Littlerock is one of those small Antelope Valley towns that melt into the desert, a place of few people but many dogs. Houses surrounded by chain-link fences bear “no trespassing” and “beware of dog” signs. A chorus of barks and growls greets passersby.
Numerous strays also roam the desert. Residents say Littlerock has become a dumping ground for unwanted dogs.
“A car will come down the street at 40 mph, slow down and a door will open,” said longtime resident David Cleveland. “A dog will be pushed out. It will tumble once or twice and let out a yelp, and then the car will take off.”
The dogs then head for the desert, where they meet other strays, Cleveland said. “And when you have five to seven of them in a group — that is a very dangerous situation.”
For years, residents in Littlerock and other towns in the High Desert have complained about stray and vicious dogs. Then a woman was fatally mauled by a pack of pit bulls May 9, resulting in murder charges against the dogs’ owner this week. Now, both residents and Los Angeles County officials are vowing to finally do something about the problem.
Neighbors say they carry sticks, rocks and even guns to shoo away the animals.
“You just have to do whatever you can to get them away,” Carolyn Eslick said.
Statistics on dog attacks in the Antelope Valley were not available Friday. But the woman’s mauling death is the latest of several high-profile incidents. In April, a jogger suffered serious injuries after two pit bulls escaped their yard in Palmdale. In December, a 6-year-old boy visiting family in Lake Los Angeles was airlifted to an area hospital after a dog attacked him in his front yard.
Marcia Mayeda, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, said the area tends to have more problems with dogs running loose than elsewhere in the county. But she did not believe there was a disproportionate number of dog attacks.
“The challenge with the Antelope Valley is there’s a lot more rural areas where people will allow their dogs to run loose,” she said. “We’re understaffed and the territory is just immense.”
Los Angeles County set up a special unit to process cases of potentially dangerous dogs in January 2012. Since then, the unit has handled more than 300 cases stemming from serious dog attacks countywide.
Animal control officials have come under criticism in the wake of the death of Pamela Devitt, who was taking her morning walk when she was attacked.
According to authorities, the man who owned the pit bulls has a long history of problems. Over the last few years, his dogs have attacked humans, horses and even a pack of emus, according to Los Angeles County prosecutors and the Sheriff’s Department. The man, Alex Donald Jackson, was charged with murder on Thursday in connection with Devitt’s death.
Some residents say the department is too slow in dealing with problem dogs.
“Animal Care and Control is a joke,” Cleveland said. “They don’t have the biggest budget, but they really are not very effective.”
In the wake of Devitt’s death, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich asked animal control officials to look at ways to strengthen the existing ordinance dealing with potentially dangerous dogs. His office has fielded numerous complaints about it, spokesman Tony Bell said.
“This has been an ongoing problem in the Antelope Valley with pit bulls and other vicious dogs attacking people, other pets, livestock,” Bell said.
The ordinance currently applies to dogs that have attacked and harmed people and domestic animals. Mayeda recommended also including dogs that have attacked livestock.
The department will also be asking for funding for more positions as part of the next budget, including assigning permanent staff to the unit that handles potentially dangerous dogs.
But residents of Littlerock have already taken matters into their own hands.
Kimberly Eslick said her kindergarten-age daughter isn’t allowed in the front yard alone anymore because of the dogs. Her family often wakes up to find stray dogs in the yard, she said, and one killed her cat.
Her mother-in-law, Carolyn Eslick, said her husband threw rocks at a dog to keep it away from their Chihuahua puppies a few weeks ago. People who ride horses down the street will often carry whips or sticks to keep the animals away, she said.
Cleveland said it was a smart idea to carry protection.
“If you’re going out and walking here alone, you’d need to carry more than a stick,” Cleveland said. “You’d need to pack a pistol.”
Jane Hammer does just that. She keeps a pistol with a hot-pink handle on a lanyard around her neck whenever she leaves her property. She has never had to fire the gun, but carries it “just in case something happens.”
“It’s just the idea of having the protection if you need it,” she said.
“More power to her,” Cleveland said. “She is a smart woman.”
Another resident, Robert Ryan, has fired a gun to scare a dog off. His son was walking home from school once, he said, and a pit bull wouldn’t let him get close to the house. Ryan grabbed a BB gun and fired, sending the animal running.
Kimberly Eslick said her husband complained once to a sheriff’s deputy. The response?
“Why don’t you just shoot them?”
Los Angeles County sheriff’s Capt. Don Ford said that many residents in the area keep guns to protect themselves and their livestock. He said that carrying a loaded firearm in public is generally illegal. But it’s common for people in Littlerock and nearby neighborhoods to carry sticks, golf clubs or pepper spray when they go for walks — just in case they have to fend off an aggressive dog.
“As far as use of the gun, if it’s for defense of yourself against an aggressive animal, you’re certainly allowed to defend yourself, absolutely,” he said. “That’s not our preferred option to shoot anything, whether it’s a dog or a human being. But if it’s in defense of your own safety, your children — certainly that’s an option that you have to consider.”