A Pit Bull in Turlock, California, that was scheduled to be euthanized October 16 for leash violations will now be returned to its owner, a rape survivor who was placed in a witness protection program after she testified in a criminal case against a gang that abducted her.
The dog acts as an unofficial service animal to the traumatized woman, identified only as “Jane Doe” in a civil lawsuit filed last week seeking an emergency restraining order to stop the City of Turlock from killing the woman’s white-and-black Pit Bull “Freyja.”
“Doe” and her sister were abducted from a movie theater ten years ago by gang members who imprisoned them, along with several other women, in “what can only be described as a pit,” for several days, even weeks, according to the lawsuit. There, the women endured “dungeon treatment” and their abductors used them “as slaves for the purpose of their own amusement.”
The sexual assault victim, who has been separated from her family for a decade under a witness protection program, was unable to leave her house until only recently without succumbing to crippling fear. She has not been able to withstand even sitting in a car with another human being since the attack. California Witness Protection officials suggested that the woman get a dog for protection, since she was marked for death by the gang targeted in her testimony. That’s when she adopted her Pit Bull Freyja.
For the past four years, Doe’s sole love and companionship came from her dog, which the lawsuit refers to as a “gorgeous white and black Pit Bull.” According to the suit, Freyja quickly became the woman’s “only remaining friend, her only ally, and her only protection… the only consistent, shining light in an otherwise grim existence.”
Freyja’s owner trained her dog to be non-aggressive. In fact, the dog never bit, attacked or threatened anyone. “Other than being a Pit Bull that is the target of ire by the City and other defendants, [Freyja] has done nothing wrong,” states the lawsuit. Still, Freyja’s two prior leash violations, which were dismissed, and a recent third infraction, prompted the City to confiscate the dog and gave it authority to euthanize.
Initially, it looked like Freyja — who has been detained by the city for three weeks — could be returned to her owner if the woman paid a $1,000 fine and proved that her fence was secure. However, when she went to pay the fine last week, city officials refused to accept payment or return Freyja. Last Thursday, attorney Justin Allen’s office got a frantic call from Freyja’s owner. It took an emergency restraining order and a court hearing to finally convince the City to return the de facto service dog to her home.
“The City was actually very cooperative,” says Allen’s law clerk Lizzy Edwards of the October 16 hearing, where the suit was dismissed after both parties’ attorneys agreed on a solution: Freyja’s owner will get the dog back as soon she pays a reduced fine of $500 and proves she has proper fencing. Their client has the funds available to pay the fine and has put up a new fence to ensure there are no more dog escapes, says Edwards. It looks like Freyja is headed home — alive.
The sad fact is, Freyja’s near-euthanasia experience wasn’t based only on harsh city ordinances. Flawed governmental and public perceptions of Pit Bulls were equal contributors to the service animal’s plight.
Although the lawsuit states that Freyja was “scheduled to be executed” on October 16, 2012, no definite euthanasia date was actually set, says Edwards. City officials told Edwards that because Freyja is a Pit Bull, it’s likely that no one would have adopted the dog. Therefore, Freyja almost certainly would have been destroyed.
Says Edwards: “Taking this dog away from her owner was essentially a death sentence.”