The dogs euthanized over the weekend after killing an 81-year-old man and mauling three others had bitten people before, but because previous victims declined to file additional paperwork with Animal Care Services, the department could not require the owner follow additional safety measures, an ACS spokeswoman said Monday.
Lisa Norwood told the San Antonio Report that the department follows state law when it comes to dangerous dogs, and that after a dog bite report is made, the victim or witness must file a notarized “dangerous dog” affidavit with the department before it can launch an investigation.
If a dog is then found to be dangerous but the owner would like to keep it, the owner must agree to keep the dog in an enclosure, purchase a $100,000 liability insurance policy and keep the dog muzzled outside of the enclosure, among other requirements set by the state.
If a victim chooses not to file the affidavit, however, the department’s hands are tied, Norwood said — even if, as in this most recent case, a dog has bitten more than once. Only if an ACS employee sees an attack can the department launch its own investigation, she said.
Norwood said she understands why some people might be hesitant to file the necessary paperwork, given that they may be asked to testify in court. Some might also worry a neighbor could retaliate against them for reporting the incident, she said.
Heather Ginsburg, a District 9 resident, posted a YouTube video Sunday describing why she believes that process is not enough to protect residents.
“This incident was completely preventable,” Ginsburg said in her video. “Dangerous dogs are released to their owners all the time,” she added.
Ginsburg said she was moved to record the video after learning of the Feb. 24 death of Ramon Najera and the injuries to his wife and two others who tried to stop the attack, and wanted to share her own story.
Ginsburg said she and her husband filed a total of three dangerous dog affidavits after she was attacked on two occasions. She only learned about that option from an email she received from an ACS bite investigator, and worried that many in San Antonio who don’t have access to email may not know that they must file the affidavit to launch a fuller investigation.
Norwood said when a case meets the legal threshold for a dangerous dog, an ACS officer will let the victim or witness know they can file a dangerous dog affidavit in person, via phone or email.
Very few victims or witnesses do so, however.
In fiscal 2022, 3,592 bites were reported to ACS, Norwood said. Of those, 308 affidavits were submitted. All were investigated, she said. Currently, 111 dogs are designated as dangerous by the city and remain with their owners, Norwood said.
In her YouTube video, Ginsburg said she suffered a bite to her right lower calf as she was trying to get in her car. The bite resulted in a puncture wound, laceration, bruising and pain, according to the affidavit, and her car suffered more than $1,400 in damages from the dogs’ scratches.
“I’m glad it was my car and not me, my daughter or my dog,” Ginsburg said. “I was lucky because I got away.”
Ginsburg said that after she and her husband filed the affidavits and an investigation concluded, ACS determined that four dogs were deemed dangerous, but all were returned to their owners after the required quarantine period.
She said the dogs continued to escape their enclosure and “terrorize” her family.
Norwood said she couldn’t speak to Ginsburg’s situation because she was unfamiliar with the details.
In last week’s case, at least two of the three dogs that had bitten before went through the state-mandated 10-day quarantine before being released back to their owner, Christian Alexander Moreno.
Moreno, 31, was arrested Friday on multiple felony charges, including attack by dangerous dog resulting in death, a second degree felony and injury to an elderly person by omission or negligence, a state jail felony.
His wife, Abilene Moreno, told KENS5 on Sunday that her husband was “not responsible” for Najera’s death. She said the couple wasn’t home at the time of the attack, but they had harnessed, tethered and locked the dogs behind the gate before they left.
Per state law, for a dog to be designated as dangerous, the attack must have occurred off the owner’s secured property, must have been unprovoked, caused bodily injury and must have caused a person to believe the animal would do it again, Norwood said.
After a dangerous dog affidavit is filed, the ACS director can call for the seizure and impoundment of dogs involved as a precaution to public safety.
Ginsburg said in her case, just one of four dogs was taken away. Additionally, she said she was told by ACS to take photos and videos every time the dogs were out of the enclosure. Yet doing so increased her risk of being attacked again, she said.
Norwood said that while it’s necessary to have as much evidence as possible to hold irresponsible owners accountable, ACS would never ask a resident to do something they feel uncomfortable or unsafe doing.
“When somebody calls 311, Norwood said, “we always ask for as complete information as possible, and if that includes evidence, such as pictures or video, that’s obviously something that’s going to bolster the case.”
“This incident was completely preventable,” Ginsburg said in her video. “These dogs had a documented history of being aggressive and biting people on at least two other occasions. Kind of like the dog that bit me.”