Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
There was no dispute at a criminal hearing Wednesday in Metro Court that 95-pound Kera, a Rottweiler, broke out of her dog crate on May 6, went through a bedroom door and out two exterior doors of a Four Hills Village home before she spied a neighbor walking her terrier mix on a leash and attacked.
Metro Court Judge Rosemary Cosgrove-Aguilar wasn’t swayed by defense arguments that the dog, not owner Mary Lou Cochran, was responsible for being unleashed and at large that day, but the judge found no deliberate recklessness on Cochran’s part.
All involved expressed sympathy for terrier mix’s owner, Betty Reeves, who found her 11-pound dog had been skinned alive in the attack. The dog, named Angel, was euthanized several days later, when it became clear she wouldn’t recover.
After the attack, Mayor Richard Berry said he was instructing staff to find ways to strengthen the city’s dangerous-dog law. Officials said last week that process is ongoing.
After hearing testimony on Wednesday, the judge found Cochran guilty of violating city leash laws. The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office didn’t press for jail time – up to 90 days – or a fine of up to $500.
Cosgrove-Aguilar suspended the sentence, and all parties, including the judge, struggled to find ways to prevent such a “devastating event” from happening again.
“It was a tragic confluence of events,” Cosgrove-Aguilar said. “It was a day where everything that could go wrong did go wrong.”
The judge warned Cochran to ensure “it won’t happen again.’
“Kera can’t get loose,” Cosgrove-Aguilar said, “or it could be disastrous for anybody.”
At the urging of prosecutors, the judge ordered Cochran to install a heavy security door with a deadbolt in the home on Wagon Train SE.
The city Animal Welfare Department has inspected the home to ensure the dog is securely kept, as required by the city’s law governing dogs that have killed other animals.
And the city ordered dangerous-dog signs posted outside the home, but prosecutors and Reeves told the judge they were far from adequate.
Reeves testified she wants others walking by the house to beware.
“All I want is some signage that you can see as you approach the house. … You would have to walk up onto the property, and if there was a dangerous dog there, it would be too late.”
Cochran testified she wouldn’t give up her family pet of six years. And though the city declared Kera a “dangerous dog” in a related administrative proceeding, the city had no prior record of attacks by Kera, who is about 7 years old, so a permanent seizure hasn’t been sought.
However, prosecutors noted on Wednesday that another neighbor in 2009 was walking her two poodles in front of the home when the Rottweiler accosted them and bit one of the dogs. The Cochrans paid the veterinary bills, and the woman never filed a formal complaint with the city.
“This is a terrible day for everyone,” Cosgrove-Aguilar said before ruling. The judge, who noted she herself is a pet owner, said the court ordering training for a dog of Kera’s age and with her aggressive nature would be futile.
Cochran testified that she and her husband were “distracted” that morning before the attack because they were taking another ill family Rottweiler to an emergency veterinary clinic because it could no longer walk.
“It was kind of like one of the worst days of my life,” Cochran testified.
She said Kera was “an escape artist” who got out of a locked crate in the master bedroom that day. Normally, Cochran said, she also would have closed the bedroom door, but she didn’t that day. And the front door wasn’t properly closed, enabling the dog to gain access to the screen door, which was apparently pushed open.
Cochran reimbursed Reeves for the veterinary bills related to the attack and said she has apologized to Reeves, who lives several blocks away.
Reeves testified she was taking her little dog for a morning walk when she came upon the Rottweiler, which was loose in front of the Cochrans’ home.
The bigger dog attacked and had the little dog in its mouth at one point. But Angel squeezed out of her harness and ran for home with the bigger dog following.
Thomas Carrion, who lives across the street from the Cochrans, testified Wednesday that he tried to help after seeing the little dog running away. Carrion got into his car, picked up a distraught Reeves and drove around to look for Angel.
When they pulled up to her home and found Angel on the doorstep, Carrion tore off his T-shirt to wrap around the little dog’s body. Angel was taken to a veterinarian.
Carrion said Wednesday that he was aware of another instance in the past year in which the same dog got out of the Cochran house. Carrion said he was on the sidewalk talking to Cochran’s husband, Jim Cochran, when the dog came out the front door “and took off running down the street.”
Reeves said after the ruling that she was “terribly disappointed” at some of the judge’s statements.
“I just keep replaying it over and over in my head. I just felt she (the judge) had so much sympathy for her (Cochran). And I’m thinking, ‘All I did was go for a walk.’
“I think the judge missed the point. If the person who lives with the dog leaves the door open, it won’t matter how many doors you have up, security or not.”