Mother plans to sue in Balboa Park dog attack

SAN DIEGO - The mother of a young girl bitten in a gruesome dog attack at Balboa Park is calling for changes after the dog was allowed to return home following the incident last year.

Cortney Schwalbe and her two daughters were looking at the fish near Lily Pond on Oct. 27, 2013, when the attack occurred. Schwalbe, a professional photographer, was snapping candid photos when she heard a noise.

“I just heard a scream, and I knew it was my child,” Schwalbe said.

Schwalbe ran to her 3-year-old daughter Kennedy.

“It was horrible,” Schwalbe said. “There was blood everywhere.”

Witnesses say a tan Chihuahua ran up to Kennedy and bit her in the face, biting off part of her lip.

She was taken to Rady Children’s Hospital, where a plastic surgeon sewed up her wounds.  

Meanwhile, before leaving the scene, Schwalbe approached the dog’s owner.

“I asked for her information and she refused,” Schwalbe said.

The following day, she discovered the owner had in fact provided her information, but the dog had been sent home with its owner in Chula Vista.

“I was told (that) because the owner lived in Chula Vista, their animal control had to handle it, but they were closed,” Schwalbe said.

 It took two days before the Chula Vista Animal Care Facility began a home quarantine to monitor for rabies. Schwalbe requested the dog be quarantined at the shelter.

“I was scared.  We didn’t know whether my daughter needed a rabies treatment, which is very painful.”

Schwalbe said she was told that since the dog had no prior history of attacks, it would remain at home.

“I was angry. I think after a vicious attack like that, the dog should be taken immediately by animal control. In the language in state statutes, this was a vicious dog because of the attack.”

State law allows for quarantines at the "discretion of the local health officer." However, Schwalbe claims, the Chula Vista policy allows irresponsible dog owners to police themselves, which could allow the dogs to get out.

“It's not responsible, it puts people at risk,” Schwalbe said.

A Chula Vista spokesperson issued the following statement this week clarifying the city’s policy:

“The city of Chula Vista follows state law that allows the city discretionary authority to permit dog owners to self-quarantine their dogs where the owner represents that they will not let the dog outdoors unattended during the 10-day quarantine period. Animal Care Facility officers monitored the dog during the quarantine period and it was determined not to exhibit signs of rabies. After the 10-day period the quarantine was lifted.”

Schwalbe plans to file suit against the dog owner next week. Her lawyer, Ross Jurewitz, will send the suit to city leaders in hopes of changing policy.

“The onus should be on Chula Vista to put the victim first, not the dog and its owner,” Jurewitz told 10News.

“My daughter is very self-conscious about the scar,” Schwalbe said. “We’re told she will likely have to have more plastic surgery.  I would never want another family to go through this.”
   

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