Bill Warren could not find his dog Ray when the 2-year-old Mastiff lab mix went missing a couple short weeks ago. He looked everywhere and Ray, the massive, fun-loving mutt was simply nowhere to be found.
“Ray was 2 and knew nothing but love,” Warren said. “He loved everybody and wanted nothing more than his head rubbed and to lick you. He was just a baby. He never came charging and wasn’t aggressive.”
But that did not stop somebody from taking him out of his pen and killing Ray, smashing him over the head, leaving his collar on the roadway and his body in the azalea bushes, only to be found later by the man who took him in and loved him. A foul odor was how Warren discovered his beloved dog.
“I was looking for him all week,” Warren said, recalling how the “putrid smell” led him to the bushes near his deck, where he found familiar hind legs poking out.
Warren lost his dog at the hands of cruel people, and he doesn’t want it to happen to anyone else.
“What got me is finding the collar in the middle of the road,” he said. “It had to be unclipped to come off his head and it was clipped back and laid in the road on the yellow line. He knew no aggression. He wouldn’t hurt you. He was as innocent as a baby.”
Ray went missing the same week of the Hayes Mill Road home invasion and another break-in in the Vann Crossroads community, not far from his own residence. He said that speaks to a larger problem, a climate where laws no longer protect the innocent. He points to the recent home invasions and break-ins across Sampson, specifically in the northern end around where he lives. No one is safe anymore, he concedes.
Warren refuses to speculate about who killed Ray, but can’t help but draw connections between several incidents in a sudden rash of crime. He saw a couple teenagers walking the road around that time, and recalled incidents where Ray was antagonized.
“I don’t want to get even, I just want other people’s pets to be saved,” he attested. “I don’t want somebody else to have to go through what I went through because they think Sampson County is safe for pets, because it’s not. Things like this happen in Sampson County.”
A Sampson native, Warren remembers when it wasn’t that way. He used to compare Newton Grove and Clinton to Mayberry.
“We never bothered locking our doors. Nothing was under lock and key. Nothing was ever bothered, until farms started being sold and we stopped knowing who our neighbors were and they started putting in slum parks. There are some decent people there, but there’s also a bad element.”
The Sheriff’s Office tries, he said, but they can only do so much. Animal Control head Sgt. Jessica Kittrell, whose unit is tasked with investigating all animal-related incidents across the county, has been great.
“Our people are doing all they can do,” Warren concedes. “She was awesome. I could see she really cared and the case mattered to her, and I fully believe she’ll do everything she can.”
But even if investigators do find something, nothing will bring Ray back. Warren knows that, and he’s hoping others might benefit in the wake of his own loss.
Warren had Ray nearly a year, adopting him from a couple who had the dog before him and treated him like their baby, but were forced to give him up.
The owner of a 12-year-old black lab rescue named Bear at the time, Warren took Ray in. He had found Bear under a trash bin at 4 months old, badly burned and his stomach collapsed. He refused to put him down and nursed him to health and a full 12 years of life. Health issues ultimately led Warren to put Bear down in January.
“I got Ray before that happened. I wanted Ray to get acclimated to Bear and I hoped some of Bear would rub off on Ray,” Warren remarked. “I knew what was going to happen with Bear.”
Ray soon became what Warren deemed his “redneck girlfriend,” because when the two would ride in the truck together, Ray would immediately burrow his head under Warren’s arm, his head pressed against Warren’s shoulder and neck, his nose near his chest.
“I always had to have another shirt to change into because, being part Mastiff, he would droll,” Warren recalled with a laugh. “He insisted on sitting that way. He would sit like that with anyone. It was all love. As bad as (his loss is hitting) me at 51, just think about the damage that would do to a 7 or 8 year old.”
His mother Eloise is similarly broken up about Ray’s loss.
“I’m 51 and it’s hurting me but when a 82 year old woman who doesn’t cry just starts crying, it’s just kind of tough,” said Warren, his voice shaking. “I’m trying to make a positive out of a negative. If Ray’s death can save somebody else’s pet or save somebody else from going through what Eloise and I went through.
He implored dog owners to get a surveillance system if they can, or at least protect pens with chains and padlocks. If all else fails, a garage or a large room inside the home can be the perfect haven for a crate to be moved at night.
Warren just doesn’t want anything else bad to happen to another animal, one like his unsuspecting and lovable Ray. He says that kind of violence has a tendency to manifest itself into future heinousness.
“Anyone who can do this to an animal won’t have any problem doing that to a human. That’s the scary part,” said Warren. “If you can walk up to an animal who walks to you out of love, wanting attention, and bludgeon it to death, you can most certainly do it to a human. Killing is killing.”
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.