Thursday, August 18, 2016
OHKAY OWINGEH PUEBLO, RIO ARRIBA COUNTY NM - MELISSA MARTINEZ WAS ATTACKED BY A PACK OF DOGS AS SHE WALKED TO THE CASINO - HORRIFIC INJURIES TO LEGS, ARMS AND NECK - 2 MONTHS HOSPITALIZED IN A MEDICALLY INDUCED COMA WITH SKIN GRAFTS
Naked and bleeding, Melissa Martinez staggered down State Road 68, desperately trying to flag down help, helplessly watching as car after car refused to stop for her, during the early morning hours of May 20.
Just past the Snow Bird gas station, she crossed the road and found two girls playing in their front yard. She begged them for help and they called 911.
“I walked back toward the Snowbird,” she said. “I was buck naked.”
Martinez was attacked by a pack of semi-wild dogs while she walked to the Ohkay Casino. It sent her to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque for two months. When she was finally released, she started walking with a cane to compensate for much of the muscle on her legs, which was ripped off by the dogs.
“I was just hamburger meat,” she said.
Her injuries were so severe that in addition to being in a medically-induced coma, her injuries required multiple skin grafts.
What Ohkay Owingeh is doing, or has done, to handle the feral dog problem on the pueblo is unknown.
Ohkay Owingeh Sheriff Donovan Trujillo did not respond to requests for information and comment, related to the roaming dogs, sent to him via email, in May and August.
Governor Earl Salazar also did not return multiple messages left on the same issue.
Although Española police officers responded to the call, it appears the only person to take a report was Animal Control Officer Tommy Gurule. The attack happened outside of the city’s jurisdiction, but Gurule said he commonly helps other jurisdictions with animal control, and is helped, in turn.
Gurule captured a total of FIVE DOGS, he said.
He got to the scene after being called at 3:22 a.m., he wrote in an incident report.
Tribal police officers told Gurule they thought they knew where some of the feral dogs were being fed and took Gurule to Christopher Chavez’s house, off State Road 68, about a quarter-mile into the pueblo, he said.
“The young man (Chavez), he said that he owns two dogs,” Gurule said. “His, they were really friendly. The other three were PIT BULL MIXES.”
He was able to get the two friendly dogs into his truck, with Chavez’s help, for a 10-day quarantine, then headed to the hospital to try and talk to Martinez.
Chavez told Gurule he fed three other wild dogs scraps, but the dogs were extremely skittish.
When Gurule tried to get a statement from Martinez, he found she could not speak because she was crying and “jerkily” stuttering in pain.
He said she looked like she was in extreme amounts of pain, unable to physically control her limbs.
He then went to Chavez’s house a second time so he could set up the dog traps to capture the three dogs Chavez said he had been feeding. That time, he asked for Tribal Police to back him up in case Chavez got angry.
“I called Española dispatch via radio, to radio when would tribal animal control arrive,” he wrote. “I then asked for a tribal patrol to assist when suspect Christopher Chavez exited out of his residence.”
Gurule said he was able to capture those other three dogs with traps.
He said he believes the three feral dogs he captured, described by Chavez, to Gurule, as "REZ DOGS", OR RESERVATION DOGS, were euthanized. He was not able to find blood on their snouts following the attack. The other two dogs were released back to Chavez.
The 10 day quarantine period is used to determine if an animal has rabies.
“You usually don’t find blood on them,” he said. “Not every dog will have it. It’s hard to say, ‘These are the dogs that did it.’”
To his knowledge, the tribal animal control officers never responded to the incident.
“A day later, the tribal officer tried to get a hold of me,” Gurule said.
“I was walking to the casino,” Martinez said. “I’ve done that a million times, but I do blame myself a little.”
She had been attacked before and had to fend off single dogs, put never before did she have to deal with a pack. She had been walking on the shoulder, headed toward a foot path.
“The pack of dogs came out of nowhere,” she said. “I was helpless. I was by myself and I had no weapons. One of them got me on the ground and it was over.”
She counted eight dogs that initially came at her. She identified one dog, white in color, as the leader of the pack.
“The main one, the alpha, he was in charge and he did do the main mauling of me,” she said. “I can see it over and over again.”
Once she hit the ground, they tore off her clothing, along with her flesh.
“It’s a miracle they didn’t go for the throat,” she said. “I was telling them, ‘Please don’t bite my face, please don’t bite my face.’”
The white pack leader did go after her ear near the end of the attack, almost biting it entirely off. Doctors were able to sew it back on.
Gurule said he was amazed that Martinez lived because of the few bites to the neck that she did receive. None hit an artery, which would have likely been fatal.
“He did it (biting) to the end,” Martinez said, referring to the pack leader. “I’d given up. They were eating my arm. I looked at him (the white dog) and grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it in his face. Then I grabbed a piece of wood, and, wham, hit him in the face.”
Had that piece of wood not been near her body once they attacked, she said she did not know what she would have done, other than let death overtake her.
“I can’t believe I got out of there,” Martinez said. “And I didn’t lose my leg. That was their plan, they wanted to amputate my arm and my leg. I was in a medically-induced coma.”
When she was in the hospital, they found her upper arms had been turned into long streaks of “hamburger meat.”
Much of the muscle on her arms, legs and thighs is missing and she must now walk with a cane and go back for even more surgeries.
Martinez said she received multiple calls while she was in the hospital from other people who have been attacked on pueblo land by feral dogs.
One woman told Martinez that she was in the Ohkay Casino parking lot when two dogs tried to attack her. She got to her car and closed her door just in time.
She said she is deeply grateful to the two children who called 911.