A leisurely walk through south Baker City neighborhoods with her elderly dog turned into a nightmare for Karen Spencer Sunday afternoon.
Gizmo, Spencer’s 13-year-old schnauzer, was enjoying Sunday’s sunshine as much as she was as the two strolled south on Foothill Drive about 2 p.m. A man was playing catch with his son while another was working on his car in the driveway.
The nightmare began a few moments later when a large pit bull ran out from the driveway and gripped Gizmo in its jaws.
“As soon as the dog saw us he attacked,” Spencer said. “There was no stopping him.”
And she had no opportunity to even try.
“The dog ripped the leash and my dog out of my hand,” Spencer said.
The dog’s owner, Branden Baltzell, 24, of Lakewood, Washington, and his friend did their best to separate the two dogs, she said. Baltzell was over the top of his dog trying to pull him off Gizmo, and his friend was pulling the dog’s jaws apart to get him to loosen his grip on her dog.
The schnauzer had no chance to even try to fight if he’d have wanted to, Spencer said.
The larger dog bit through Gizmo’s left shoulder, and then grabbed him by the throat, belly and neck.
“It was horrific,” Spencer said. “I turned away when the dog grabbed Gizmo by the belly.”
She said the dog owner’s friend was bitten in the abdomen and on the arm in trying to wrestle the pit bull, which she estimated to weigh about 100 pounds, away from her 18-pound schnauzer.
Neighbors from across the street helped Spencer tend to her dog. She used the man’s phone to dial 9-1-1 to summon police and the woman drove her home so she could get Gizmo to the veterinarian’s office, she said.
Dr. Matt Kerns at the Baker Animal Clinic treated Gizmo Sunday afternoon to make him comfortable and then operated on him Monday morning. The dog was stitched up and was able to go home Monday night accompanied by prescriptions for pain medication and a two-week supply of antibiotics.
Baker City Police officers who responded — Sgt. Mike Reagan and John Parsons — initially told Spencer that there was no enforcement action that could be taken against the dog’s owner because he lives in Washington. Spencer could, however, consider filing a civil suit against the dog owner, they said.
Spencer couldn’t believe that the responsibility for any resolution to the harm another’s person’s dog had done to her family pet fell solely to her.
“I was on a city street in the city limits with my dog on a leash and my dog was attacked,” she said. “I think it is a public safety issue.”
She took her concerns to Police Chief Ray Duman Monday morning and though he offered to do what he could, he didn’t give her much more hope for a good resolution than what she’d received from the officers.
She said Duman advised her to speak to the City Council about developing a revised ordinance to address how to handle cases involving dogs that are brought into the community as visitors and then return to their homes even though complaints have been made about them for actions that happen in Baker City.
Duman, who has been in the role of chief since July 1, said Tuesday that upon taking a second look at the ordinance he believes it can be used to address Spencer’s concerns after all.
“We will be going forward on the criteria of the ordinance,” he said.
Duman noted that the ordinance addresses as “prohibited conduct” any dog that bites a person, or domestic animal or livestock, and that all such conduct will be investigated by police.
“So that’s what we’re going to do,” Duman said.
The City’s dangerous dog ordinance was adopted by the City Council shortly after 5-year-old Jordan Ryan was mauled to death by a pit bull on Sept. 27, 2013.
Paula Sawyer has served as the hearing officer to consider complaints against dogs alleged to be dangerous since the ordinance was established in 2014. Sawyer makes rulings based on requirements outlined in the ordinance.
The City Council amended the ordinance in 2017 to allow the hearing officer more flexibility with sanctions, which are designed to hold the dog owner accountable and to protect the public. The ordinance also was amended to allow the hearing officer or the municipal judge the authority to order that a dog identified as “vicious” be euthanized.
Duman said a public hearing to consider Spencer’s complaint has tentatively been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 18, at 8:30 a.m. in the police department’s conference room at 1768 Auburn Ave.
Baltzell will be notified of the investigation and the hearing, and he will be given the opportunity to tell his side of the story, Duman said.
“If the hearing officer finds that the dog is dangerous, there’s a huge liability risk for him to bring that dog back into this community,” Duman said.
“We’re trying to make this right,” he said. “What happened to (Karen Spencer) shouldn’t have happened.
“It’s things like this that make change — hopefully for the better,” Duman said.
Spencer said today that she was very happy with Duman’s decision to proceed with an investigation and to take the issue before the hearing officer.
She said she will go before the City Council when it meets Nov. 12 to talk about adding language to the dangerous dog ordinance that would address complaints against visiting animals. She said she would like to see a requirement that a hold be placed on out-of-town dogs that are alleged to be dangerous, rather than letting them leave town before the matter is settled.
“I’d be happy to sit on a committee that looks at specific language to address what we went through,” she said. “The outcome I want is to not allow that to happen.”
Gizmo is recovering, but Spencer says she won’t be taking him or her small Italian greyhound, Bullet, on any more walks. And although she has walked daily herself in the past, she hasn’t taken a stroll since Gizmo was attacked.