We are particularly happy to report that the seemingly endless legal odyssey for Sandi York and her beloved companion, Bandit, who was locked up for three years for biting a mail carrier, is over. Sacramento County agreed to release Bandit after it was shown that she is not a probable threat to the public.
We commend the county officials who recognized York’s dedication to her beloved dog and Bandit’s true temperament. Too often, government agencies become entrenched in their decisions and are not willing to admit they have made a mistake or that a re-evaluation of a case is warranted. Dogster recognizes the lengths Sacramento County went to in order to do the right thing.
Friday of last week, Sandi York led her best friend out of the Sacramento County Animal Shelter and into the parking lot where the two stopped for a long moment before getting into York’s Honda, so Bandit could savor the scent of tall grass for the first time in three years.
Sacramento County officials agreed to lift Bandit’s death sentence for biting a mail carrier in April 2010. The case had recently caught the attention of the news media and had become a cause celebre on Facebook, where 9-year-old Bandit has 6,500 supporters. York, a retired optician, said she was ecstatic to be able to spend time with Bandit without the euthanasia order hanging over their heads.
“I’m so happy she’s back in her own loving home where she can be happy as I am,” York said. “I feel calm and relieved that my best friend is safe and home with me.”
Watch Bandit and Sandy get ready to leave the shelter:
Bandit’s odyssey began in 2010, when a mail carrier began persistently knocking on York’s door to get a signature for a delivery. York wasn’t home, and her roommate opened the front door, and Bandit charged out and bit the carrier on the thigh.
The bite didn’t require stitches, and pictures submitted as evidence showed the bite was about the size of a grain of rice, but the county impounded Bandit pending a vicious dog hearing.
At the hearing, York had no representation and was surprised to hear that despite the evidence, Bandit was charged with inflicting a severe and disfiguring injury. In addition, she being accused of previously biting an 8-year-old boy who was riding a bicycle in her neighborhood in 2008.
York denied that Bandit was involved in the previous incident. What’s more, no evidence of the 2008 bite — medical bills, pictures, or testimony — was presented at the hearing. Nonetheless, the hearing officer classified Bandit as a repeat offender and ordered her euthanasia. York, who had adopted Bandit and nursed her back to health after the dog was hit by a car and left for dead, was devastated.
But she never gave up on Bandit. She agreed to pay the county $106 a month for Bandit’s expenses while she began fighting to get the bite classification changed from “severe and disfiguring” to the more accurate “single, small bite.” York was aided in her battle by San Francisco attorney Christine Garcia, who made court filings pro bono on Bandit’s behalf. But things reached a standstill. County supervisors ignored York’s pleas, and the courts refused to change the designation of the bite or have Bandit re-evaluated for aggression.
Meanwhile, Bandit remained on death row, and the 70-year-old York began her days with a mournful 30-mile journey to the Sacramento animal shelter to visit Bandit. She usually played with Bandit in an enclosed outdoor concrete patio, because the stench in the kennel area was oppressive. She brought toys for the dog, also doing some basic training exercises.
At home, Bandit loved watching television, so York sometimes brought a laptop so Bandit could watch movies. Some days the two just sat quietly together. But each day, the time came when York had to say goodbye, and every day it was a little more painful.
“She and I are growing old apart, and it breaks my heart each time I walk away from our daily visits together,” she told Dogster in April.
Things began to turn around in early May. Efforts by dog advocate Pat Workman to bring attention to the case through social media began to pay off. The Saving Bandit Facebook page was getting thousands of “likes,” and soon the news media began to pay attention. Suddenly there were encouraging signs that Sacramento County might be willing to take another look at the case.
The first big breakthrough was the county allowing Bandit to be re-evaluated by 4 Paws University. Bandit had been a model resident at the shelter and had showed few if any signs of aggression to workers or other dogs. As expected, the new evaluation showed that her behavior was “non-aggressive.”
With the positive evaluation results, Robert Leonard, the county chief deputy executive, got involved in the case. He held several meetings with county officials and animal control officers, and an agreement was reached last week: Bandit would be allowed to go home, provided she receive behavior training and wear a muzzle any time she was in public, for at least one year.
The news spread rapidly on Facebook, and the Save Bandit Page gained 1,500 likes over the weekend. Workman said the credit for Bandit’s release goes to York.
“In a situation like this, most people will just leave their pets because they don’t have the time or the money or the stamina to fight city hall,” she said. “But Sandi never gave up. It’s really quite amazing.”
York spent a quiet weekend at home with Bandit so the dog could get reacquainted with her home and family. York said she will be very protective of Bandit until she is fully readjusted to her freedom. Then, slowly, she will begin to return to their normal routine.
“Right now I want all things to be calm and easy for her,” she said.
York looks forward to spending some quality time with her companion. She is planning a trip to Lake Tahoe, where Bandit enjoys wading in the lake.
“She loves riding in the car. I want to take her everywhere so the wind blows her ears back and she can smell all the smells she enjoys,” York said.
York said the past three years were tough, but she never thought twice about fighting to save Bandit, and she offered some advice to other dog owners who find themselves in similar situations.
“Don’t give up. Do not give up,” she said. “Be the friend your dog is to you.”
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