The City of San Antonio is ramping up punishment for owners of dangerous dogs in the wake of a mauling that killed an 81-year-old man last month, according to a March 14 memo from City Manager Erik Walsh.
Instead of issuing a civil citation to the owner of a dog that bites a person, the city now plans to issue criminal citations if the bite occurs while the dog was off-leash and not on the owner’s property.
Animal Care Services is working with the municipal courts to schedule compliance hearings for owners of 45 dogs that have already been deemed dangerous but have not met the requirements to keep them, such as retaining insurance coverage and submitting to annual inspections to make sure the dogs are properly confined.
“In response to the incident on Feb. 24, 2023, [Animal Care Services] and municipal courts have worked in tandem to enhance enforcement to mitigate the hazards of bites, dangerous dogs and aggressive animals,” the memo to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council members reads.
In addition to the immediate changes, the city is considering implementing a new program aimed at addressing “nuisance properties” that receive a large number of complaints about the same pet owners.
Over the course of three years the city says 156 calls were made to the city and police complaining about activities at the Depla Street home of Christian Alexander Moreno, the owner of the dogs that attacked Ramon Najera Jr. and his wife Feb. 24.
The dogs have since been euthanized, and Moreno and his wife, Abigail Schnieder, were arrested and face 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.
“Most of the calls [to the Depla Street home] were low-level priority calls but, in aggregate, they point to a larger community safety concern,” Walsh stated in the memo.
“These high-volume call residential addresses are already taking time away from city departments to address,” the memo reads. “Addressing these problem locations will keep our police and quality-of-life personnel free to respond to other calls.”
The new high-volume mitigation program will be modeled after the city’s Dangerous Assessment Response Team, according to the memo, and details will be presented at a City Council meeting on April 5.
Meanwhile, Najera’s visitation and rosary were scheduled for Wednesday, with a funeral Mass set for Thursday. Najera, an Air Force veteran, will be buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery with military honors.
His widow, Juanita Najera, has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the dogs’ owners, alleging their negligence caused Najera’s death and her injuries.
The Najeras had been visiting friends who lived on the same Westside street as Moreno and Schnieder when the dogs attacked them. The dogs had bitten people previously, but because the earlier victims did not file additional paperwork with Animal Care Services, the department said it could not require the owner to follow additional safety measures.
Reporter Raquel Torres contributed to this article.