About a week and a half before Christmas, two dogs attacked a Reno Elementary School kindergartener while he was walking home from the school bus stop.
Now his parents, David and Katherine “Tory” Roeber, are suing the dogs’ owner.
Tory Roeber said the incident began when her 6-year-old son Isaac saw that two dogs — a Lab mix and a shepherd mix — were loose and coming after him. She said he hid in a bush, but the dogs found him, dragged him away from the bush and bit him multiple times.
Roeber said the dogs had been a problem for years, and she had been in contact with the Reno Police Department about the issue.
On the day of the attack, Isaac was dropped off at the bus stop after school later than usual because of a road closure. The bus driver called Tory Roeber after dropping him off to make sure he made it home. When Roeber sent her older son to check on Isaac, he couldn’t find Isaac and said it appeared that something was going on at the home with the problem dogs on Carmen Street.
At that point, Roeber promptly sprang into action.
“I literally just jumped in my car, no shoes on, nothing, and drove up to the dog house,” she said. “When I got there, my son's bookbag was lying in the middle of the road, and my son was nowhere to be found. I started screaming, ‘Where's my son?’”
A man at the home was standing in the driveway and told her that her son was sitting inside his truck.
“My son was crying and bloody and had an already black, swollen eye,” Roeber said. “I just scooped him up and told my older son, ‘Toss your bike off the road. We're going to the ER,’ and I put my son in the car and drove off, like I didn't even ask questions.”
Following the attack, Isaac had a puncture wound on his skull, and he needed stitches on his arms and legs. Roeber said Isaac is healing well from his physical injuries, but the mental trauma from the attack still lingers.
“He's now afraid of every dog he sees,” Roeber said. “We went hiking at (the) nature center on New Year's Day, and any dog that came by him, he immediately hid behind his father and I. This is a kid that always welcomed animals and wouldn't be afraid to walk up to a strange dog and ask if he could pet it.”
She added that Isaac used to play outside and is now afraid to go outside by himself if the gate at his home is open.
During the past five years, Roeber said the issues with the dogs escalated from them chasing her horses to chasing her children. She said her older son, who also goes to Reno Elementary, used to carry an air horn with him to scare away the dogs if he encountered them on his way home from the bus stop.
“I'd go over there (to the dog owners) and said, ‘Look, I don't care that your dogs are on my property. Like I really don't, but I care that they’re chasing my livestock,’” she said. “And then they started chasing my kid, and then I really cared.”
Roeber argued that the city could have prevented this incident by holding the dog owners more accountable for the dogs’ behavior.
“There needs to be consequences for the irresponsible pet owners,” she said.
Reno Police Deputy Chief Nathan Stringer said the dog owners were issued citations for the dogs being at large and for not displaying a rabies tag. The dogs were euthanized and tested negative for rabies.
Stringer refuted the notion that the attack could have been prevented by animal control because the department didn’t receive a call about loose animals before the attack. He also said sometimes animals are difficult to track down even when the department has received a call.
“To my knowledge, we didn't have a call that day of loose animals until the actual dog bite occurred,” Stringer said. “This could have been prevented by the owners keeping the dogs put up like they're supposed to.”
The Roebers are asking for no more than $1 million in their lawsuit against the dogs’ owner and the property owner. They want to be compensated for Isaac’s past and future physical pain, mental anguish, physical impairment, disfigurement as well as his past and future medical expenses until he turns 18 years old.
The lawsuit accuses Brian Campbell, who is a tenant of a home on Carmen Street and an owner of the dogs, of allowing large aggressive dogs around the public, failing to properly use a leash to prevent attacks, not paying enough attention to the dogs to ensure that they were not a danger to the public, failing to keep the dogs on the property and prevent them from escaping as well as failing to stop or call the dogs, or intervening once realizing that the attack had begun.
The Epigraph attempted to contact Campbell in a variety of ways, including visiting his home, but he could not be reached for comment.
The four others named in the lawsuit — described as property owners — were accused of failing to remove the dogs after being notified of their dangerousness and viciousness, not exercising care in property management and not applying care in the confinement of the dangerous dogs on the property.
Property owner Leonel Garcia sympathized with the Roebers but maintained that he shouldn’t be held responsible for the dogs and wasn’t aware that they were chasing people. Garcia did say that the dogs had chased his cows, and he had previously heard from a neighbor that the dogs were on their property.
To evict the dog owner, Garcia said he would have needed a written complaint and directive about the dogs from the police department — which he claims he didn’t have — and then he would have to notify the tenants in writing to get rid of the dogs. If the tenants ignored the landlord’s order, then Garcia said he would have been able to go to court and force the residents to move out.
While Garcia said he understands the Roebers’ choice to sue the dog owner, he defended one of the residents against the claim that nothing was done to intervene during the attack.
“The thing is that an old man that lives there opened up the gates to be able to drive outside through the driveway with his truck. Right at that moment, the kid was (passing by), and the dogs got out,” Garcia said. “He put (Isaac) inside his truck because he wasn’t able to control those dogs, and he grabbed the kid, put him inside the truck. And I think on the (lawsuit), they say no one did anything to help him.”
Furthermore, Garcia said some of the other defendants named in the lawsuit have nothing to do with the property.
“It's not fair for (the Roebers) to pay hospital bills and things like that because of someone else’s dogs. I understand that, but suing everybody, I don't think that's going to be much help, especially for the kid,” Garcia said.
Still, Tory Roeber defended the choice to name four defendants as property owners in the lawsuit.
“Since the dog owners were renters, we named both the dog owners and property owners. It's possible one or both are without the proper insurance,” Roeber said. “Also, the property owner had been warned by several of us that his renters had aggressive dogs that often got out of the fence and on to other properties.”
If there’s a lesson to be learned from this situation, Garcia said it’s for pet owners to keep dogs on their properties.
“If you know you got a pretty aggressive dog, be careful,” he said. “Don't let him go out.”