BENICIA, Calif. (KTVU) - Imagine taking a dog home from a shelter, and having it attack you only hours later. It happened to a Benicia man, and sent him to the hospital with serious bite wounds.
"He was full-on Cujo," Leiv Arnesen told KTVU, "one minute he was fine, then I stood up, and he went at me." It happened the day after Arnesen and his wife adopted the stray German Shepherd from Contra Costa Animal Services. They wonder why the dog, named Frasier, was up for adoption if he had a history of instability or aggression.
"I had some pretty deep slashes and punctures," described Arnesen, who has thirty stitches on his arms and wrists, from fending off the mauling. Still, he's glad it was him, at 6'2" and 225 lbs, and not his wife.
"If the dog attacked me, there's no way I could fight it off, no way," echoed Chek-Young Arnesen, alongside her husband in the backyard where it happened. The couple showed photos of the young dog, who had been calm and friendly until that point,
They noted, during his adoption from the Martinez shelter, they had been told he had some "aggressive tendencies", but say it was downplayed.
"The never said he had attacked another human being, or even another dog," observed Leiv Arnesen.
As it turns out, during his two week shelter stay, Frasier couldn't even be approached by staff.
"We couldn't touch him," explained Dr. Richard Bachman, Veterinary Medical Director for Contra Costa Animal Services.
"We couldn't get near him to give him a medical exam because the dog would not let us." Bachman says Frasier lunged at and tried to bite a dog trainer in the face, yet remained "adoptable".
It is a trend he fears has become more common in shelters, as they are judged by their "live release" rates and success at achieving "no kill" status.
"So anything that leaves alive makes the shelter look better statistically, even if it puts the public at risk," he declared.
Frasier was returned to the shelter and euthanised the same day he mauled Arnesen.
"I saw no reason for them to not walk out with him," Contra Costa Animal Services Director Beth Ward told KTVU," and I can honestly tell you I would have taken Frasier home."
Ward notes she petted and posed with Frasier for an online video shortly after his arrival, and had no qualms about him.
She notes, however, it is impossible to predict triggers from a dogs' past experience, and that defensive behavior in a kennel doesn't mean a dog won't do well in a home.
"It's a balancing point, do you over-correct and euthanize any animal that shows any kind of negative behavior?" posed Ward.
At most shelters, dogs with behavioral issues, like Frasier, are offered to transfer partners. Those are rescue organizations that often have breed-specific expertise and contacts for suitable adopters.
In Frasier's case, rescuers rallied on social media, and the appeals to keep him from being euthanised were urgent and emotional.
The Arnesen's responded, but never expected what happened next.
"We fell to the ground, and I was sitting on his chest," described Leiv Arnesen, "and I was able to grab his mouth, and pry it open",
Chek-Young ran to grab a stick, and they managed to jam it between the dog's jaws, loosening his grip on Arnesen's wrist. The stick bears deep teeth marks, and is stained with Arnesen's blood.
Yet, the couple doesn't blame the dog, but a system that seemed to favor placement over public safety.
"They say they are so backed up, with so many dogs, maybe that do not take the time to evaluate completely," mused Chek-Young.
Director Beth Ward says she is deeply sorry about the attack, and plans to triple the number of animal behaviorists at the shelter so dogs are evaluated more thoroughly.