For the last two and a half years, Oscar Martin, a 4-year-old beagle, has not only been Robert Baker's best friend, he's been the Gilbert man's hearing service dog.
But Baker said that when Oscar returns now to Gilbert's Allegre Park, he's still a little skittish, a little afraid, as he is recovering from a dog attack there that left him needing surgery.
About 2:25 p.m. on June 9, Oscar was attacked, bit in the neck by a pit bull who was not on a leash as his owner, a transient, napped on a park bench. The pit bull's owner told Baker that the loose dog "was friendly" seconds before the dog lunged at Oscar and locked onto his neck, according to a Gilbert Police report.
Baker had to kick the pit bull in the head to get it off Oscar before the dog's owner fled with the pit bull in a 1984 yellow Ford pick-up truck that Baker was able to get the license plate number from.
"It was a traumatic thing for him and I both," Baker said. "There's laws about other dogs attacking service dogs ... the guy did not willingly sic his dog on Oscar, but he did not have a leash or collar on him and he did not have the dog under control. It was also an educational experience for me. It taught me to be more aware of my surroundings and others should be more aware of their surroundings, too, especially when a dog at a park is not on a leash."
Police caught up with the pit bull's owner about three weeks later. Kenneth Pierini, 53, now faces a dog-at-large citation, a misdemeanor violation of Arizona's animal control laws, and could be required to pay fines. According to the police report, Pierini, a transient who sometimes lives with his sister in Mesa, claims his dog was on a leash. But witnesses at the scene said it was not.
Pierini could not be reached for comment.
Baker said he plans to pursue restitution and other charges against Pierini.
After a recent surgery on his neck to drain an infection that racked up a bill of more than $825, Oscar is recovering but not quite up to 100 percent of performing his duties. He is scheduled to have a follow-up surgery in two weeks.
"He's recovering nicely, but I'm trying to get him back to his service level," Baker said. "We'll go back to square one. Oscar gets along with everybody and he's getting along with other dogs. He wouldn't hurt a fly. He wouldn't want to."