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Wild dog attacks kill at least 300 livestock, stir fear in rural Southern California

Residents of rural Anza say they’re being terrorized by wild dogs that have mauled and killed about 300 sheep and goats in the past three months, chased a young boy and left 31 animals dead in a raid this week.

Residents said the attacks have been going on many months.

Tucked between Temecula and Hemet, Anza is an unincorporated town of large ranches and dirt roads in Riverside County. The attacks have turned people’s property into horror scenes.

Alex Avalos, 27, was at work Tuesday evening, March 21, when his neighbor called him after a group of wild dogs attacked his family’s livestock.

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One sheep and 30 goats were mauled and killed near his home. In photos Avalos posted to Facebook, the goats are seen piled next to a fence with their limbs torn off and blood near their necks. The attack wiped out most of his family’s animals, leaving behind seven sheep and one goat.

“It was a massacre,” Avalos said. “It was a traumatic situation to come home to.”

Avalos said the dogs carrying out the attacks include three Labrador-mix dogs, two Queensland blue heelers and one Husky — three of which his father saw on his property during the attack.

“Most of the livestock was not eaten, but mauled,” said Avalos, who doesn’t think the attacks are being made by coyotes or mountain lions.

Coyotes would eat every part of the sheep and mountain lions would choose the weakest prey, drag the body out and eat it, Avalos said.

Officials with Riverside County’s Department of Animal Services couldn’t confirm what kind of animals are behind the attacks, Deputy Director Kim Youngberg said. But the agency is investigating and the department will do all it can to help residents — including lending them traps, Youngberg said.

“I would say it’s rare for attacks to happen in a mass quantity …” Youngberg said. “When people are living out in rural areas of the county, it’s always a possibility.”

Youngberg said the department received no calls about the attacks and learned of the situation Thursday morning, March 23, after a resident contacted county officials and posted photos on social media.

Residents dispute that, saying they’ve been calling the department seeking help. One resident, Armand Rack, said the department lent him a large animal trap in late January.

For now, Avalos and his family moved their remaining livestock into an indoor barn. Inside, the survivors appear left with physical and mental scars. On a normal day, Avalos said, the sheep would be running and bouncing around, but the attack has left them quiet and apprehensive.

On Friday, March 24, one sheep had a gash near its eye and a torn-off ear. A lamb snuggled in a corner by itself with a bandage on its leg. Paw prints — believed to be from the dogs — could be seen in the mud near the gate of Las Estrellas Ranch.

Avalos is not the first resident to lose animals in a dog attack. Anza residents took to Facebook to share their experiences.

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Michael Brown said stray dogs entered his property and chased his 9-year-old son about eight months ago. Dogs also killed one of his dogs. Julie Van Der Linden said her family has lost two turkeys and several chickens.

Youngberg said the department has an officer who solely serves the Anza area and is available Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For emergencies, an officer is on call 24 hours, she said.

If there is an attack, Youngberg said: “Call us and we’ll try to be out there as soon as we possibly can.”

Asked what would happen to the wild dogs if captured, Youngberg said only that there is a process for stray dogs. They are confined, brought into a shelter and, if possible, the department finds the owner. If an owner can’t be found, the department’s first resort is to place a dog for adoption, Youngberg said.

“We always encourage residents to reach out to us for assistance and, you know, we’re here to help,” Youngberg said.

Now that his livestock has been targeted, Avalos fears that people — including children — could be next. Less than a mile away from his home sits Hamilton School, which houses sixth through 12th graders.

“My concern is: What if a kid is next,” Avalos said, as echoes of children playing could be heard from his home Friday morning.

Neighbors have expressed frustration on Facebook. Some want to start shooting at stray dogs; others say that wouldn’t solve the problem.

Denice Hickethier, who works with a Temecula animal rescue called Piper’s Path Rescue, partners with Kathy Haley, of the Anza-based Hope Ranch Animal Sanctuary. Hickethier said the increase of stray dogs in Anza has worsened because of illegal marijuana farms.

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