[Courthouse News Service] – Dog whisperer Cesar Millan’s Santa Clarita Valley facility negligently released a vicious pit bull that brutally mauled a woman six days later, she claims in court.
Florida-based nurse Alison Bitney sued Millan and his Dog Psychology Center, of Santa Clarita, on Tuesday in superior court, for a Sept. 23, 2014, attack that allegedly left her without feeling and function in her left hand.
Saugus resident Cesaar Millan. Photo: CesarsWay.com
The “Dog Whisperer” television show focuses on Millan’s training program for problem dogs. Broadcast on the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild, the show debuted in 2004.
In her Feb. 3 lawsuit, Bitney says the pit bull named Gus attacked her while she was visiting co-defendant John Vazzoler’s Santa Clarita home.
She claims Gus had an “extensive history of vicious and unprovoked attacks on individuals and animals,” and that the dog was previously impounded in Texas after attacking a trainer.
On Feb. 7, 2013, Bitney says, Gus attacked trainer Amber Rickles, after a Katy, Texas, woman surrendered the animal with a warning that the dog was “‘nervous, growling and doesn’t like children.'”
Staff at a previous facility had described the dog as “‘glassy eyed,'” and said they were scared to handle him, Bitney says.
During a 20-minute attack, Bitney says, the dog bit Rickles on the right arm, and then latched on to her left breast when she tried to put it in a kennel.
“With the pit bull still attached to her left breast, Ms. Rickles backed into a laundry room where the dog released his grip, enabling Ms. Rickles to close the door,” the complaint states. “The pit bull then broke through the door and attacked Ms. Rickles a third time, latching onto her left arm and breaking it in two places.”
Three men eventually pulled Gus off Rickles.
Over the course of a week, Rickles underwent reconstructive surgery. She had a plate and pin inserted into her left arm and needed more than 50 stitches for her wounds, the complaint states.
Bitney says Rickles was “left with disfiguring scars and permanent physical limitations.”
On Feb. 26, 2013, a Montgomery judge ordered the state to destroy the dog. But the rescuer who brought the dog to Rickles’ boarding and training center, co-defendant Jennifer L. Romano, appealed the order, Bitney says.
Milan’s Dog Psychology Center then agreed to take the pit bull and rehabilitate it, according to the 27-page lawsuit.
Bitney claims that Texas agreed to spare the dog’s life after Romano agreed to inform any future owners of the dog’s history of biting. But the “dog’s owner” fell behind on payments to the keep the dog at the Dog Psychology Center, according to the lawsuit.
In April 2014 the pit bull bit an Alaskan malamute on the neck, Bitney says. Knowing that the dog was still a danger to the public, the center released the dog on Sept. 17, 2014, according to the complaint.
“The center prematurely released the known vicious and dangerous pit bull back into the public domain and entrusted it to someone with no training or experience in the handling of vicious and dangerous dogs,” the complaint states.
Bitney says Jennifer Gray, the director and head trainer at the Dog Psychology Center, acknowledged that the animal needed another 18 months of rehabilitation, and would never be ready to live in a “regular home.”
In a statement through its publicist, the Dog Psychology Center maintained that Gus did not have any contact with Millan at the center.
Millan was also never asked to directly train the pit bull, the center said.
“Gus was removed from the DPC against the strong advice and objection of his trainer, before his rehabilitation was completed,” according to the statement from the center’s vice president Jen Woodard. “Because the DPC is not the legal owner of Gus, we were unable to prevent the premature removal by his owner. After the dog-bite incident, the owner returned Gus to the DPC and we followed dog-bite protocol placing Gus in quarantine.”
Bitney says the dog her at Vazzoler’s home six days after Millan’s center released it.
Her injuries allegedly included “disfiguring open wounds, deep muscle and tendon lacerations and open comminuted fractures to the radius and ulna of her left arm and permanent loss of feeling and function in her left hand.”
Late last month, L.A. Superior Court found that the dog is vicious and should be put down.
Named as defendants are Dog Psychology Center, Millan, Vazzoler and Romano.
Bitney seeks medical expenses, costs, and punitive damages for negligence, professional negligence, violation of the Dog Bite statute, strict liability for an animal with vicious propensities, and premises liability.
She is represented by Harry Frank Scolinos and Todd F. Nevell, with Scolinos, Sheldon & Nevell.
The law firm did not return a request for comment, nor did Millan and Romano.