Pitbull to go to TV star’s rescue center

Owner’s mother pays $14,490 check to county
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on a trial over the fate of four pitbulls. A reality television star is willing to take a chance on a pitbull that a judge says was most likely involved in an attack on a teen in Auburn. Tia Maria Torres, who is known for her pitbull rescue center featured on national cable television, said Friday that she thought the submissive behavior of a pitbull named Otis was enough to give him a shot at being rehabilitated. Otis and three other pitbulls, all owned by Auburn resident Daniel Coverston, were involved in a severe attack against now 18-year-old Weimar resident Joseph “JoJo” Kerschner. Kerschner was knocked down twice to the ground by the dogs. He had to receive more than 30 stitches in his body and suffered 20 puncture wounds. A second trial regarding the fate of the dogs was held Friday. Torres’ testimony coupled with that of others ultimately led Judge Richard Couzens to decide to let Otis stay at Torres’ facility on a trial basis. Torres’ testimony Torres, who is the center of the show “Pitbulls and Parolees,” testified over the phone Friday regarding her December evaluation of the four dogs. Torres runs the Villalobos Rescue Center, located on a 10-acre property in rural Southern California. Her show, documenting her rescue efforts of pitbulls and how she cares for the estimated 200 in her facility, airs on Animal Planet. Torres told Couzens that Otis was the only one of the four dogs she would consider taking into her facility. She said the dog’s withdrawn, submissive behavior made her think he might have a chance at being a better dog. She added that she was told he ran away and there was no evidence that he bit Kerschner. Otis was believed to be involved in the attack. Kerschner testified that in the midst of fighting for his life he could not remember which bites came from which dogs. Also, a witness said when they came upon the scene that Otis was standing nearby barking but not biting. “He’s got enough variables where I think he deserves a chance,” Torres said. Torres said when she heard about the aggressiveness of the other dogs the day of the attack she made a decision right away that she would not take them. “I was told one dog jumped on the car and kept coming,” Torres said. “Right there I said I’m not even going to mess with that dog.” Torres said she would comply with the court’s orders regarding what should happen with Otis. She said she would be able to acknowledge if Otis was not retrainable and ultimately needed to be euthanized. During Torres’ visit to the Auburn animal shelter she also briefly visited the other three dogs. One lunged at and bit her on the hand. She said their behavior — constant barking, growling and lunging toward their cage doors — confirmed her decision not to take them. “I’m able to step back and be a reasonable person,” Torres said. Second judge declares dogs vicious At the conclusion of the day’s testimony, Couzens said he believed that all four dogs met the standards to be labeled “vicious” dogs. He said it was “unquestionable” that the dogs caused severe injury and the attack was unprovoked. He said he was concerned about the lack of direct evidence that Otis bit Kerschner. He said there was circumstantial evidence that all four dogs took Kerschner down to the ground and that he believes it’s “more likely than not that Otis was involved in the attack and did some biting.” However, he said Otis’ behavior, which is less aggressive than the other three, deserved some consideration. “As a matter of personal consciousness to me I’d like to know the answer to how situational this is to Otis,” Couzens said. “I do not see the harm to a trial period with a trained professional.” With that, Couzens imposed strict orders including that Otis is not to leave the facility and Coverston cannot visit the dog. Couzens said only Torres or a professional staffer could contact Otis. Torres must also submit monthly reports regarding Otis’ behavior, including any acts of aggression. She also cannot transfer or dispose of the dog unless given a court order. Couzens said that Torres seemed responsible. “It strikes me that she operates in the real world,” Couzens said. In addition to those orders, Couzens directed that the other three dogs be euthanized and Coverston is not allowed to own another dog within city or county limits for the next three years. Mother signs a $14,490 check After Couzens rendered his decision Friday afternoon, Coverston’s mother, Patricia, wrote a check for $14,490.26 to Placer County Animal Services. Before she paid the bill on her son’s behalf, she told Auburn city attorney Matthew Crider, “I want to tell you I’m not a rich person and we took out an equity loan on our house to pay this.” Her son, Daniel, who was earlier wiping tears away with a tissue when he heard Couzens' decision, sat silently nearby at the respondent’s table with his hands clasped in front of his face. Jenifer Gee can be reached at ------------ Tia Maria Torres Reality television star Tia Maria Torres testified via phone Friday in the second trial to decide the fate of four pitbulls involved in a Downtown Auburn attack. Torres’ Villalobos Rescue Center in Southern California is the subject of the Animal Planet cable TV series “Pitbulls and Parolees.” Torres said following her December evaluation of the four dogs she thought that Otis was the only one she would consider trying to rehabilitate based on his behavior. Before being deemed an expert in pitbull rescue and recovery, Torres explained to the court that she has been running the country’s largest pitbull facility for the past 15 years. Torres said the center usually houses about 200 pitbulls. She said she is also a contracted dog trainer for the city of Los Angeles and a certified handler for narcotic detective dogs. Torres roughly estimated that she’s rescued over 1,000 dogs in her 15 years at the shelter and about 95 percent of them have been rehabilitated and adoptable. Torres’ 10-acre compound also includes a small exotic animal area where she said she houses a grizzly bear, two black bears and up until recently, a Bengal tiger. She said she also has 20 wolves at her facility, which is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Los Angeles County.