By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Hours after being notified of Geiser's MySpace page, Holifield told the Press he was considering "a mediation or something that would be reasonable to save the animal's life and to make sure that the community is safe with the animal around."
At that point, Lobo had been in county custody for nearly three weeks.
Two days later, on January 30, the county released Lobo back to the Fraziers without bond, granted them temporary custody and set a February 5 court date to hear the appeal. The county agreed to release Lobo only if the Fraziers took down their Web site.
Matt Masden says the Lobo case has been his most controversial. He describes his ruling as "extreme," but sticks by it.
The judge justifies his decision, saying, "If the dog is out and harms somebody, it's on me."
Last summer, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed several bills into law long championed by animal-rights activists across the state. They include increasing penalties for dog fighting and strengthening the animal-cruelty law to protect strays.
Lillian's Law, named for a 76-year-old Milam County resident mauled to death in 2005 by a pack of dogs, imposes stiffer penalties on owners whose dogs seriously injure or kill people in unprovoked attacks. Even owners of dogs that are first-time offenders can now be charged with a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Nationally 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs and around 20 are killed each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some recent high-profile cases included a 50-year-old Friendswood man attacked by his own dogs and found dead in his backyard in March 2007, and a 40-year-old Montgomery County man killed by a pitbull he had considered adopting for home protection in October 2006.
Masden's ruling to euthanize Lobo garnered scant support. But the Conroe Courier community newspaper on January 19, 2008, backed the decision in an editorial titled "Owners have responsibility to control pets."
Kathy Barton, spokeswoman for the City of Houston's Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, says animal disputes often have nothing to do with animals but rather involve neighbors lashing out at each other over petty squabbles.
All the publicity given to dog-attack cases has led some judges to abandon common sense, according to Don Feare, who teaches animal law at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth.
"In 50 percent or more of the cases I've seen like this, it's one neighbor getting back at the other — and the poor dog pays the price," Feare says. "[Lobo's] is a rather egregious case because there is no allegation of injury."
The Fraziers insist all allegations against their dog were fabricated.
"I don't believe it's possible that Lobo was aggressive — he's been raised with too many children," Rosalyn Frazier says. "It's absurd, unless they did something to him."
Sara Frost, who lives next door to the Calks, says she frequently saw Matt Calk and his son strike Lobo with rocks and sticks.
"Anytime Lobo got anywhere close to them, they threw stuff at him," says 55-year-old Frost, adding that she had scolded Matt Calk about hitting Lobo as well as the Calks' own dog, a one-year-old miniature schnauzer.
Matt Calk's response, according to Frost: "He's in my yard, I can do anything I want."
Matt Calk denies hitting Lobo, though he says he occasionally lifted yard equipment over his head to frighten the dog away.
When discussing Lobo, Matt Calk sounds sympathetic and reasonable. He calls dogs creatures of habit and admits that he may have been to blame for accidentally startling Lobo on their first encounter.
"The dog didn't like me," he says. "We were on his property, in the dog's mind. He felt cornered. But the bottom line is, this is my property."
Matt Calk says he, too, opposes Masden's ruling and would have signed the petitions supporting the dog, if asked.
"Why wasn't I offered to sign that?" he asks. "I agree with everybody that the dog should not be put down."
This sentiment rings hollow, since his mother filed an affidavit with the county explicitly requesting that the dog be destroyed for barking in their driveway.
Masden says he based his decision on state statutes, claiming he had no flexibility to rule any differently. But a close reading of the law shows that Masden actually had zero authority to order the dog destroyed since Lobo never injured anyone, according to Skip Trimble, an attorney and treasurer of the Texas Humane Legislation Network, an Austin-based nonprofit organization that lobbies for animal protections.
"If this dog doesn't bite anybody, there's no rush to euthanize," Trimble says. "I don't see any basis, any authority in the code for the judge to order this dog destroyed."
Rosalyn Frazier in December 2001 gave her husband a six-week-old pup as a gift. Erik Frazier named the tiny, playful ball of shock-white fur Lobo since his triangular ears and sickle tail made him appear wolf-like.
Erik Frazier, who is now 30 and co-owns a fireworks warehouse in Conroe, has lived in 177 Lake Estates since he was eight. The 50-year-old subdivision has grown to include more than 100 houses on large lots. Many have the feel of rustic cabins and cottages. Nestled amid tall pine trees, they circle a pair of large, man-made lakes populated by scores of black-bellied whistling ducks.