BRENTWOOD -- A Brentwood woman says a chain of events beyond her control led to the deaths of her two dogs that were killed, burned and buried after they purportedly attacked a man's poultry.
Ellen Barkley was out of town early Saturday morning when the Rottweiler and German Shepherd she had been fostering -- and that her daughters were caring for -- escaped through fence holes made by another dog, ending up several miles away in a rural part of Brentwood.
Although some of the public outrage over the pets' violent deaths has been directed at her for failing to keep her dogs confined, Barkley said critics' accusations that she's an irresponsible dog owner are wrong.
"Anybody who knows me knows that's not the case," she said, adding that she checks the perimeter of her yard monthly to make sure the fence is intact.
Barkley also noted that none of the 47 dogs she provided a temporary home for over the course of last year escaped her yard.
But a neighbor's dog that had gotten loose found its way through a sizable gap in the side fence of the house directly behind her, Barkley said, emphasizing that the section of wooden slats runs along the street and thus is not her responsibility to maintain.
Once in the yard, the animal began digging and scratching at the back fence that she shares with the family.
The dog eventually dislodged enough boards to squeeze through into her backyard before all three disappeared, Barkley said.
Upon her return she started searching for the pets, gathering tips along the way that eventually led her to a house on Creek Road.
Brentwood police later arrived, responding to a report that there were trespassers on the property, and they in turn summoned the county's Animal Services Department.
Jonathan Christ, a 32-year-old Brentwood resident whose father, Randy, owns the 3.36-acre parcel, told animal control officers that the dogs attacked 45 chickens along with a couple of turkeys and turned on him when he intervened.
He said that after killing the dogs with a shovel he took the bodies to his work site, excavated a hole, doused the remains with gasoline and lit a fire. Christ led authorities to the Byron sand mine, where they recovered the remains.
Barkley later recovered two bags of ashes, all that was left of Luke and Jager.
"I understand protecting your livestock, but there are other ways to go about it," she said. "Call me and say, 'Come get your dogs' -- not burn every single piece of evidence. They didn't deserve to be burned in some pit with gasoline poured on them and buried like trash."
Reached at his home Wednesday, Christ said he had no comment. His father did not respond to requests for information, either. But a public relations firm that Christ's employer engaged to handle media calls confirmed Thursday that the company has terminated him.
Although many are rallying around Barkley, others are defending Christ's actions, citing his right to kill stray dogs that are threatening his livestock and poultry.
Among them is Terry Citro, who's had other people's dogs attack her farm animals multiple times over the 27 years she's lived in Oakley.
There was the time that strays got into her rabbits' cages and killed about half a dozen, the time that a Doberman and a boxer engaged in a tug-of-war with her pygmy goat, and the time that she found a couple of dogs nipping at the legs of her 33-year-old horse. On another occasion most of the turkeys her daughter was raising as a 4-H project had to be destroyed after a dog yanked them through wire fencing. And an attack by two dogs left her Vietnamese potbellied pig covered with puncture wounds.
So while Citro is sad for Barkley's loss, she also understands Christ's position.
"He's protecting his livestock and the dogs should not have been loose," she said.
Christ could have shot the dogs but there are laws regulating where one can discharge a firearm within city limits, Citro said. And even if he had called the police or animal control, the chances of help arriving in time are iffy, she said.
Contra Costa County Animal Services Department is the lead agency in the investigation, which Deputy Director Rick Golphin says remains active because of the intense interest the incident has generated.
Golphin acknowledged that the dogs' deaths also might constitute an unlawful act of animal cruelty.
Right now, however, he said his department has little more to go on than Christ's account of the circumstances surrounding the killings.
Asked how one man could take a shovel to dogs that weight 130 pounds and 85 pounds without at least one of them escaping, he didn't have an answer.
"I agree, they are reasonable questions," Golphin said.
Golphin said that Christ stated he had incinerated the dead poultry along with the dogs, but declined to say whether officers found remains of the birds at the worksite.
And although he said Christ explained why he disposed of the dogs the way he did, Golphin did not elaborate.
As for why Christ didn't call authorities immediately after the killings, Golphin said that information isn't in the report and that he didn't have ready access to a transcript of the interview.
Whether his department eventually will pass its case on to the District Attorney's office depends on if officials think there's enough evidence to prosecute the case successfully, Golphin said.
However the case is resolved, it will take time, he added, noting that attorneys have up to one year to file misdemeanor charges and longer for a felony.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.