Dog goes to court without attorney

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson After his dog, Kujo, was denied a court-appointed attorney, Dale Mattingly says he doesn’t know the law and fears he can’t adequately defend Kujo in a courtroom.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Dale Mattingly believes his dog Kujo is entitled to a court-appointed lawyer to defend his interests. Kujo is accused of attacking another dog.

But Mattingly was surprised last week to discover even though Kujo’s life could be on the line, he isn’t entitled to an attorney to represent him in Clovis Municipal Court.

Frustrated, Mattingly says he doesn’t know the law and fears he can’t adequately defend Kujo in a courtroom.

And facing the possibility of a destruction order for Kujo, fines and even up to 90 days in jail, Mattingly says it just isn’t right.

“I don’t know the law on that stuff, I can’t afford to hire a lawyer (and it’s not right) to take me in there when I don’t know the laws about it,” Mattingly said.

“I’m aggravated and frustrated… especially when his life’s at stake. I don’t want my dog put to sleep.”

Mattingly received a vicious dog citation April 1, when Kujo got out of the yard and into a fight with a neighbor’s dog.

The neighbor told police Kujo charged at his dog as they were taking trash to a dumpster in an alley, attacked and caused puncture wounds and other injuries.

Mattingly said Kujo was injured in the fight, too, and it was an isolated incident.

“He hasn’t ever bitten anybody like that. I take him all over the place and people pet him all the time. I figure it was just a dog thing, a primal thing,” he said.

“He’s a dog, they got in a fight, that’s what dogs do.”

Mattingly said he has health issues, limiting financial resources and making it near impossible to get legal advice.

Mattingly said he asked the judge for an attorney during a hearing but was told attorneys are not provided for ordinance violations.

Kujo is a well-tempered dog, Mattingly said, and he has been chained in the yard since the incident out of fear the dog might again get through the fence.

Most dogs that run afoul of the city’s vicious dog code are owned, and incidents often occur while they are on or protecting their property, Animal Control Supervisor Louisa Maestas said.

“The majority of dog bites and aggressive dog (calls) are because they’re in the yard and somebody goes in the yard,” she said. “They’re defending their turf.”

Or, they get out and bite someone near their home.

And judges tend to take that into account when working with owners of dogs that bite.

Nearly half a dozen dogs get the death penalty each year in Clovis because of aggressive behavior. But Maestas said they usually get a second chance.

When police or animal control officers respond to a bite incident, they evaluate the extent of the injuries, the scenario and if it’s a repeat incident, she said.

A dog not immunized are impounded and quarantined at the shelter for a 10-days.

Dogs current on vaccinations are typically allowed to remain home under the owner’s supervision unless there is obvious danger of repeat incidents, Maestas said.

But under the city’s vicious dog code, owners are liable for a citation and fine if their animal injures someone or another animal.

With the exceptions of protection of property, law enforcement and military, it is against city ordinance to own any vicious animal.

Maetas said judges are fair in handling vicious animal citations and understand that animals are going to engage in animal behavior.

“We’ve given out quite a few citations, and mainly (judges) tell them to ‘keep your dog in your yard, fix your fence,’” she said.

“On the first bite or the first offense usually (the judge is) more lenient and will be more understanding, but by the second and the third time (the judge is more strict),” she said.