The owner of the donkey pasture where Palo Alto's two beloved donkeys reside defended the animals on Monday night by shooing off a harassing dog while carrying a BB rifle, according to Palo Alto police.
Property owner James Witt's quick response to protect the animals prevented an attack, but concerned passersby called police to report a man carrying a gun. That set off a tense situation that involved closing off streets in the Barron Park neighborhood as police searched for an alleged gunman.
Witt heard the two donkeys, Perry and Niner, screaming around 8 p.m. on Monday night, he said.
"I was minding my own business at home when I heard both donkeys screaming for their lives like I'd never heard before, and a crazed dog sound and some humans also screaming," he said. "When I got over there the dog and owner were in the pasture. The dog was trying to attack both donkeys and the owner was helpless, panicked and without a leash.
"The dog's face was covered in black dirt and (he) seemed completely out of control."
Witt said he told the dog's owner, a man, to get a leash so he could get his dog away from the donkeys. People stood by for several minutes and watched the dog, but they did not help, Witt added.
Instead two passersby called police, which resulted in a shutdown of Laguna Avenue at Los Robles and Barron avenues while they investigated the incident.
Witt had already gone inside and the dog and its owner had left, police detective James Reifschneider said. Police discovered that Witt had not left his property, Reifschneider added.
Inge Harding-Barlow, one of the donkeys' handlers, said she went to investigate last night when police had blocked the intersection of Laguna and Barron avenues. A woman was in a car talking to an officer, she said. Shortly later, a second woman and a dog talked to the officer, Harding-Barlow said.
"All I heard was a 9-month-old dog had been chasing the donkeys. A man with a gun/rifle had threatened to shoot the dog. I broke in and asked were the donkeys OK. The policeman who appeared to have his rifle cocked, said 'Donkeys OK,'" she said. "I said I was a handler, and it was indicated that I should depart, which I did. As I walked back to my house, which is only one house away, I heard a sharp click as if he was taking his rifle off the cocked position."
Doug Moran, another donkey handler, said it was impossible for him to check on the donkeys after the police left, saying it was "too dark, they were too frightened and I didn't want to get mistaken for a prowler," he said.
Reifschneider said Witt did not break any laws. He did not point the gun, did not threaten anyone and did not fire the weapon. He was within his rights to carry a gun on his own property, he said.
Officers did tell Witt that he needs to be careful and to be aware if he is carrying a weapon on his property where it is visible to the public. If passersby call police, officers would be obliged to investigate to make sure the area is safe, Reifschneider said.
Harding-Barlow said she hopes a sign previously attached to the gate with the donkey handlers' contact information would be replaced, and that in the future police and Witt would contact her or Moran, who live closest to the donkey sanctuary, when any animal or person is bothering the donkeys.
Witt said that although some people might have been alarmed, he thinks it's hard for people to imagine the terrifying sounds the donkeys were making. The harassment of the donkeys is not the first incident, he added.
Harding-Barlow said that Perry, the smaller of the two donkeys, who is the model for the donkey in the "Shrek" movies, has been attacked three times and was seriously hurt during at least one incident.
Perry suffered injuries, including a 2-inch square patch of skin torn from his face and cuts on his front legs in a September 2012 attack. The wounds took about 10 days to heal. During a November 2012 attack, the same large dog again headed for the donkeys. Perry suffered more wounds to his face, which were more serious than in the previous instance, Moran said at the time.
Reifschneider said there was no indication that the dog was the same one that had previously attacked the donkeys. The previous attacks on the donkeys aside, he did not think the problem was ongoing.
But in warm summer weather more people tend to let their dogs off leash, which is a violation of law, he said. The problem is not worse in the Bol Park area than in other parts of the city, he added.
How to prevent further incursions and attacks on the donkeys remains up in the air. Moran said there hasn't been time to discuss any further protections to keep dogs out of the donkey pasture.
But Witt isn't inclined to add additional impediments, he said.
"I refuse to make the pasture like a cage just to keep dogs out. Humans need to be responsible and obey the leash laws. As you know, Perry was almost killed by a dog previously and was terrified yesterday," he said. "The positive thing is that many good people are doing their part to keep the donkeys in Barron Park, primarily for the children."