Attorney hopes dog seized twice gets trial before jury

May 2014 BY GILBERT GARCIA OPINION COLUMNIST

On March 23, Animal Care Services released a pit bull terrier named Lola - a dog it had quarantined after an alleged biting incident - to her then-owner, Jamie Valdivias.

Shortly after the dog was released, the Rev. William Rice found Lola wandering the streets of the Northwest Side, took her home and made her a part of his family.

On May 5, however, ACS Assistant Director Vincent Medley designated Lola a "dangerous dog," and he subsequently sent Rice a letter that outlined a series of restrictions (keeping the dog within an enclosure, muzzling the dog in public, posting a warning sign on the premises, etc.) required by ACS.

The Texas Health & Safety Code allows the owner of a dangerous dog 30 days after the receipt of such notifications to take the necessary compliance actions, but in this case, ACS gave Rice exactly one day to get in compliance before it showed up at his house and seized Lola.

ACS also failed to provide Rice with an affidavit that explained what Lola had done to earn the dangerous-dog designation.

Rice's attorney, Michelle Maloney, is not only challenging that ACS designation, she's deliberately going around the municipal-court system that handles most of San Antonio's animal-attack cases.

Local animal advocates routinely complain about the handling of ACS cases by Municipal Court Judge Daniel Guerrero. But in most cases that Maloney handles, her clients have already filed notices of appeal before she gets involved, and they inevitably file those notices in municipal court.

In this case, however, Rice contacted Maloney quickly and let her file a notice of appeal. On Thursday, Maloney filed that appeal with County Court-at-Law Judge Tina Torres, and Maloney hopes that Lola will get a jury trial.

ACS returned Lola to Rice on May 10, after he demonstrated that he'd complied with its stipulations. But Maloney argues that ACS is punishing Rice for an incident that happened before he became the dog's owner - an incident that has not been fully explained to him.

Kathy Davis, ACS director, said Lola was initially quarantined in March because she bit a smaller dog and two men were bitten and scratched when they attempted to break up the attack.

Davis explained the release and subsequent seizure of Lola by saying, "The investigation was not complete at the time Lola was released from quarantine."

Maloney says she is puzzled by the fact that ACS quarantined, released and then once again seized Lola.

"Out of the blue, this dangerous-dog designation is made," Maloney said. "So it's kind of bizarre, in terms of the timing.

"Normally, they keep the dog for quarantine, and at the end of the quarantine period, they make a decision as to whether or not the dog is going to get a dangerous-dog designation. They don't just return a dangerous dog to a family and then seize it again."