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Ruling in horse mauling death expected Wednesday
One dog vicious, other in limbo
The fate of a dog tied to the mauling death of a horse should be decided Wednesday.
If Mackenzie the pit bull is declared vicious, as her companion Pano was, she could be sent away to a rescue organization. If the rescue option does not pan out, the dog could be euthanized.
Judge Yolanda Torok wrapped up Mackenzie's vicious dog hearing Tuesday in Yuma Justice Court with the conclusion that Pano be destroyed and that she would have a ruling on Mackenzie today.
Mackenzie and Pano are the two dogs seized after a quarter horse named Spud was attacked in his pen earlier this month at his Foothills home. The dogs, who belong to neighbors, had gotten out of their yard and squeezed through the bars of Spud's stall. Charles Knowlton, one of Spud's caretakers, found the horse on the ground, Pano gnawing on its flesh and Mackenzie hovering nearby. The elderly horse suffered such extensive injuries that a veterinarian euthanized him that night.
Deputy county attorney Theresa Fox argued that Mackenzie was aggressive as well and might not be so docile outside of her cage at the Humane Society of Yuma, where she and Pano have been kept since being seized a few days after the incident.
“Mackenzie may not be as vicious as Pano, but she is still vicious,” she said.
Witnesses established Pano as an aggressor and defense attorney Mike Smith conceded that the male dog was vicious. His fight Tuesday was to protect Mackenzie, saying there was no evidence that she also physically attacked Spud. Witnesses called to testify couldn't report seeing Mackenzie actually physically engaging with Spud or that she had blood on her face, both things that could be said about Pano.
A video played during the proceedings showed large punctures, broad patches of exposed muscle and pendulous strips of flesh hanging from Spud's sorrel coat.
Farrell Balentine, Spud's owner, said that the dogs' owners have not showed responsibility in keeping the dogs contained.
“There are no winners here,” said Balentine. “It's a sad situation for all the animals involved.”
Spud died on Nov. 5, a few hours after Knowlton went outside to investigate frantic whinnying in the stalls of his property at Shadow Avenue and Spur Drive. Other horses were the ones creating the ruckus and kicking up dust. Spud was on the ground in his pen, quiet, while Pano calmly “chewed” on him and Mackenzie stood close by. Knowlton said Spud was trying to get up and appeared to be pleading silently.
“The look in his eye is like, help me,” he said.
After some yelling and banging around, Knowlton got the dogs away from the horse and they trotted away, with Pano tossing aside Knowlton's own little dog as he left. Knowlton followed the dogs in his car and saw the owner grab the animals and put him in his truck. The owner then took them home.
Spud was a short quarter horse, standing about 14.1 or 14.2 hands high – but that's still roughly four and a half feet tall, and he weighed 850 to 900 pounds. A cutting horse in his younger days, Spud had become part of the area 4-H program. He was kept at the home of Knowlton and his wife, Carolyn, and was known as a horse that was gentle and kind and often used to teach children how to ride.
Yuma County Animal Control officer William Whitley said he arrived on scene to find Spud upright but limping, covered in lacerations and punctures and shaking, possibly out of fear or shock. The wounds were too numerous to count.
“Normally I would document it but there was just too many to be able to document,” he said.
Veterinarian Dr. Tené Miller, who tended to Spud, said she has treated horses with similar trauma in the past and they took 10 months or a year to heal. She said it was more humane to put the horse down.
“This is a huge chunk of flesh that has been pulled down off the horse's forearm,” she said when holding up one of the enlarged color photos showing the gaping, raw wounds to his belly, neck, shoulder, hip and face in detail. “You see the little piece of flesh hanging that's supposed to be up here. There's a piece missing – this does not fit, so he (the dog) ate some of the skin.”
Miller also suggested that because there were so many wounds about the horse, especially puncture marks on his lower legs, that two dogs attacked him. She added that she didn't think only one dog could have brought him down.
Whitley said that he approached the dogs at their home after the Spud incident, he noted that the male dog had a small amount of blood on his mouth. He also said the dogs' owner didn't seem surprised.
“He actually... admitted that both of them had attacked another horse a year ago, and he stated that he didn't understand why his dogs liked to attack horses,” he said.
Smith asked Whitley to define “attack,” asking if a dog chasing a car or cat is also “attacking.” Members of the audience, about 30 strong, murmured that the line of questioning was “ridiculous,” drawing an admonition from Torok to refrain from commentary.
Shawn Smith, executive director of the Humane Society, said that Mackenzie would not be adopted out under the circumstances, and that the only option would be for her to be surrendered to a rescue group that is fully aware of her background – although he did say that “in our care, she was docile.”
Fox asked that Mackenzie be turned over to an approved pit bull rescue outside of Yuma County. If this could not be done within 10 calendar days, she asked that the dog be humanely destroyed.
She offered letters signed by neighbors who could not attend the hearing saying they don't want Mackenzie back in their neighborhood.