At least three encounters with aggressive dogs roaming streets near Palm Crest Elementary School have residents near the school on alert, and one of them pushing school and public-safety officials to take action.
Orchard Lane resident Roger Dahl said that on Oct. 30 he was confronted in front his home by three large, free-roaming dogs — one of which chased him up his own driveway until he repelled it with a walking stick.
Kim Chafin, who lives nearby on Palm Drive, said that a month prior to Dahl's encounter, she felt so threatened by two dogs loose at the corner of Palm and Orchard — one of which growled at her, the other coming close enough to lick her hand — that she flagged down a stranger's passing car and fled the scene in it.
And in a well-documented incident in June that caused a brief lockdown of the Palm Crest Elementary campus, one of Martha Peterson's dogs was bitten repeatedly and her own clothing tugged at by several large dogs as she walked her two small terriers past the school.
"To me, this is a life-threatening situation," said Dahl, 82, who immediately complained to Sheriff's Department and Animal Control officials regarding the Oct. 30 incident and has since penned letters to the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Department and Palm Crest Principal Karen Hurley calling for a neighborhood meeting or other intervention.
Hurley said she is aware of the June 9 incident in front of the school before her tenure there began, and wrote to Dahl this week recommending that he work with law enforcement officials to resolve the issue.
"We are taking every reasonable precaution to ensure the safety of our students at all times," Hurley wrote to Dahl.
Sheriff's Sgt. Tania Plunkett said a lieutenant handled Dahl's emergency call and reported the incident to animal-control officers, but investigations of animal-related concerns are under the authority of animal-control officers with the Pasadena Humane Society.
None of the incidents resulted in an actual bite to a person. Common to each encounter is that two dogs hang back from close contact with the people involved while another dog is quick to approach.
Though Dahl suspects that all three incidents relate to dogs kept at a Palm Drive home facing Orchard Lane, a Pasadena Humane Society spokeswoman said there is not enough information to say whether any of these incidents are related.
"When we went out [on Oct. 30] we didn't see anything," the Pasadena Humane Society's Hillary Gatlin said, adding that investigators encountered a local woman who had two dogs safely on a leash and another confined at home, but did not give a name. "We don't know if these are the same dogs or different dogs, but our officer wasn't able to find any wrongdoing."
Dr. Kathryn Shaw, who keeps three mixed-breed dogs in her home at the corner of Palm and Orchard, has been confronted by Dahl, but says her dogs were secured with her at the time of his encounter.
Dahl suspects that the dogs he confronted belong to Shaw because Chaffee's confrontation with two dogs happened in front of Shaw's home and because, he said, it was Shaw's dogs that in June got loose before attacking Peterson's terrier on the street in front of Palm Crest Elementary.
"I would never deny what happened in June, but those weren't my dogs [Oct. 30]," said Shaw of Dahl's concerns.
Shaw said the dogs got loose in June because a person who was house-sitting for her failed to properly secure the gate.
"To say it was unfortunate would be an understatement," said Shaw. "I'm a good citizen. I grew up in that house. I don't trivialize the significance of being a responsible pet owner."
Shaw immediately contacted Peterson to apologize and pay her dog's vet bills, both said.
Animal control officers did not cite Shaw for the June incident.
"It was an accident, and we understand that happens occasionally," said Gatlin.
Shaw said she has kept her dogs inside her home or the backyard since Dahl confronted her in a way that she described as less than neighborly and asked to view her dogs, a request she denied.
"I understand [Dahl's] concern for others. I respect that immensely," said Shaw. But, "If somebody said your dogs should stop barking or they need to be shot, what would you think?"
"I told her, 'I know animals. I'm a hunter,'" said Dahl. "These dogs were demonstrating vicious [behavior] and will attack people and should be dealt with in a severe manner. That dog would have knocked me down."
Dahl said the three dogs who came toward him up his driveway on Oct. 30 "were in a frenzy of some sort, snarling. Two of them stopped, but a third kept coming at full speed."
Dahl said the approaching dog came close enough that he repelled it by jabbing his walking stick into its mouth.
Chaffee said her dog encounter occurred when she was out walking and noticed two dogs loose near an open gate to Shaw's home.
"The dogs started barking and growling. I got scared and started screaming [for them to stay away]. One stood in the driveway growling, with its tail down and ears back. The smaller one, which looked like a pit bull, came right up to my leg. It was barking, but not growling. It rubbed on my leg and licked my fingertips. I ended up getting into a complete stranger's [passing] car just to be able to get out of the area," said Chafin, who said she reported the incident to the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station and now carries as police-style baton for protection when walking her neighborhood.
Dahl also described two of the dogs that confronted him as being at least part pit bull, and Peterson identified at least one pit bull or pit bull mix.
Peterson, 63, said he saw three mixed-breed dogs and what appeared to be a Labrador Retriever roaming in front of Palm Crest Elementary and crossed the street away from the school to avoid them.
"Next thing I know I felt something tugging at my pants. It looked like a pit bull. I yelled out, said 'go away.' The dog looked at me and growled. My dog was a little bit ahead of me and came back," Peterson said, explaining she was carrying the other, a puppy. "The other dogs pounced on him and dragged him out in the street and I still had the leash on my wrist. They mangled the dog. I'm not sure who called the Sheriff's, but two students from La Cañada High ran out and pulled me into their house."
The terrier who was attacked underwent veterinary treatment for bites to the neck and abdomen, said Peterson.
"I can still picture him because I have nightmares," Peterson said of the tan-and-white dog that approached her. "After the incident, I won't go out by myself to walk my dogs."
Shaw's house was quiet with no signs of dogs this week as dozens of Palm Crest Elementary students walked by. Two students said they recall occasionally see one or two dogs barking or growling behind the fence as they pass. David, a sixth grader, said he saw one loose from behind the fence once before.
Shaw said that she only allows her dogs in the front yard while she's at home to supervise them.
"There are at least 100 kids that pass by every day," said Dahl, "and if those dogs will attack me as an adult, what would prevent them from attacking children? I just hope that nobody gets hurt."