INDIANAPOLIS — Felisha Sosa is afraid to take her dogs outside for a walk or even to allow them to be unattended in her own yard. She has plenty of video to explain why she feels so anxious.
Home surveillance video from security cameras mounted outside Sosa’s near west side home shows her pets being attacked by two large dogs.
“I can't live in fear at my own house. I just can't live like this anymore,” she told 13News. “Nobody in this neighborhood should have to live like that.”
Other residents tell 13 Investigates their pets have also been attacked – and, in some cases, killed – by vicious dogs that have been roaming the area. Despite multiple reports and complaints filed with the city’s animal control department, the dogs suspected in the attacks are still living in the neighborhood, where they have continued to terrorize animals and their owners.
Angry residents are trying to understand why.
“I just screamed”
The first incident recorded on Sosa’s security cameras was in September 2019. She was standing on her front porch as her dogs went to the bathroom in the front yard. Video shows the chihuahuas then start barking loudly as two pit bulls ran onto the lawn. One of the larger dogs grabbed Sosa’s dog, "Bolt," by the neck and started shaking it as the chihuahua struggled to escape. After a few seconds, Bolt got away, and Sosa rushed all of her pets into the house.
“In that moment, I thought I was going to lose my best friend,” she recalled. “It was just chaos. It was so fast.”
Bolt needed stitches to close a gash and puncture wounds on his throat and neck, but he survived.
“It’s a miracle that he’s OK because the vet said the laceration was very close to his jugular. We were so lucky,” said Sosa.
Not all of her pets were so fortunate.
About 18 months after the first incident, a feral cat named Silver was attacked and killed on Sosa’s back deck by the same two dogs. That incident was also caught on video, which shows the pit bulls both attacking Silver at the same time.
“One dog had one end of him, and the other dog had the other end, and they were just playing with him like he was a toy,” she said, wiping away tears. “It was right outside the back door. I banged on the glass trying to get them to stop and let go, but one of the dogs ran off with him. I knew at that point there was nothing that could be done.”
Sosa’s husband found Silver’s mutilated body later that day in a nearby alley.
“It was very hard. We had cared for that cat for about 10 years. That’s the day I lost any little ounce of feeling safe in my own yard,” she told 13News.
Bolt was attacked in 2019. Silver was killed this March. Sosa reported both incidents to city animal control officers.
And yet the attacks in her neighborhood keep on coming.
One day. Two more deadly attacks.
Vanesa Segovia and her family were moving into a new house on Mount Street when she heard a loud noise in the driveway near their back alley. She looked down from her bedroom window to see a family dog mauled by two large dogs.
“It was quick. It was a matter of seconds to be honest,” Segovia explained, pointing to the spot where the chihuahua was attacked. “The dogs were on top of him… he was trying to fight them, get away from them, but it was too late. It was two big pit bulls. and he was a little chihuahua. What's a little chihuahua going to do with two big pit bulls?”
Segovia said she quickly ran downstairs and outside to break up the fight. When she got to the driveway, the larger dogs had run away, leaving the chihuahua behind struggling for his life.
“We couldn't do anything. By the time we got outside, he was already dead practically. He didn’t deserve to die like that,” she said.
An animal control officer who responded to the scene wrote the dead dog (identified in the activity report as Eness) suffered “one puncture wound to the left leg, a puncture wound to the lower abdomen, and an large open chest wound [sic].”
Earlier that same day, neighbors reported two pit bulls killed an 11-month-old shih tzu at a nearby home on Addison, two streets away. While there, another neighbor reported a cat had just been killed in his front yard, although there were no eyewitnesses to see exactly what happened. Those attacks all occurred on May 18, and police and animal control officers responded to investigate.
But five weeks later, 13 Investigates discovered the two dogs suspected in all of the attacks are still in the neighborhood.
“My dogs aren’t violent”
13News spoke with the man who owns the dogs that are accused of attacking and killing pets in the west side neighborhood over the past two years.
Jeremiah Stargell told 13News his two pit bulls are “inside dogs” that are loved, well cared for and gentle.
“My dogs aren’t violent. They're good dogs. They aren't vicious,” he said. “I’ve taken them to dog parks and they were perfectly fine. I can bring them outside right now and they won’t bother you at all.”
Stargell did allow 13News to meet the dogs. Sheba and Izzy seemed calm and affectionate during the visit - very different than the images we saw in Felisha's home videos.
But Stargell admitted the dogs that lovingly lick his face and the dogs seen in video attacking other animals are the same dogs. He told 13 Investigates his pit bulls are responsible for attacking and killing a neighbor’s dog on May 18.
“Yeah, they did it. I’m at fault,” he said.
He also acknowledged his dogs were responsible for both attacks at Sosa’s home in 2019 and 2021 - although he did add several caveats.
He said his pit bulls were “provoked” before they attacked Bolt because the smaller dog charged at them. Stargell later admitted his dogs were running loose in the neighborhood, and that it made sense that a dog in its own front yard might be justifiably territorial when confronted by two larger, unleashed dogs that ran onto its property.
Stargell told 13 Investigates he was not aware that his dogs attacked a cat on Sosa’s backyard deck in March. When 13News showed him video of the attack, he confirmed it was Sheba and Izzy in the video but reiterated it was the first time anyone had reported the incident to him.
A lengthy series of text messages between Sosa and Stargell on the day of the attack seem to contradict that claim.
