A Riverside man accused of slitting the throat of a pit bull that attacked his poodle has been arrested on suspicion of animal cruelty. Both animals died.
The incident occurred in the 4900 block of Hollyhock Lane on Saturday morning, Christmas Eve. Witnesses told officials that a pit bull named Devo grabbed the poodle, named Spunky, in his jaws.
About 9:45 a.m., Devo's owner, Carina Garcia, encountered the poodle's owner, along with two neighbors, trying to extract the smaller animal from the pit bull's jaws. They eventually succeeded, but the poodle died soon after.
The poodle's owner, Rudy Jesus Barajas, then carried the pit bull away and stabbed the animal, apparently slashing his throat, authorities said. The dog ran back to his home and collapsed. The pit bull owner tried to rush her dog to a veterinary hospital for treatment, but the animal died en route.
Riverside police arrested Barajas, 30, on suspicion of felony animal cruelty. Barajas posted $10,000 bail and was released Christmas Day.
"We fully understand how upset someone can get when another person's pet attacks their dog," Riverside County Animal Services Director Robert Miller said in a news release. "But no one has the right to take matters into their own hands, as what is being alleged in this particular incident."
Miller said the episode illustrated the importance of keeping animals properly secured. "Tragic incidents, such as this one, can be better prevented when people have strong fences or tall walls or secure gates."
Pit bulls have a powerful predator instinct and can attack smaller dogs, even if the pit bulls are gentle to children and family members within their own homes, said John Welsh, the agency's senior public information specialist.
"They're going to go after smaller dogs," Welsh told The Times. "That's what they do. It doesn't necessarily make the dog a horrible dog. It may make you a horrible owner if the dog gets loose."
Welsh added: "Both owners have had their dogs off leash in the past, and that's always a recipe for disaster."
The pit bull's owner never received a citation, but animal control said it responded in September and April to reports that two pit bulls under the control of Garcia's then-boyfriend were roaming the street. The reports do not indicate whether Devo was one of the dogs, Welsh said.
Barajas, the owner of Spunky, a 10-month-old poodle mix, told officials that his dog was in its yard when Devo, a 2-year-old, attacked.
Raul Romero, Barajas' stepfather, told an investigator that the pit bull finally released the poodle when Barajas grabbed the dog by the neck. But then the pit bull tried to bite him. Barajas took the dog by the neck and dragged him to their residence, according to notes compiled by animal control Officer Max Morales.
Barajas' mother, Sandra Romero, defended her son.
"He's not a violent person," she told the Press-Enterprise. "He was only defending himself because the dog was trying to attack him or bite him."
Garcia's account is different. She said the Romeros screamed at her, told her they were going to kill her dog and urged their son to act on the threat.
"My dog did harm and I'm sorry for that," said Garcia, a 22-year-old college student who described Devo as gentle around the family's children. She said she realized that animal control might have ultimately decided to put down her dog, but "what that family did was not right."
California law allows a property owner to protect himself, his property and his pets from an animal, with lethal force if necessary. But the willful, unnecessary killing of another person's animal can result in prosecutions. The pit bull will have a necropsy to determine the cause of death.
Normally, animal control would have impounded the pit bull pending further investigation, Welsh said. The dog could have been destroyed if deemed dangerous.
Owners that let their animals roam unrestrained face citations that can run several hundred dollars. Civil lawsuits are also a potential outcome of serious altercations between animals, Welsh said.
Although incarceration is unusual, animal cruelty convictions sometimes result in prison sentences.
This month, a judge sentenced a Riverside County man to five years in state prison for fatally beating a 3-year-old terrier mix with a shovel and dumping the dog over a fence. The suspect had a prior record, which contributed to the length of the sentence, according to the animal control department.
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4:25 p.m.: The story was updated to include information from an interview with the owner of the pit bull.