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When Friendly Dogs Turn Deadly

Cynthia and Ricardo Elizondo are pictured at Garden Road Park in Poway on May 3, 2021.
Roland Lizarondo
Cynthia and Ricardo Elizondo are pictured at Garden Road Park in Poway on May 3, 2021.
How a Poway dog attack highlights the importance of leash laws.

Dog owners, for the most part, think their pets are friendly in public. Some may even consider it harmless to unclip their dog’s leash for a few minutes to play fetch in the neighborhood park. But, even a seemingly friendly dog can become uncharacteristically aggressive. If that dog is off leash, tragedy can ensue.

Cynthia and Ricardo Elizondo are still healing after a dog attacked and killed their 6-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, Chikis, on May 1. Cynthia Elizondo was also injured in the incident that happened as they took a morning walk at Garden Road Park in Poway.

When Friendly Dogs Turn Deadly
Listen to this story by Maya Trabulsi.

“He took a bite. There is a bite out of my arm,” Cynthia said. “So there was kind of a two-inch and a half, two-inch diameter, separating the skin and looking in all the way almost to the bone.”

The couple is back at the park for the first time since the incident. “I believe we might actually find blood trails. My understanding is they tried to clean it up after the incident, but were not successful in getting it all. So we may see some.”

There’s a long stretch of grass to the side of the park that is commonly used as a dog run for unleashed dogs to play fetch.

“Oh, I actually think that’s my glove,“ Ricardo said as he bent down to pick up a single fingerless glove with visible blood stains. “Yeah, that’s blood right there.”

Ricardo didn’t realize he had lost his glove during the struggle to save his dog’s life.

VIDEO: When Friendly Dogs Turn Deadly

The Attack

The encounter seemed innocent, at first, with a curious, unleashed, dog approaching the couple and their dog, Chikis.

“I was not scared at all. I thought he was just coming to say 'hello,'” Cynthia said. “It was clearly a friendly dog playing ball with his owner.”

But, instincts kicked in, and the dog, who had been happily playing just moments before, had locked his sights on Chikis, and his jaws onto her back. Cynthia said he would not let go.

“At that point, his owner came running over. We started kicking the dog,” Cynthia said. “The owner actually said, kick him, kick him, do it, go for it. And he got on the ground and immediately got his hands into his own dog's mouth to pry open the jaws.”

It took three adults more than 30 seconds to separate the dogs, at which point, the attack continued. Cynthia said the owner was clearly shocked by his dog’s behavior.

“During the incident he kept saying he's never done this before. He's never done this before. This is not like him.”

Once Cynthia got Chikis into her arms, they spun in circles, trying to avoid another bite. This time, Cynthia’s arm got in the way and she felt the dog’s teeth sink into her flesh, but didn’t yet realize how badly she was injured.

“At that moment, I thought we just needed protection,” Ricardo said. “So, we actually took the dog to the children's structure because I said ‘there's a fort, I need a fort’!”

The couple ran to the structure on the North side of the park, trying to get above ground. “I was carrying the dog up here just because I knew I had to only protect one entrance,” Ricardo said as he demonstrated his steps.

Once police and EMTs arrived, Chikis and Cynthia were both rushed to respective emergency rooms. Cynthia needed sutures and staples to close her deep wound. Chikis suffered broken ribs and organ damage and had to be euthanized while Cynthia was still in the ER. She did not get to say goodbye.

Leash Laws

“Friendly dogs are still weapons, that is the point. It can go from licking your toddler's face to causing a big gash on a stranger's arm, because they are dogs. That is not a vicious dog, it is just a dog,” Ricardo said.

San Diego Humane Society Capt., Danee Cook said the dog that attacked is under a 10-day bite quarantine, per California Health and Safety code. It is not a punitive quarantine, only to rule out rabies for which symptoms manifest within that time. The investigation is still open, but the Elizondos said the SDHC officer that investigated the incident considered the other dog friendly after the initial interview, reportedly even licking her face.

Cook said officers regularly get owners explaining why their dogs are off leash, despite the leash law. “My dog is under voice control or my dog comes exactly when I tell them to or my dog is the sweetest dog and would never harm another dog or person,” Cooke said. “We explain to them that whether that is, in fact true or not, it's not just for them. It's not just for their safety and their dog safety.”

“Crime is fought after a tragedy has happened,” Ricardo said. “Regulations are in force to avoid a tragedy from ever happening. That leash that connects an owner to the dog is the reason. It's the rationality of the owner.”

The Elizondos said they have forgiven the other dog owner and want to make it clear that he has been equally traumatized after watching his beloved pet turn deadly.

“If even one person decides that they will no longer take their friendly, sweet, loving dog off leash at the park or anywhere other than the dog park, I will be happy,” Cynthia said.