Service dog is focus of biting Tijeras meeting

It was standing room only Monday at the Tijeras Village Council meeting which featured a public hearing “on whether or not a dog named Brewsky is a vicious animal” under the village’s animal control ordinance.

After a contentious public hearing during which Mayor Gloria Chavez repeatedly banged her gavel and insisted she was running the meeting, the council took no action on the matter.

The village attorney Frank Coppler explained that the hearing was to consider only “Brewskey’s behavior under the ordinance.”

That ordinance gives authority to the “Mayor and Animal Control Officers” in issuing citations for violations.

The ordinance also states, “It is the duty of the Animal Control Officer to take up and impound in an animal control shelter any estray or any animal kept or maintained contrary to this Ordinance.”

It requires a dog that has bitten a person to be impounded; the service dog named Brewskey has not been accused of biting.

The Tijeras ordinance includes a section on prohibited activities, with a subsection on “Vicious Animals,” which reads:

1. It is unlawful for any person to keep or harbor a vicious, dangerous, or ferocious animal in the Village. Any person attacked by a vicious animal which is on public property may use reasonable force to repel said attack. The Mayor or Animal Control Officer may impound any animal suspected of being dangerous, ferocious or vicious to be destroyed as provided herein.

2. Any animal so impounded, unless it can be destroyed sooner pursuant to law, shall be held until a judicial determination is made by a court of competent jurisdiction that an animal is vicious, dangerous, or ferocious, and accordingly shall order that the animal be destroyed.”

Another section specifically prohibits ownership of “the breed known as the American Pit Bull Terrier.”

That’s where things get complicated, because Brewskey is a service dog to a young boy, and service animals are regulated by federal law, specifically the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act.

Tracie Dulniak of K9 Rehab Institute said she trained Brewskey as a service dog and railed against the Village’s breed-specific ban, citing the ADA.

Erin Langenwalter attended the meeting representing the U.S. Attorney’s office, saying she was there in an “observational role.” She offered the Village information on “service animals and how they interact with breed bans.”

Veterinarian Vickie Averhoff owns Vista Larga Veterinary Clinic in Edgewood. She testified at the public hearing that Brewskey had been brought to her because of the notice of impoundment from the Village. She said that DNA testing shows the dog’s breed as “American Staffordshire Terrier with a little bit of American Bulldog,” adding, “He absolutely is a pit bull.”

Later in the meeting, some of those attending would point out that the Village ordinance does not prohibit ownership of an American Staffordshire Terrier.

People attending a public hearing to decide if a young boy's service dog is “vicious” and should be destroyed by the Village of Tijeras. Photo by Leota Harriman.

People attending a public hearing to decide if a young boy’s service dog is “vicious” and should be destroyed by the Village of Tijeras. Photo by Leota Harriman.

Averhoff went on to describe Brewskey as “a very nice, friendly dog.” She said after the meeting that she opposes breed-specific legislation.

Service dogs’ minds function differently than pets,” said Karen Padgett, who described herself as a dog handler whose own service dog was poisoned last week. “I beg you, do not let this child whose life is already different from everybody else in this room suffer because you don’t get it. … This is not a breed issue, it’s a temperament issue.”

Janeen Counts said her veterinary practice is next door to the Flanagans, the family who owns Brewskey.

Counts said that the dog has “no reports of dog bites” and added, “He tested as American Staffordshire Terrier, which is not banned in the Village of Tijeras.”

Willy Luandes said he was “confused” to see Brewskey at the meeting. “That dog went wild inside her pen,” he said, adding, “It wasn’t nice to me that day.”

Resident Ernest Barnes brought up “that little girl [who] was viciously attacked by a pit bull.”

Another man, Jim West, also remembered the girl, saying he wanted to “put a human face on the ordinance,” and adding, “There’s a reason this ordinance is in our Village. I’m not speaking against this dog.” That attack was more than 30 years ago.

Two town workers, Flaviano Sanchez and Melvin Garcia, both said they were afraid of the dog when they approached him on Village business.

My name is Flaviano Sanchez, and basically, I was scared. Not—I was scared,” Sanchez said. “She went and yelled at him to get him down. I believe he would have attacked me. And I’m not against any dog or anything, I love dogs, but I believe he would attack me if she wouldn’t have called him out.”

Someone from the floor said, “How many times were you there before that happened?”

You don’t have to answer,” said Chavez.

Next Melvin Garcia, another Village employee, said he needed to visit a person living in the front residence of an apartment building to get a water sample. Flanagan resides in the back apartment.

When I drove up to his house, I noticed the gate was open. When I got out of the truck the dog came running from behind the gate, and came running at me real fast,” Garcia said. “He stopped about six feet in front of me and was barking at me in what I consider a vicious manner. Then I don’t know if she called him back or what. He stayed barking for quite some time then took off back into his gate so I went ahead and filled the water bottle and left.”

Garcia said he had also seen the gate open on one other occasion.

Someone again spoke from the floor, saying, “Can I ask some clarification? You said the dog’s vicious except it stopped six feet in front of you.”

We’re not answering anything, Melvin. Sit down,” Chavez said. “I mean, are you done?”

They don’t want to know the answer!” somebody in the crow said.

Next Diane Klaus, another Village employee, played a video she said was of Brewskey on her laptop. It was not visible to most of the room, but Counts could see it and offered to explain the dog behavior it showed.

He’s wagging his tail!” someone called out as the video played.

You need to be quiet so we can watch the video, or you will be removed!” Chavez said.

Dulniak interjected, “Is he biting anyone? Is he attacking anyone? No. The dog is not attacking anyone. There is a clear difference between a dog being reactive and a dog attacking.”

Chavez again tried to quiet the room.

A veterinarian has asked as a dog professional, can she address what she sees [in the video]?” Flanagan’s attorney asked.

No. No,” Chavez said, as the room erupted in laughter and jeers.

Three of the Village councilors said they have met and interacted with Brewskey.

He sat in the audience [of a Village meeting] very calm,” said Councilor Don Johnson, adding that upon greeting him in the hallway after the meeting, “He reacted. He licked the heck out of me.”

Councilor Jake Bruton said he had visited the Flanagan home to meet the service animal. “I walked right through the gate and knocked,” he said. “The dog never barked.” He described the dog as “super nice” and added, “I haven’t seen any vicious behavior. … I do not feel that Brewskey is a vicious animal.”

Councilor Maxine Wilson said that Flanagan had already taken steps to get additional training for the dog.

Even young Conor Flanagan had his say, noting that he really likes to race with Brewskey.

You can make all the decisions that you want, but under the [ADA] … you’re not entitled to make any decision like that,” Flanagan’s attorney said. “This is federal law.”