“They killed a cat from our feral colony in front of my eyes that we have loved and taken care of for years,” Sosa texted to Stargell at 1:50 p.m., according to messages Sosa shared with 13News.
The text string includes a reply from Stargell 10 minutes later. “If they got out of my house that means somebody broke into my house I am on my way right now…” he texted back.
Stargell said he’s owned Sheba and Izzy since they were 8-and-a-half weeks old. And while he does not know exactly what triggers their aggressive behavior, Stargell said he believes they do not intend to cause any harm.
“My dogs are great dogs,” he said. “Yeah, they might be terrorists when it comes to other animals, apparently. But they’re not aggressive. They’re not raised to be aggressive. They are family dogs that stay inside most of the day.”
Stargell adamantly denies that Izzy and Sheba bear any responsibility for the death of Segovia’s family chihuahua. Even though he said the pit bulls were loose in the neighborhood when they killed another nearby dog that same day, Stargell said they were not involved in the attack of Eness.
“I have proof, security footage at my house at the time of the incidents, where the dogs were in my house,” said Stargell, who believes another pit bull that looks similar to Sheba is responsible for some of the attacks that have taken place in the neighborhood. He said he cannot share his security video with 13 Investigates because it will be used in court.
But Sosa has other security footage from that day, and she said the timestamps show Sheba and Izzy running through her yard around the time Segovia's dog was killed the evening of May 18. Their houses are right across the street from one another. Sosa said the city has her videos and all the attacks have been reported.
“I just thought they would have done something more,” Sosa said.
“Yeah, that's not fair. How are we gonna have our little dog die and two big pit bulls are running free?” asked Segovia.
City needs time
13 Investigates took residents’ concerns to Indianapolis Animal Care Services, the department which oversees animal control complaints throughout the city.
ACS deputy director Katie Trennepohl said even when city officers determine an animal to be potentially dangerous, the city must follow strict procedures to remove an animal from a homeowner. She said she was not permitted to explain why repeated reports about Sheba and Izzy over the past two years have not resulted in the animals being removed from the neighborhood.
“I cannot comment on this specific case because it's an open court case right now, but there is a process we have to go through, and I can assure you that in some situations, it's just as frustrating for us,” Trennepohl said. “Judges have to hear cases and, unfortunately, that takes time.”
ACS can issue citations that require a court appearance for serious code violations such as animal attacks and animal bites. (Less serious violations can result in pre-payable citations that do not require a court hearing.) Judges have a variety of options when ruling on cases involving dog attacks: return the animal to its current home, seek an alternate home for the dog, or issue a warrant to have the dog removed and euthanized.
“If a dog has a history of aggression – especially serious aggression or repeated aggression – then that’s not something we’d be able to adopt out, and that would leave euthanasia as the option if the animal came to the shelter,” said Trennepohl. The city’s shelter currently houses about 350 dogs removed from Indianapolis homes, and the shelter takes in about 1,500 animals each year for a variety of reasons, including dog bites and attacks.
ACS did investigate and file a more serious citation against Stargell following the 2019 attack involving Bolt. He reached a plea agreement in that case and paid a $500 fine. He also received citations and has scheduled court appearances in connection with the two fatal dog attacks that took place last month. There is no citation related to the attack against Silver in March.
Sosa said an animal control officer told her cases involving Stargell’s dogs may be moving slower because Izzy and Sheba are accused of attacking animals - not people. There are no reports of the dogs being aggressive or violent towards humans.
But neighbors on the near west side say they fear slow action by the city will only increase the risk that a human attack could be next.
“I'm concerned about the kids, too,” said Sabrina Medina, who lives in the neighborhood. “The dogs, they just come out of nowhere. You really don't know where they're going to come from. That's the scary part.”
“How do I know they’re not going to see a little toddler just running down the street and then, boom, they just catch him?” asked Sosa.
Stargell said five children, including a newborn, live in his house along with Izzy and Sheba. “They are great with kids. They are family dogs,” he said.
The pit bull owner told 13News he is now adding more locks and chains to better secure his backyard fences to prevent his dogs from getting loose. He said he is also installing new fencing, including a six-foot privacy fence around his back yard and 500 feet of electric fencing around the property to ensure his dogs stay on his property.
“They won't get out again,” he said.
Sosa said that is what Stargell pledged 18 months ago, after her dog was attacked by Izzy and Sheba in her front yard.
“It's like, 'what's next?'” she said. “I just want to be safe to go in my yard. I think people who live around here shouldn’t be afraid to go outside in their own neighborhood.”
Aggressive dog cases on the rise
The city of Indianapolis has seen a significant rise in aggressive dog incidents in 2021. Citywide, ACS data shows Indianapolis is on track to record more than 4,000 calls related to aggressive dogs this year – a roughly 25% increase over the previous two years.
The increase is even more dramatic within the 46222 zip code, an area on the city’s near west side that includes complaints involving Stargell’s dogs. That area of the city has already received 201 complaints regarding possible aggressive dog incidents in 2021, which means the near west side is currently on track to record a 46% increase in aggressive dog reports compared to 2019 and 2020.
ACS says residents who are confronted with a loose dog that appears to be vicious or dangerous should call 911 for a police officer to respond. IMPD will then determine if an animal care officer should be called to assist. According to Trennepohl, the city currently has 18 animal care officers on its staff with additional officers in training. At times, only a single animal control officer is on the job to handle aggressive dog calls across the entire city.