Cochran’s home doesn’t allow people to see inside. Had she known the Rottweiler’s size, Reeves said she would have avoided the street altogether.

Lucero said, “I know there’s people in the neighborhood who are uncomfortable (with the Rottweiler still living at the house).”

“I hope these people (the Cochrans) are responsible,” Lucero added. “I hope they know the whole neighborhood’s eyes are on them.”

Angel’s wounds

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