The Jackson man and woman whose dogs attacked a young boy playing in a park last summer were convicted and ordered to pay fines and restitution — but their dogs won’t be put down.
After a bench trial for Ryan Watts and a plea bargain for Sarah Celestine, those were the options the court had — either order the dogs killed or order the defendants pay fines and medical bills. No jail time is allowed under Wyoming’s misdemeanor dog bite law.
“The evidence convinces me that it won’t happen again,” Teton County Circuit Court Judge James Radda said during Celestine’s sentencing.
While sympathetic to the victim’s injuries, Radda said there wasn’t enough evidence to convince him that the dogs should be killed.
Watts, 36, and Celestine, 27, were cited and tried separately but ordered to jointly pay $6,843.75 of restitution, and each will have to pay $200 in fines, plus additional court costs.
Teton County Prosecutor Erin Weisman asked the court for the dogs to be put down.
“The dogs should be destroyed for [the victims] and for the safety of the community,” Weisman said. “These were horrific injuries to a 4-year-old boy.”
The toddler was with his mom, Irene Marquina, and a younger sibling in Cottonwood Park on Aug. 19 when the dogs escaped from Watts’ backyard and attacked him.
“This was an unprovoked attack,” Weisman said. “If these injuries had occurred at the hands of a human we would not be in circuit court. It would be a very different case.”
The boy had gashes and wounds all over his body, according to photos. He had three large gashes on his lips, four bigger wounds and puncture holes on his arms, a bite on his calf, a gash on his right thigh, long scrapes on his buttocks and chin and several bites on his left knee.
According to medical records, it cost $1,230 just to repair his lip.
“When this first happened and he was first bitten he couldn’t sleep,” Marquina said. “He doesn’t want to go to the park anymore because that’s where the dogs are.”
There’s conflicting testimony about what happened after the attack.
The victims say Celestine and another witness came to retrieve the dogs but did not offer to help the bleeding boy.
Celestine said she didn’t go to the park at all because her dog returned on its own when she beeped his shock collar.
“It’s uncharacteristic of my dog,” Celestine said. “It’s an unfortunate series of events.”
Watts stayed in his house, they all agree.
“I am bothered that when they came to see what happened to their dogs they didn’t ask us if we needed help at all,” Marquina told the court.
Watts and his partner, Mallory Orr, were having Celestine and another friend over when the attack occurred. They say one of the guests did not properly lock the gate to their backyard, which is how the dogs got out.
“I feel awful that a kid got attacked,” Watts said. “No one likes that. This is a tragic event that happened when someone didn’t close a gate.”
Watts installed a new gate lock after the incident, he told the court.
“I don’t want anyone else to suffer like we have,” Marquina said.
— Kylie Mohr contributed to this story.