Wading River couple mourns pup after brutal canine encounter

08/04/2011 8:30 AM |

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Joseph Catalano holds his four-year-old chihuahua Spartacus in the backyard near where the dog's brother Agador was mauled to death.

Joseph Catalano was spending a relaxing afternoon on the new deck in his Wading River backyard last month while his beloved Chihuahuas — brothers Agador and Spartacus — frolicked nearby. Then, he said, the trio heard a banging at the bottom of the wooden fence, coming from the property directly behind the Dogwood Drive home.

Curious, seven-pound Agador went to investigate.

Moments later, Mr. Catalano realized what the sound was: one of this neighbor’s dogs, a terrier mix or a St. Bernard, ramming its face against the fence posts. The larger dogs had knocked several holes in the bottom of the wood over the years, he said.
By the time Mr. Catalano reached the fence, it was too late.

“I saw Agador’s feet being dragged through the fence,” Mr. Catalano said. “It was like something out of a horror movie.”

He drove around the block and went into the neighbor’s property, where his worst fears were confirmed. Agador’s lifeless body lay in the yard.

“Both the dogs were standing over his body with his throat ripped out,” Mr. Catalano said.

The owner of the property, Joanne Peters, called authorities to report that her neighbor was trespassing in her yard. Riverhead Town Police responded, but no charges were filed during the July 20 incident.

Ms. Peters, a single mom who said she adopted the dogs in response to several burglaries at her home, said the animals were on her property and that the Chihuahua must have wandered over. She said the chihuahua’s high-pitched bark might have agitated her dogs.


“[Mr. Catalano’s] fence is in poor condition and he had a tiny little dog that he wasn’t watching,” she said. “My dogs probably thought it was a rat.”

She added that she felt terrible about the incident, but said it was just a case of animals acting like animals.

She said she thought building proper fencing was the only reasonable solution.

The Catalanos soon learned theirs wasn’t the first incident involving Ms. Peters’ dogs. According to Riverhead Police records, their neighbors Diane and Dave DelVecchio filed a complaint in May 2010, when Ms. Peters’ mixed breed dog killed a stray cat on their property, an animal Ms. Peters said she had cared for. Prior to that, the DelVecchios told police, the dog had also attacked their nine-pound Shih-Tzu, costing nearly $400 in veterinarian bills, paid for by Ms. Peters.

Another neighbor, Lisa Kroez, said the same dog had bitten her 22-year-old daughter in the spring of 2010, though she did not report that incident to authorities.

What happened to Agador was especially traumatic for Mr. Catalano’s wife, Susan.

The couple, who have two grown children, adopted the dogs as puppies when Ms. Catalano was bedridden with an infection she contracted after a hospital stay.

“When I was sick, Agador was there beside me,” she said. “He just lifted my life.”

Though she loved both dogs, Agador was her favorite. After her health improved, the tiny pup would run to the top of the stairs when Ms. Catalano came home from work. Agador, whose tongue always hung out of his mouth, would sleep in her arms at night.
“He was so funny looking, he was cute,” Mr. Catalano said. “They really helped heal her. The bond they had was so strong.”

Riverhead Town Police Chief David Hegermiller noted that dogs are allowed to be unleashed on an owner’s property, but authorities are investigating whether Ms. Peters violated the dangerous dog section of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law. Under that law, the owner of a dog that attacks a person or companion animal could be required to pay the victim’s medical bills. A dog owner could face criminal penalties if his or her animal kills or causes serious injury to a human, though it is not clear if that charge applies if the victim is another animal.

Chief Hegermiller urged residents to report all domestic animal attacks to police.

Ms. Peters noted that she had a fence installed on the property recently where she keeps the dogs confined. She said she has not performed any behavior modification methods with the dogs. She said that perhaps she and Mr. Catalano could split the cost of a new fence.

“[Mr. Catalano should] not take this so personally,” she said. “I don’t think this a deliberate action.”

As for Mr. Catalano, he has since had reinforcements installed along the bottom of the fence. And he and his wife plan to pursue a lawsuit and donate any earnings to homeless animals. He said it would be a small consolation after what happened to his pet.
“My wife is absolutely devastated,” Mr. Catalano said. “He didn’t deserve to die like that.”

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