Loose dog attack prompts questions

By DeeAnna Haney | Sep 09, 2013
Jennifer Keener walks her neighbor's dog, Manny, on Harris Street in Waynesville where they live.

For Waynesville resident Vicki Howard, walking her beloved 9-year-old Jack Russell, Manny, was once a highlight of her day. But a recent attack by a loose neighborhood dog has made it a terrifying task.

While walking Manny near her home on Harris Street one day in August, a Rottweiler and Pitt Bull escaped from a neighborhood property and “charged” toward her.

“They were apparently after my little dog, not me, and in order to save him, I was able to pull him into the air by his leash and get him into my arms,” she said.

The dogs continued to lunge for Manny, but a neighbor ushered her into their yard where she found her dog was bleeding.

Police officers and animal control officers arrived quickly, but because the dogs were back on their property and had not bitten a human, no action was taken, Howard said.

“This made no sense to me but I chose to let it go and not walk my dog in that direction again,” she said.

But it wasn’t long before the same dogs got loose and attacked again.

Jennifer Keener, who lives just a few houses down from Howard, won’t even walk her dauchsand, Riley, on the street anymore after a similar experience with the same dogs.

“By the time I got her picked up, she was bleeding — my clothes and my hands were bloody,” Keener said.

Riley was taken to the vet and was treated her for a puncture wound on her side.

Keener now only lets Riley into the yard briefly a couple times each day because she is afraid to go outside.

Looking back on her experience, Howard said, “I know those dogs would have killed Manny that day. There is no question in my mind.”

Not only is Howard afraid to walk her own dog down the street, Manny is terrified as well. When he sees other dogs, “he gets so upset it takes him about two hours to calm down,” she said.

Now, Howard carries pepper spray when walking the dogs, just in case it happens again.

“I used to feel safe leaving our dogs outside, but not anymore. If I leave to go to the grocery store, I put him in the house because you never know when they’re going to get out,” Howard said.

Though she said she believes animal control fined the owners of the dogs, she has since seen them loose again.

“I just don’t understand why something can’t be done about dogs like that,” Howard said. “Do they have to maul a child first?”

To her, losing Manny would be just as heartbreaking as losing a family member.

“I would be totally devastated because my dog is my life,” she said. "Why can they just go ahead and keep attacking little dogs because I think the little dogs need to be protected just as much as a human," Howard said.

Little recourse

Jean Hazzard, director of Haywood County Animal Control Services, said her officers follow an ordinance set forth for the entire county, which each of the four towns adopted.

If a dog is loose when animal control arrives, they can impound the dog and/or issue a $50 roaming citation to the owner, Hazzard said. And if the animal is not up-to-date on vaccinations, it’s an additional $50 fine for that.

The ordinance does not specify a limited number of times a dog can be caught leaving the owner’s property before animal control seizes the animal. Hazzard likened it to people getting a speeding ticket. Civil penalty fees apply to each offense.

Any dog or cat that bites a human is automatically quarantined for 10 days at the owner’s expense to make sure the animal does not have rabies and is up to date on vaccinations.

Hazzard said an officer investigates what could have caused any reported attack. But in cases like Howard’s, it can be difficult if the situation comes down to simply the word of the victim against the word of the owner of the attacking dog.

“We are not in the position to say one person is telling the truth or not,” Hazzard said.

In cases like that, she said usually there needs to be a witness statement and then an investigation. But if the victim of an attack is another animal and incurs vet bills that the owner wants to retain, Hazzard said that is something that must be handled in civil court.

If after investigation, an animal services officer declares an animal as being potentially vicious, certain restrictions apply including keeping the dog secured at all times to prevent escape, posting a notice of the dangerous animal, keeping it from children 12 and under and more.

If the owner of the dog doesn’t comply within two weeks of the notice or if personal injury or death occurs exceeding $300 from an unprovoked attack, the animal can be immediately euthanized.

By far, animal control receives the complaints about barking dogs more than anything. But that issue is handled by the law enforcement in the area where the barking occurs.

With only six full-time and two part-time officers to man the building and go out on calls, it’s sometimes difficult for the department to handle all the complaints across the county.

But for every barking complaint, she sends an officer to check on the reason for the barking before referring the complainant to police.

They will check to make sure the barking dog is not hungry, distressed or hurt.

“If we rule the manner of keeping is within the laws and ordinances, then we call police,” Hazzard said.

Each case, whether it involves a loose dog or a barking dog, is investigated on a case by case basis.

Specific county and town ordinances regarding animals can be found online at http://www.haywoodnc.net.

Each town has adopted the county ordinances and may have their own additional rules as well.