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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Civic leader with dogs accused in goat deaths has history of complaints about his pets

To many in Brandon, John Noriega is a respected pharmacy owner and civic leader, one recently honored for his service to the community.

But to the people who live in his bucolic Lithia neighborhood of sprawling farmsteads, there is another side to Noriega, who owns Bill’s Prescription Center.

Hillsborough County Pet Resources records show 15 complaints since 2006 about the various dogs Noriega has kept at his home at 1615 Thompson Road.

Noriega’s dogs have twice been accused of killing pet goats. His dogs have also been suspected of killing a neighbor’s two cats, treeing other cats, attacking another goat, getting into garbage and wandering onto people’s land.

Noriega, 60, has also been accused of not taking care of one of his dogs that wandered off his property and may have been hit by a vehicle.

The controversy over Noriega’s dogs, several different ones over the years, reached a boiling point on Dec. 13, 2017. That’s when county officials say his three dogs — pit bull mixes Nyla, 2, and Corona, 5, and Labrador retriever mix Dually, 3 — attacked and killed five pet goats kept in a pen about a half-mile away from his property.

Noriega, who is facing fines and an April court hearing, has to pay $500 per animal for registration as dangerous dogs, but has the animals back. They are confined to a cage on his property. If the dogs attack again, they may be euthanized and Noriega could face criminal charges.

But for the goats’ owners, two teenage friends, the response is not sufficient. The incident, they say, has left them with nightmares, lingering fear and consternation that the problem has festered for so long. Until he was contacted by the Tampa Bay Times on Friday, Noriega had not apologized or offered restitution.

Their ire was piqued in February after reading a story about Noriega being honored with the community service award in which he talked about his family motto of doing things because they are the right thing to do.

"What a joke," said Lauren Munson, 16, of the comments. Her Nigerian dwarf goat, Luna, was among the five goats killed.

County officials say they cannot comment on why Noriega has been allowed to keep the dogs because the case is still under investigation.

• • •

In September 2016, Peter and Wendi Munson decided to help their daughter, Lauren, learn responsibility and earn some money by owning a special breed of goat that would be entered in state fairs and other contests.

So they drove to Georgia, paid $450, and picked up a newborn Nigerian dwarf goat they named Luna, said Peter Munson, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who last served at Marine Forces Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base as a special adviser to then- Lt. Gen. Robert Neller.

For the first months of the goat’s life, Luna slept in a large dog kennel in Lauren’s room in the family’s FishHawk home. Lauren Munson bottle fed the animal and lavished it with love and affection.

After weaning, Luna was kept at Newsome High School, which had an animal husbandry program. But last year, the program ended and the Munsons, who can’t keep goats at the home, had to find a new place to keep Luna.

They reached out to Lauren’s friend, Madisyn Garberg, who had a large pen full of goats in the back yard of her family’s home at 9991 Bryant Road.

Lauren and her family were excited to have what they thought was a safe place for their valued pets even though Garberg, 15, was often scared by Noriega’s loose dogs.

"When I was little, the dogs would always come up on me," she said. "They scared me so much I was afraid to come out."

• • •

Noriega first came to the attention of Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center officials in May 2006, when a neighbor complained that Noriega’s dog Bear was frequently found wandering around.

That neighbor filed a similar complaint two months later and the dog was impounded, according to county documents. Five days later, Bear was once again impounded after being found on the same neighbor’s property. Bear was found wandering three more times that year and taken to the Alafia River Animal Hospital.

In December 2006, another Noriega family dog, Miracle, was found about a half-mile away and tied to a mailbox awaiting pickup by county officials, who impounded the animal.

In November 2008, two more family dogs, Godiva and Hershey, were found wandering around and were picked up by county animal officials. Though the family promised to pick the animals up, they never did and the dogs were adopted by other families.

The following November, Bear was found in poor condition, possibly hit by a car, and once again impounded.

Things took a sinister turn on April 15, 2013. That’s when authorities say three of Noriega’s dogs attacked and killed a goat belonging to Nancy Taylor at 10005 Bryant Road. Two of the dogs, black Labradors, were later found locked in crates in direct sunlight with no food, water or shelter. They were impounded.

"He was very apologetic," said Gary Taylor, 64, owner of the goat killed by Noriega’s dogs. "He wrote a check for $150. I don’t think he is mean-spirited, just a little careless."

A year later, Noriega’s dogs killed two cats, according to a sworn affidavit.

Three days after killing Luna and the other four goats, one of Noriega’s dogs attacked another goat owned by Taylor, according to county officials.

• • •

In the early morning hours of Dec. 13, 2017, Lauren Munson was woken up by her mother with some horrible news.

Her prized pet goat was one of five attacked in a pen at a friend’s home on Bryant Road in Lithia.

When she and her mom arrived, it was pitch black. But they could hear goats screaming in pain.

"It was really awful," said Lauren. "It kind of looked like a crime scene."

She scooped up Luna, placed her on a sheet in the back of her mom’s black 2015 Volvo S-60 sedan, and spent the next several hours driving around the area, looking for a vet who could treat the suffering goat.

But no one could help.

"Luna died in my arms," said Lauren. "I was in shock. When I got home I went into my bathroom and threw up."

As she spoke, eight new goats, including four she owns, frolicked in a more secure, 2,000-square-foot pen.

Lauren said she is still struggling with the aftermath.

"It’s still really hard," she said. "I have nightmares about goats. I wake up in the middle of the night afraid."

• • •

When initially contacted by the Times, Noriega said he didn’t reach out to the goats’ owners because he did not know where they lived. The citation he signed contained the address. In a subsequent conversation, he said, "I was going to visit them, but didn’t. I made a lot of mistakes in life and this is one of them."

After speaking with the Times on Thursday, Noriega said he would accept full responsibility for what happened to the goats and would offer restitution. After the conversation, he visited the house on Bryant Road where the goats were killed and spoke with the parents of the goats’ owners.

"They explained their nightmares and fear," he said. "I said ‘Whatever you need to do, I will help.’?"

Peter Munson said he was not impressed.

"He told me that he felt horrible and really wanted to apologize," Munson said. "I told him that he was a coward and a narcissist and that the only thing he was truly concerned about was showing up in the press, otherwise he would have apologized long ago."

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

     
           
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