City tightens dog bite policy after fatal mutilation


San Antonio residents whose dogs have been deemed “dangerous” or picked up at least twice for biting someone will soon be visited by animal care services.

San Antonio is also toughening up its response to dog bites.

The new policy, outlined by City Manager Erik Walsh, says Animal Care Services will issue criminal citations instead of civil penalties to any dog ​​owner whose unrestrained animal leaves their property and bites a victim. Dogs in such cases will be quarantined for 10 days to be monitored for rabies.

A dog owner whose animal bites someone while on the owner’s property will be issued a civil citation.

Previously, animal control officials had the discretion to issue a civil citation or a criminal citation in such cases. But the city has taken a tougher approach since Ramon Najera Jr. was killed Feb. 24 in an attack that forced San Antonio firefighters to wield axes and poles at the dogs.

The dog assault on Najera was so vicious that the animals would have been put down had the police arrived before the firefighters, Walsh said this week. But the firefighters had to take matters into their own hands since they arrived first.

“Most pet owners take great care of their pets,” Walsh said in a memo outlining the enforcement policy changes to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council this week. “However, irresponsible pet owners must be held accountable.”

The board is due to discuss the animal care services strategic plan at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday at 2 p.m.

LEARN MORE: Neighbors describe a family’s reign of terror that ended with the death of Ramon Najera Jr.

The dogs that killed Najera emerged from their yard in the 2800 block of Depla Street and grabbed Najera and his wife, Janie, 74, as they visited a friend who lives next door to the animals . The couple were attacked on their friend’s property. Two other victims who tried to stop the bloodshed, including a San Antonio fire captain, were also bitten by the dogs.

A harrowing 53-second video of the mutilation showed Najera trying to run away and screaming for help as one of the dogs continued to bite him and ripped out a dialysis shunt.

The owners of the dogs – Christian Alexander Moreno, 31, and his wife, Abilene Schnieder Moreno, 31 – are still being held in Bexar County Jail, charged with dangerous dog attack causing death and injury to a person old. Both charges are criminal offences.

Three of their dogs were euthanized after the mutilation.

Najera’s wife has since taken legal action against the dog owners and one of their relatives, Carlos Moreno, owner of the Depla Street house where they lived. She is seeking damages of more than $1 million.

Neighbors described a reign of terror dog owners waged on the block when they moved to Depla Street in 2020. In the three years they lived there, San Antonio’s 911 system received 114 family-related calls, while the city’s 311 phone system received 42 calls, Walsh said.

Family dogs accounted for only a portion of those calls. Other complaints included fireworks, loud music, gunshots, abandoned vehicles and reports of “wanted people”.

EDITORIAL: After Dog Mutilation, Changes Needed in ACS Policy, State Law

Since the fatal mutilation, San Antonio city officials have been discussing how to more effectively deal with biting stray dogs and their owners.

Texas is a strong state when it comes to property rights and dogs are considered personal property. Animal care services must follow state law when seizing dangerous dogs or enforcing city codes.

“There is a very high standard for removing someone’s personal property and an even higher standard for destroying that property,” ACS Director Shannon Sims said.

Nevertheless, dangerous dogs will come under closer scrutiny by animal care services in the weeks and months to come.

Of the 103 San Antonio city limit dogs already designated as ‘dangerous’, more than half – 60 in total – are currently not in compliance with state law, care service officials said. To animals. The city will hold compliance hearings to resolve those cases in city court over the next few months, Walsh said.

“We need to bring that compliance into compliance,” Walsh told the Express-News editorial board this week.


City officials have also identified 139 home addresses in San Antonio where dogs have been quarantined two or more times for biting someone. Animal control officers inspect each of these properties to make sure these dogs are properly restrained and their enclosures are secure, Walsh’s memo says.

ACS officers are searching city records for any previous reports of dog bites or aggressive dogs in the areas surrounding these 139 homes. And they will visit neighbors in those areas to ask if they have any concerns about the dogs and their owners.

“Are these dogs chasing people?” says Walsh. “Are they off the premises? And what should we do in this area? »

Meeting neighbors is a lesson the city learned from the Depla Street dog attack, Walsh said.

ACS should complete this work within a week and a half.

Walsh said he doesn’t yet know if new city ordinances will be needed to crack down on dangerous stray dogs and their owners.

“We might need some extra help in terms of the order on the enforcement part,” Walsh said. “Because ultimately you’re going to have to paint that corner… There’s got to be an escalation in terms of actual application.”

Placing a lien on residential property could be one such enforcement tool, he suggested.

ACS has also identified “high density areas” for critical calls regarding dog bites and aggressive dog behavior. Animal control officers will meet with dog owners in these areas to ensure their animals are restrained and do not pose a threat to their neighborhood.

If officers find loose dogs in these “hotspots”, the owners will be cited. Dog owners could also receive a ticket if their animals are not spayed or neutered or if the animals are not up to date on their rabies vaccinations.

ACS can retrieve a dog accused of biting someone and quarantine the animal for 10 days. But if the agency doesn’t receive a dangerous dog affidavit from a bite victim or direct witness within that 10-day period, the owner can pay the costs necessary to retrieve the dog.

“If after those 10 days I don’t have an affidavit or sworn statement … I am obligated by state law to return this animal” to the owner, Sims said. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s the first bite or the second bite. I can increase the cost of retrieving the animal. But I can’t deny them the opportunity to retrieve that animal.

“It could literally be a revolving door if we never get that affidavit.”

ACS investigates between 3,500 and 4,000 dog bites per year. The Animal Control Agency receives an average dangerous dog affidavit every day.

In the week following the dog attack that killed Najera, ACS saw “a huge spike” in the number of dangerous dog affidavits filed by the public, Sims said.

More and more people are voluntarily surrendering their dogs to the animal control agency because they fear their pets may be aggressive.

Much of the problem comes down to the personal liability of dog owners, Sims said.

“It’s impossible for us to be everywhere all the time, making sure people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “Eighty percent of animal problems in San Antonio could be solved with one simple step – people take responsibility and keep their pet on the property. Spaying or neutering their pet would be a close second.

“Dogs aren’t born bad. You must invest in the socialization of this animal. You can’t string them up there and just leave them,” he said. “If you’re going to have a pet, it’s an investment of your time, just like kids. If you can’t invest that time, you’ll get what you pay for.

City officials are also developing a “Good Neighbor Program” to address residential properties that have prompted numerous 911 calls and 311 reports, such as the Morenos’ home on Depla Street. The initiative will involve multiple city agencies, including ACS, code enforcement, police and fire departments, neighborhood housing services and social services.

Animal control officials occasionally come across “sound deafness” in some dog owners, which can be “a little infuriating,” Sims said.

“That’s the struggle – making people understand that it’s never okay for your pet to be off your property. I don’t care how good he is. Everyone says ‘My dog ​​doesn’t bite. “”, did he declare. “You don’t know what your dog is going to do. And if he has teeth, he can bite.”

[email protected] | Twitter: @Peggy_OHare

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