BELEN NM - 5 LOOSE PIT BULL/GERMAN SHEPHERD MIXES ATTACKED GERI LYNN SANCHEZ AS SHE WAS JOGGING AROUND A CEMETERY - SHE FOUGHT THEM ALL AS THEY BEGAN "HANGING ON" WITH A METAL PIPE AND THEN A FRIEND'S FATHER CAME TO HER AID
Running is Geri Lynn Sanchez’s passion, but while out for jaunt around a popular space for walkers and runners last week, her workout was viciously interrupted by five loose dogs.
Sanchez is an avid long-distance runner, having run in various marathons including the New York and Boston marathons, and enjoys making her way through the city of Belen’s ditchbanks and neighborhoods. She had stopped running for a few months because of an injury, but got back into her routine to train for an upcoming half marathon.
During her run at about 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7, at Our Lady of Belen Memorial Garden cemetery, Sanchez was stopped in her tracks when she was confronted by the canines.
“I just started running again about a month ago and I’ve been using the cemetery track because I feel it’s the safest place to run, and also, when my hip starts hurting, it’s closer to get to the house,” said Sanchez, who lives on South Mesa Road. “That day, I had actually gone a little bit farther; I went around Terrace Grove (cemetery on Aragon Road) and down by Jaramillo (Community) School and ran a mile here at the cemetery.”
After her four-to-five laps around the cemetery, she had noticed a friend’s father, Mike Torres, was also walking around the cemetery. After passing him and as she reached the east end of the cemetery, Sanchez saw the pack of five dogs, which she describes as GERMAN SHEPHERD AND PIT BULL MIX.
“They just came at me,” she said. “I firmly told them, ‘No!’ and to go home but they just weren’t having it. One of them just gritted his teeth and came at me. I tried kicking him off and that was a mistake because they just all started swarming.”
Sanchez said the more aggressive she became — hitting, kicking and pushing them off — the more aggressive the dogs became and bit her even more. When she started bleeding, they became even more vicious.
“It was like a feeding frenzy,” Sanchez said of the attack. “It was all of them. There were two grounds keepers at the other end of the cemetery but I don’t think they could hear me screaming because they were trimming the grass. When Mr. Torres came around the corner, he came bolting as fast as he could.”
During the attack, Sanchez had found a white, medal pipe and started beating one of dogs about the same time Torres was approaching. It was only then that the dogs took off toward the church.
“When it first happened, I thought I might be able to get them off of me because this isn’t the first time I’ve been bitten by a dog. I was bitten about two years ago on Mesa Road,” she said. “Three had come at me and one bit me, and I was able to get him off, so I thought it was just a matter of me just being firm and trying to get them off.
“But when it got to the point where they were all biting me and hanging on, I thought if I didn’t do something quick, they’ll have me down to the ground and then I didn’t know what would happen,” Sanchez said. “I kept fighting; I did panic toward the end because I couldn’t get them off and no one was coming. I kept screaming for help.”
Sanchez said she thinks if it wasn’t for Torres, her injuries would be a lot worse or she wouldn’t be here to tell her story.
“Mr. Torres saved my life,” she said. “I don’t think I could have got them off if he hadn’t run over at that very moment. I just remember him running toward me, waving his arms and the dogs took off.
“When he got to me, he got me over to a wooden (stump) and he helped me get my leg up, and the two grounds keepers came over and someone called 911,” she said.
Torres remembers the incident well, saying he was walking and running around the cemetery — something he’s been doing nearly every day for the past nine years.
“I was on the southwest area of the cemetery and I heard some terrible screaming,” Torres said. “I couldn’t see who it was because of the trees. When I got across to the other side, I took off running but by the time I got there, the dogs were already taking off.”
Torres said he stayed with Sanchez, talking and praying with her, elevating her leg until the ambulance arrived.
“I was just trying to keep her calm,” Torres said. “She was crying and I felt really bad for her. I’m glad she’s going to be alright. I’m no hero; I just did what any person would do. I just asked the Lord to give me strength when I got there.”
Sanchez was taken by ambulance to Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, where she was treated for multiple puncture wounds to both legs, from her ankles all the way up to below her buttocks. Because they’re puncture wounds, the doctors couldn’t stitch them up because the wounds are too deep and at risk for infection.
“My husband, Gerald, had to take two days off from work because we have to keep changing the dressings,” she said. “When we got home that first day, we couldn’t control the bleeding. If I stood up, the blood would just run down my legs. (Two days later), they’re much better. I’m just pretty sore.”
Belen Police Chief Dan Robb said the city’s animal control officer has identified where the dogs live and their owner. The animals were seized on Friday after a warrant was issued by a judge.
The police chief said the owner of the dogs is 50-year-old Mel Gallegos, who lives on the 1100 block of West Chavez Avenue in Belen, about a block away from the cemetery. Charges including having a vicious animal, biting of a person, restraint of an animal, running at large, no dog license and no rabies vaccination were filed against Gallegos, who will be summoned into Belen Municipal Court.
Sanchez filed a police report the following day, and she was told by an officer that when they went to the house where they believe the dogs were being held, they refused to answer the door. The retired district court clerk said she’s hopeful that these dogs will be taken off the streets but is afraid for anyone else who might be targets in the future.
“I know there’s ordinances in place, and I know there are so many stray dogs in Valencia County, but if they would simply enforce the ordinances and the owners just take responsibility for their pets,” Sanchez said. “It’s not the dogs’ fault — they’re just being dogs. It’s the owners who need to be responsible. If you’re going to have so many big dogs, you need to keep them contained. I wish dog owners would be more serious in taking care of their pets.”
Sanchez says her doctors have advised her not to run after she developed an infection in one of her wounds. She had been planning to leave to Maine at the end of this week to run in a half marathon with her daughter.
“However, if I’m feeling really good on race day and have no pain, I may try anyway,” she said. “I can always pull out if I have problems.”
When asked if she’s now afraid to run in the city of Belen, she’s a bit apprehensive.
“I have trails now that I feel fairly comfortable with, but when I go down Mesa Road, there’s always loose dogs, but mostly small ones,” she said. “I’m not going to stop running. As far as running around here, I told Gerald since I’m running only two-to-three times a week right now, I might just go to Albuquerque and run on the bosque trail.
“If anything good comes out of this, maybe dog owners will realize that it is a serious problem and they really need to work on getting their pets contained,” she said. “I love dogs; we have dogs, too. I don’t want them to be put down, I just want the owners to do something with them.”