Blanca Garcia was checking on her vacationing parents' dogs Tuesday night at their home in the Glendale hills when she walked outside with her 16-month-old daughter, Cassandra.
With the child in one arm, Garcia bent down to give a bowl of water to her parents' Rottweiler, Enano.
Instantly, authorities said, the 3-year-old dog attacked. The dog grabbed the girl out of Garcia's arms and dragged her several feet down the driveway.
A hysterical Garcia wrestled the toddler from the 150-pound dog's jaws and ran for safety into her car in the driveway. Once inside, she realized that Cassandra was badly hurt, put the child down, ran to the house and called 911. She then darted back into the car, police said.
When firefighters and police arrived five minutes later, they saw Enano sitting next to the driver's side of the car, apparently watching the girl. Cassandra was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
"The mauling and injuries sustained was horrific," said Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz, adding that the worst injuries were to her face and head. "I've been here for 21 years, and we have received calls for dog bites and attacks, but never -- I can't recall one like this -- where a small child is mauled so severely and dies. You hear about it everywhere else, but not here."
A day later, stunned relatives, neighbors and authorities were still trying to figure out why Enano attacked the girl.
Some residents in the neighborhood of million-dollar homes said the dog occasionally escaped from its hilltop residence but never caused any harm.
"He was a goofy, gentle giant," said Dorothy Ward, who lives a few doors down and whose 12-year-old son played with Enano. "He was a friendly dog. We could not find anything to detect he was violent."
Mail carrier Steve Valdez said he once saw one of the owners' daughters walking the dog and, because it appeared that the animal was in control, he told her, "He's walking you." The woman smiled. Valdez said he didn't think that the dog was causing a problem.
But in April 2004, a neighborhood resident who owned a small Maltese dog reported that the pet was being attacked by two Rottweilers, one of whom was Enano, said Ricky Whitman, vice president of community resources for the Pasadena Humane Society, which provides animal services for Glendale.
The Rottweilers had escaped from the yard and were wandering the neighborhood when they attacked the Maltese, she said. The Maltese died of its injuries. But because its owner did not want the incident written up, the matter was dropped, she said.
Animal experts and officials said they were baffled by the neutered dog's violent behavior Tuesday night.
"I've never seen a circumstance where something like this has happened," said Richard Polsky, president of Animal Behavior Counseling Services Inc. in West Los Angeles. "I don't know too many fatalities where a Rottweiler has gone up and snatched a child. Most attacks are geared toward children, but usually the children are walking or approaching."
A five-year study in the late 1990s by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta found that Rottweilers, along with pit bulls and German shepherds, bite humans more often than other breeds. The study looked at dog-bite-related fatalities between 1979 and 1998 and found that 66 were due to pit bull attacks and 39 to Rottweiler attacks.
"Rottweilers are responsible for a large number of fatalities in large part because of their size and the size of their bite," Polsky said. "They can bite much harder than a small dog.
"Rottweilers will attack for territorial type of reasons," he said. "They're very protective. Generally speaking, it may be someone who comes on their territory or they may attack because they're a dominant or macho-type dog."
Rottweilers were popular in the 1990s, said Jill Kessler of Rottweiler Rescue of Los Angeles, but as the guard dog of choice became the pit bull, their popularity waned in recent years.
"It's a breed that carries with it a lot more responsibility," Kessler said. "They need more socialization. They need continual obedience, and they really need to be supervised."
Blanca Garcia's parents, Alfredo and Elia Garcia, were vacationing in Mexico but were planning to return home immediately, said family friend Cesar Serrano, who was at their house on Via Saldivar on Wednesday afternoon.
The Garcias also own a Rottweiler who is Enano's mother, said Jerry Bernard, who lives across the street.
Bernard said one of the Garcias' daughters would sometimes knock on his door and ask if he had seen the dogs. Another neighbor said one of the dogs would escape from the gated property by digging holes under the fence. Other neighbors said they didn't realize that the Garcias had Rottweilers.
"If I was the owner, I wouldn't be able to look at the dog anymore," neighbor Kay Hunt said Wednesday. "I don't think people should have dogs like that."
Enano is being held at the Pasadena Humane Society on a 10-day rabies quarantine. After the quarantine is complete, he probably will be euthanized, Whitman said.
Another neighbor, Bobbie Gentili, who attended the Garcias' Fourth of July parties, said she could not believe what had happened.
"It's a tragedy," she said. "I feel very, very bad. It's a horrible day."
Times staff writer Wendy Lee contributed to this report.