Out of control

Dog mauling leaves Palermo woman in jeopardy of losing her leg

Virginia LoRusso says she’s complained about her neighbor’s dogs several times before being attacked by them.

Virginia LoRusso says she’s complained about her neighbor’s dogs several times before being attacked by them.

Photo By Katy Noah

Doctors are trying to save Virginia LoRusso’s left leg, but there’s a very real possibility that the damage inflicted by two dogs is too severe.

LoRusso was savagely attacked on Sunday, May 21, as she walked into her backyard orchard. The 68-year-old Palermo woman was rushed by ambulance to Oroville Hospital with severe injuries to both legs and also to her right shoulder. She’s already undergone multiple surgeries and skin grafts, and remains there for further treatment.

The Butte County District Attorney’s Office issued arrest warrants for the owners of the dogs on June 7, charging them with felony violations of allowing a vicious animal at large, causing serious injury. The animals, Gus, a 70-pound pit bull, and Shane, a 45-pound Queensland heeler, belong to LoRusso’s neighbors, Ruben Cambra, 32, and his mother, Chic Gordon, 54, who it turns out has a long history of violations related to the care and control of dogs. (A separate warrant was issued for Theodore Scherbenske, 55, on a charge of concealing a felony for allegedly hiding Gus from authorities.)

Linda Haller, Butte County Animal Control program manager, said the dogs were taken into custody the day after the attack and remain so pending a recommendation to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office as to whether they should be returned to the owner with specific stipulations about their confinement, or be put down.

LoRusso said this wasn’t the first time she had problems with Gordon’s dogs. During the past few years, both the Sheriff’s Office and Animal Control have been called numerous times because the dogs kept getting through the fence and onto LoRusso’s property.

“You could tell the dogs were not friendly, and I don’t know how many times I told the owner she needed to do something about them coming into my yard,” LoRusso said.

Her complaints to authorities yielded a stack of paperwork and a notice that nothing could be done because the dogs were back at home by the time investigators arrived. Haller said there were never enough grounds to remove the animals.

“By the time we sent someone out, the dogs had returned to their own yard,” she said. “Unfortunately, it had to come to this for us to take them.”

Butte County Superior Court records show that between 1996 and 1998, in three separate cases, Gordon was charged with 55 violations, including dogs running at large, owning a kennel without a license, permitting a dog to annoy, nip, maul or bark and no rabies vaccinations.

Queensland heeler Shane (left) and pit bull Gus remain locked up by Butte County Animal Control.

Photo By Katy noah

Just a few weeks before the dogs attacked LoRusso, she says her grandsons were very nearly mauled, too. The boys were in her yard playing football, and the dogs reportedly got through the fence and chased them. The elder grandson made it into the house, but the younger one had to take refuge in the back of LoRusso’s pickup truck, she said. Animal control was called, but again the dogs retreated to their own property.

LoRusso said that on the day of the mauling she and her grandson were on the porch when she decided to check the plums in her orchard.

“I had a drink tumbler in one hand and a stick for picking fruit in the other,” she said. “But I made my grandson stay on the porch because I knew I couldn’t trust those dogs.”

She said she checked the yard to be sure the dogs were not nearby before proceeding across the driveway to the plum tree. She did see the dogs’ owner standing out in her back yard. As she got to the tree, she said, the pit bull came running through the fence and began the attack.

“It was clamp down and rip, clamp down and rip,” said LoRusso. “I was kicking the dog with one leg and trying to hit it with the stick but it did no good.”

Then, she said, the Queensland heeler jumped the fence and went after LoRusso’s right arm and shoulder.

She said she cried for help, telling her grandson to call his mother and then dial 911. LoRusso said that although the dog’s owner was still in the back yard it took several moments to get her attention, then several more for her to get onto LoRusso’s property and call off her dogs.

“I’d say a good four minutes passed before she got the dogs off of me,” she said. “At that point I was in a state of shock. I remember Chic asking my permission to go into my house and get some wet towels for my injuries, and then my daughter and the fire department arrived. Once the ambulance got there they began working on me immediately. I knew I had to stay alert, so that’s what I concentrated on; not passing out.”

LoRusso’s right leg and shoulder appear to be healing well. The prognosis for her shredded left leg isn’t as hopeful, but doctors are continuing to try to save it.

LoRusso said it is absurd to think something so serious had to happen before anyone stepped in.

“I was glad to see the arrest warrants, but I think the bail was set much too low,” she said. Bail for Gordon and Scherbenske was set at $15,000 and at $18,000 for Cambra, who allegedly resisted arrest. “I’m hoping this will send a strong message to other owners of vicious dogs who refuse to do anything about them.”