OPINION: Bitten and scared, senior citizen tries to track down a pit bull

·4 min read

Jul. 18—Some say these are summer's dog days. They bring a story of how Santa Fe's city government works — or fails to work.

At 74, Edwin Rivera stays active by walking three miles at least three times a week. Rivera's routine was interrupted about 10:15 a.m. July 8 by what he described as a terrifying gray-and-white pit bull.

"The dog ran across four lanes of traffic on Rodeo Road to attack me. It happened so fast," Rivera said.

What he remembers most vividly is the dog sinking its teeth into his left leg, below the knee. Desperate to escape, Rivera unintentionally veered from the dirt at roadside onto paved lanes of oncoming traffic.

"Cars stopped because I was in the road, trying to get away from the pit bull. But nobody got out to help me," he said.

A man, perhaps the dog's owner, ran across the road from outside a narcotics treatment center, Rivera said. The dog wore a collar with a leash attached. The man pulled away the dog, setting Rivera free.

Bleeding and shaken, Rivera said he spotted a blond woman looking at him from the spot where the dog came from, the lot of New Mexico Treatment Services, 1264 Rodeo Road. The man and the dog weren't in view. Rivera suspects they hid behind a piñon tree.

Rivera walked the mile or so back to his house, a painful trip. "I had a sock full of blood," he said.

He lives alone, so he called a neighbor to drive him to the emergency room of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center. The staff treated him with antibiotics and cleaned and bandaged his wound.

Rivera's next stop was the drug treatment center. He told the director about the attack and his suspicion that the dog's owner was a client of her center.

"My main concern is I'm afraid this will happen to somebody else," Rivera later told me. "A lot of people walk down that road. There are women with babies in strollers."

Rivera said the director of the treatment center told him she believed she knew who owned the dog. Confidentiality protocol prevented her from discussing it with him.

He wasn't asking the treatment center to divulge a client's history. Rivera wanted help in tracking down the owner of a muscular, aggressive dog to prevent someone else from being bitten.

I phoned the director. Rivera was in bandages when he presented himself at her treatment center. She told me she'd heard someone "supposedly" was bitten by a dog.

Did she have any doubt about it? No one from any government agency had spoken to her about such a case, she said. The director wouldn't say anything more.

My next call was to Ken Lowrie, supervisor of the city's Animal Services center. The first sentence of its mission statement is to "investigate and respond to vicious or stray animals."

Lowrie was courteous and cooperative. He said he was unfamiliar with a pit bull or any dog attacking an older man on Rodeo Road.

"I've only been in this position six weeks. We're a bit shorthanded," Lowrie said. He is supposed to have eight full-time animal service officers, but four of the positions are vacant.

Lowrie called me back after a few hours. It was Friday, a full week after the dog attacked Rivera. Lowrie said one his officers was writing a report on Rivera's case. He said it would be filed with the police department in a couple more days.

Why would a report on a dog-bites-man episode take more than a week to compile? Lowrie said the original draft had been rejected. "Spelling errors, things like that."

As for the status of Rivera's complaint, Lowrie said, "I can't answer that." He quickly amended his response: "I would have to say, yes, we are investigating."

None of this filled Rivera with confidence in city government.

"I would think they would be interested in finding the dog and the owner to make sure no one else is harmed," he said.

A mixed media artist, Rivera works as a gardener to supplement his income from Social Security. His injuries cost him two gardening jobs.

"I had to buy antibiotics. If I didn't have Medicare and Medicaid, who knows how much it would have cost me to go to the emergency room," Rivera said.

He has more on his mind than money.

"I feel sorry for the dog. I feel sorry for the dog owner. I'm not interested in suing and all of that. But I might contact New Mexico Legal Aid for advice on what to do next."

Rivera counts himself lucky he wasn't mauled or hit by a car in the chaos of being attacked. It's not a story he intended to share. He thought it was important.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.