It was like a scene from a gripping courtroom drama: The victim, bandaged and animated as he described how he was viciously attacked by the perpetrator; the perpetrator’s family, sitting in disbelief as grisly details came forth.
Only this wasn’t a courtroom, not in the traditional sense. This hearing took place October 2014 at the Riverside County Department of Animal Services in San Jacinto, Calif. The victim was a longtime pool maintenance pro whose near-fatal run-in with the alleged perpetrator — a pit bull/Labrador mix — was a graphic reminder that man’s best friend isn’t always the pool man’s.
Here, PSN recounts several real-life canine encounters gone horribly wrong. Consider them cautionary tales — then take to heart the advice from an expert who trains field workers to defend themselves against four-legged threats.
Dog day afternoon
Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 was just another day on the job for Andrew Ortiz, until it ended with the tech undergoing emergency plastic surgery at the Temecula Valley Hospital.
Ortiz was cleaning a pool at a rental property when Pigbert, the dog he’d reportedly warned the tenants to keep restrained while he was on site, appeared behind him. The tech was startled, he stumbled, and then Pigbert struck. The attack lasted about a minute before Ortiz managed to break free. He escaped over a fence, falling 8 feet to an embankment. The pool man managed to drive himself to the hospital with a torn forearm, punctured thigh and a lacerated face.
The animal services department received word of the attack the following day from a nurse at the hospital where Ortiz was being treated. When authorities went to retrieve Pigbert, they had to use control sticks to corral him into a quarantine area.
Given the severity of Ortiz’s injuries, animal control officers recommended that the adult male canine be humanely euthanized, even though this was Pigbert’s only recorded offense. But first there would have to be a trial.
In situations such as these, the Riverside County Department of Animal Services hires a third-party hearings officer to determine the fate of the animal in question. In Pigbert’s case, the judge ruled that the dog could be returned to his owners under strict parameters. However, the county animal services department planned to appeal the decision, taking the case to Superior Court, explained department spokesman John Welsh.
For Ortiz, there still remains a long road to both physical and financial recovery. Supporters have been donating money via gofundme.com, a crowdfunding website, to help offset medical expenses. As of press time, the campaign raised $2,370 of its $25,000 goal.
At the time of this writing, it was unknown if Ortiz planned to press civil charges. He did not return requests for an interview.
“Our heart goes out to him,” Welsh says of the victim, noting that it was one of the worst maulings he’d ever seen. “We hope he recovers.”
Who let the dog out?
Perhaps a problem pet doesn’t cause the tech physical harm. But it can hurt somebody else, and affect the professional in the process.
A German shepherd, unbeknownst to the pool tech, had an aggressive streak. In fact, translated from Mayan, the dog’s name was Demon. Had the professional been aware of the dog’s history, he might have thought twice about leaving the gate unlatched.
This turned out to be a very expensive mistake.
It was too late by the time the San Diego service pro realized the dog that had greeted him at the gate was nowhere to be found. Then he heard screaming.
It was a jogger who had discovered Demon in a neighbor’s yard. Concerned that the German shepherd would run out into a busy road, she approached Demon, hoping to return the dog to his rightful owner. But the 89-pound canine lunged and got hold of her ear.
The jogger’s attorney, Angela Jae Chun, said repairing the ear was meticulous work. “The doctor said it was like putting a jigsaw puzzle back together,” says Chun, an associate attorney with CaseyGerry, who declined to identify the tech because the case was settled out of court.
The San Diego law firm hired a certified animal behaviorist who categorized the mauling as an “unprovoked Level 5 attack.” In the hierarchy of dog attacks, that’s one step below a fatality.
Chun and partner Robert Francavilla successfully argued that the pool tech violated two city codes. The dog was technically under his custody while on site, they said, so he was responsible for both restraining the dog and keeping the public safe from it.
The homeowner and pool tech were sued for negligence, netting a $456,000 settlement for the plaintiffs, a scientist in her 30s left with permanent scarring, and the Good Samaritan who also was attacked while coming to the jogger’s aid.
Moral of the story? Latch the gate.
Enter at your own risk
While the two abovementioned scenarios are indeed extreme, most pool pros can expect some sort of Fido fiasco during their careers.
Arrow Insurance, the Simi Valley, Calif.-based firm that covers pool contractors, processes four to five animal-related claims each year, estimates its president, Ray Arouesty. Most are minor incidences involving a nip, but there have been some truly horrible mishaps, such as when a pool tech accidently backed his truck over a pooch that slipped past him at the gate.
While most maintenance pros are diligent about explaining the need for homeowners to keep their pets locked up, accidents still happen. In Arouesty’s experience, the homeowner usually is at fault. He’s seen situations where guests, house sitting perhaps, left the backdoor open, leaving the tech vulnerable to a canine confrontation.
“It usually comes down to what the homeowner is going to do to safeguard the dog,” Arouesty says.
But what can a tech do when faced with a frothing-at-the-mouth Rottweiler or ticked-off Doberman Pinscher? Expert Mitzi Robinson’s advice is to listen to your instincts ...
... And then do the complete opposite.
“Most of the time people say, ‘Don’t stare at the dog, don’t look at the dog, stay passive, turn to the side,’” Robinson says. “We say you need to maintain direct eye contact. You need to get aggressive with that animal. Someone needs to take the alpha position, and it’s either going to be you or the dog.”
Robinson is the president and founder of Bulli Ray, an occupational dog bite safety program that trains utility workers, cable installers, property assessors and the like to avoid on-the-job animal entanglements. Her Ocala, Fla.-based company got its start with a $1.2 million contract with the United States Postal Service in 1996, the year that two letter carriers were fatally mauled.
When pooch comes to shove
If such a tragedy can happen to a postal worker, then service techs are not immune. However, Robinson suggests a few tactics to keep the threat at bay.
As the saying goes, your best defense is a good offense. Don’t shrink back from a cantankerous canine. Assert yourself. Stomp your feet. Be loud. Raise your arms and step toward — that’s right — toward the threat.
“They have to train themselves to go forward because, I guarantee you, your brain will take over and send you backward. And that’s the last thing you want a dog to see,” Robinson warns. “Most dogs are submissive. They will back down.”
Put something between yourself and your four-legged opponent — a trash can, for example.
But don’t think you can effectively fend Fido off with a telepole. The dog will bite on it once and then look for something more … fleshy. Instead, give it something it can really sink its teeth into, such as a cushion from a nearby piece of lawn furniture. Don’t be afraid to offer the hound a few rowdy words of encouragement to keep it occupied while you chart a path toward safety.
In a worst-case scenario where the pet latches onto a limb, get an arm around the animal and lift up. This robs the dog of its ability to pull you down with its weight. Then tug its collar to unhinge its jaw.
Once you’ve escaped Rover’s wrath, you have a decision to make.
“I know it’s a competitive business, so it would be difficult to take a [hardline] stance,” Robinson says. “But if you’re fearing for your safety, it might be an account worth giving up.”