Tiffany Bara’s Monday morning started off routine. She got her kids ready for school and they were out the front door and off to the bus just after 7 a.m.
They were greeted in the yard of their home in Picture Rocks by their dogs. There was Bandit. And Kane. But missing was their puppy, Buddy, an 8-month-old German shepherd mix.
Bara peered across the street to her neighbor’s home, a similar-style house on the corner of West Woolcott Lane just down the way from West Silverbell Road. Officers from the Pima Animal Care Center gathered in the yard, which is confined by a waist-high fence. They were looking at something on the ground.
Bara figured out quickly it was Buddy. She learned later that her dog had been shot and killed by her neighbor, Marilyn Hendrickson, an off-duty Marana animal control officer.
“My son is heartbroken. Buddy was his,” Bara said. “We rescued him from an abuser. He’d always curl up in a little ball.”
Through interviews with those involved and records obtained by the Star, a complicated portrait of a months-long neighbors’ dispute involving the Baras, Hendrickson and PACC has emerged from what transpired early Monday southwest of Marana in unincorporated Pima County.
Hendrickson said she was equal parts remorseful and frustrated. She called the situation a touchy subject. She didn’t want to do what she did, Hendrickson said, but she was desperate.
She had lost 13 chickens in the last six months, and suspected the culprits were her canine neighbors, not the wild animals that occasionally wander into the neighborhood from the swaths of open land around them.
Hendrickson made at least five calls to PACC, her former employer, but felt the center didn’t take care of the problem. She installed surveillance cameras. She kept her children inside.
But the problem worsened in the last few weeks, so she took matters into her own hands. Following what Hendrickson said was a nighttime attack Monday, she caught Buddy in a trap. And she shot him.
She maintained she acted within her rights.
“It took me six months of animal loss, no response — I’ve felt there was no response from PACC. They never did anything to ensure my safety,” she said. “I had to do things myself that I didn’t want to do.”
The fallout was immediate. Hendrickson has been placed on leave pending an investigation by Marana Animal Services. PACC cited Tiffany Bara’s husband, Justin, with three counts each of violating leash laws and for the dogs biting animals. Bandit and Kane were taken by PACC, and the Baras need to go to the center to get them back.
A criminal case has ended up with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, something spokesman Deputy James Allerton could only refer to as “an unusual situation, that’s for sure.”
Allerton cautioned that the investigation is ongoing and in its early stages. Speaking generally, he said “it depends” whether shooting and killing an animal on your own property is a crime.
“There’s an animal cruelty statute that could apply to any force on an animal. On the other hand, there are statutes that mitigate that,” Allerton said. “From our perspective, we did have a response to that area. That’s quite literally all we have for information we can provide at the time.”
Kristen Hassen, PACC director of animal services, had another description: tragic and avoidable. She stressed her officers always responded and did everything they could when Hendrickson called. They would have done so again if Hendrickson had kept Buddy in the trap.
“Unfortunately, officers were not given this opportunity,” Hassen said in a statement. “Instead, Ms. Hendrickson set and baited a trap, waited for a dog to enter the trap, and then shot the trapped dog, only calling PACC officers afterwards to request they pick up the carcass. This needless violence by a trained animal protection officer with many years of experience that resulted in the death of a trapped dog could have been prevented if Ms. Hendrickson had simply called officers to remove the dog.”
First calls to PACC
For Hendrickson, the motivation for her actions dates back to June, when she made her first call to PACC, records show. She found a dog in her coop with a chicken in its mouth. After she chased it off her property, she counted 10 chickens dead or dying.
Hendrickson spoke with the neighbors, the Baras. Tiffany was skeptical their dogs were responsible and reluctantly agreed to replace the chickens. That fell through after the local feeders store said they were out. Hendrickson said Tiffany stopped responding to text messages.
Tiffany maintained her dogs are friendly. They’ll greet everyone at the gate, unless they don’t know you. They’ll bark but never bite.
She acknowledged they would escape from the yard, despite efforts to patch their fence, pack holes they dug, and block the fencing with a kennel.
“We’ve literally tried everything except barbed wire,” she said. “Dogs are dogs. They’re going to find a way to get out. Animals are animals. They’re going to do whatever they want.”
Hendrickson, too, said she tried everything. She repaired holes in the fences, chicken coop and goat pen with railroad ties. She installed the cameras. And she continued to call PACC.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 20 years,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve never reported anything except for the attacks on my animals.”
Records show Hendrickson called PACC five times since Aug. 30. During that time, three more chickens were killed. She showed photos and video to officers. During an Oct. 18 phone call, she stated “she will shoot a dog attacking her animals on her property” if it persisted, according to records.
In one case, officers went to serve the Baras with a citation, but they couldn’t find them. After another call, Tiffany was given a pamphlet about leash laws and was threatened with a citation should the problems persist.
The final straw came early Monday, just after midnight. Hendrickson heard her goats screaming and crying. She saw a dog on video pinning the goats down. She called PACC, which sent personnel to the home. They left after they didn’t find the dogs and found the goats without injury. They said videos were too “shadowy.”
“The two goats were injured,” Hendrickson said. “They can’t put weight on their legs.”
So Hendrickson set up the trap. Four hours later, she called PACC again to tell them she killed Buddy.
“I was being victimized every night,” Hendrickson said. “I feel like PACC has hurt my reputation so bad. I guess I’ll let myself be victimized. I guess they’re not going to help me.”
In interviews with officers, Hendrickson asked for Kane and Bandit to be evaluated to see if they were dangerous, records show. Officers said they would talk to the people responsible for that to get it started, to which Hendrickson replied she’d “just have to shoot the dog,” according to records, adding that she felt bad for shooting Buddy.
She was informed to call PACC instead of shooting a dog if she traps one in the future.
Tiffany Bara remembers seeing emergency lights when waking up in the middle of the night but went back to sleep without thinking anything of it.
She’s frustrated she wasn’t told about Buddy’s death.
PACC said it’s standard to hold off on notifying an animal owner while a case is being investigated.
Bara is particularly frustrated because she feels there’s still no proof Buddy — or her other two dogs — killed any of the Hendrickson’s animals.
“It’s sad to what happened to Buddy. He obviously was out of the yard,” she said. “But where is the proof. Just because my dog was out of the yard doesn’t mean he killed them?”
And she’s ultimately concerned about the safety of her and her family. They’re now looking to move.
Contact reporter Justin Sayers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4192. Twitter: @JustinSayers. Facebook: JustinSSayers.