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Santa Fe man agrees to euthanize pet dog after it mauls his father

The owner says he couldn't believe his pit bull killed his father. KOB's Jill Galus reports.

In the past week, Gavin Wright has lost two members of his household: Clifford, his father; then Achilles, the pit bull he had raised since puppyhood.

Last Thursday, Achilles, a dark brown pit bull with a streak of white fur running down his chest, attacked and killed Wright's father.

"I just got home from work. I live with my father. I take care of him. He's there on the front porch.  It looks like my dog got him, for whatever reason. I don't f***ing know what happened!" Wright, 27, screamed to a 911 operator.

In tapes obtained by NBC affiliate KOB.com, Wright becomes increasingly frantic as he describes his 74-year-old dad.

“They can't save him, dude,” Wright tells the dispatcher.  “He's got a hole, there's blood!  He's gone, dude!  My dad is torn up with flies on him."

More on the dog mauling 911 call from KOB.com

Police told msnbc.com an ambulance was dispatched to the Wright residence, but Clifford Wright wasn't able to be revived. Police also took Achilles, who vets estimated to be about 4 years old, into quarantine. They allowed Wright to keep the three other dogs he has as pets at home.

A couple days later, while Santa Fe animal control officers evaluated Achilles, a preliminary medical examiner's report was released on Clifford Wright.

"The elder Wright was bitten by a single dog and he succumbed to his injuries because of those bites," Santa Fe public information officer Lt. Louis Carlos told msnbc.com. "He did not have a medical condition that was a factor in his demise. People were speculating that he might have had a heart attack, or a seizure beforehand, but none of that was true."

Evidence found at the scene on Achilles also confirmed he, not the other dogs, had mauled Clifford, Carlos said. With no witnesses, it's unclear what provoked the dog, who isn't neutered, to suddenly attack.

Santa Fe police have been called to Wright's home before about his dogs: once in 2005, when another dog bit Clifford, and once in 2011, when a female pit bull was reported running at large.

Gavin Wright, who Carlos described as "visibly upset" and shocked, could not be reached by msnbc.com. On Friday, Santa Fe police explained to Wright what his options for Achilles were. He could keep him and risk the community's safety, with the knowledge that police would actively seek to have Achilles taken into custody and ultimately euthanized, or he could say goodbye to Achilles now. If he chose the latter, all citations would be forgiven.

"Our position was not to add to the stressors to him and his family," Carlos said. "That was why we agreed to sit down and talk with him ... and let him decide which route he was going to take."

Wright took the weekend to think it over. Achilles hadn't lashed out again since he was in quarantine, but the Santa Fe police department described his demeanor as "concerning" and "freaky": He didn't wag his tail when experts came in to inspect him, Carlos said, and he wouldn't prick his ears up.

"He would just stare. He wouldn't even turn his head. He would just move his eyes," Carlos said.

Putting Achilles down
On Tuesday, Wright made his decision to euthanize Achilles.

"What was a turning point for Gavin was when I explained the injuries his father sustained, and the manner in which he was killed," Carlos said. "After that, he agreed to surrender the dog."

Wright was allowed to go see -- but not touch -- Achilles one final time. He spoke his last words to Achilles, cage bars separating them, on Tuesday immediately after he had decided to euthanize him, Carlos said. He chose to cremate Achilles and keep his ashes.

"His words to me were 'This is it, it's over,'" Carlos told msnbc.com. "He's finding closure on all this. He's thanked me several times. He was a little somber after saying his goodbye."

Pit bulls are often connected with aggression: Earlier this week, family pit bulls in California mauled two toddlers, and in Maryland, pit bulls were recently ruled "inherently dangerous." Nonetheless, Mary Martin executive director of the Santa Fe animal shelter, believes it wasn't likely that Achilles' situation could have had had a different outcome, and she said there are many misconceptions about the breed.

"One of the things the ASPCA has covered in research is we label dogs pit bulls, and we're wrong 50 percent of the time. What we're finding out is a lot of them have none of the gene markers for what we label a pit bull or pit bull mix, but instead they might have mastiffs or another breed in them," she said.

Pit bull pulls owner from the path of an oncoming train

Even Achilles may not have been a pit bull and may have just have just been labeled one based on a vet's guess. Many in the shelter thought he could have had American Mastiff genes, she said. His history isn't known, nor is his medical state.

"There could be a brain tumor, some type of reason for why this animal behaved like he did," Martin said. "We don't know how he was managed in his home, if there was any emotional trauma -- it didn't look like it [though]."

But regardless of the cause of aggression, ending the animal's life isn't always the answer for a pet, she said.

"We have seen a serious increase in the amount of professionalism in behavior training, dog trainers who are really knowledgeable at recognizing and managing aggression. Consider a certified pet dog trainer just as you would a veterinarian," she said. "One of the things that my director of behavior taught me here is behavior is behavior, and it can change. We can quit smoking. We can lose weight. Almost every aberrant behavior can be changed or controlled, especially if we get a chance to intervene early."

Of the 6,000 animals that are housed in the Santa Fe animal shelter, many have become adoptable, loving pets thanks to behavioral training.

"When your dog is displaying things you don't like, find a reputable, certified dog trainer in your community, because there are things you can do. We've seen true magic in our shelter because of our behavior trainers."

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