The Sampson County Board of Health has upheld an appeal by the owner of a dog reportedly involved in a fight and labeled “potentially dangerous” by Sampson County Animal Control as a result. The board unanimously ruled during a Monday hearing that the dog was not a danger.
Jolene Thomas appealed the decision of Animal Control officer deputy Andrew Worley, who deemed the animal “potentially dangerous” following a fight with another dog July 26 at a residence on Stone Place Lane in northern Sampson. During the hearing, Thomas said she was told her dog, Big Boy, a 7-year-old chow, “nearly killed” the other dog, a boxer mix named Chopper.
“Up until this point, my dog has never gotten into a fight with any other dog or anything like this has ever happened before,” said Thomas. “I really didn’t believe my dog had done this. He is a loving dog and is part of the family, and I didn’t want him to be put down without any proof that he had actually killed another animal. I don’t know how the fight started, so it’s my word against the neighbor’s word. I’m asking you to appeal this. I really don’t think he’s a dangerous dog.”
According to the report filed by Worley, a neighbor stated that at approximately 5:30 a.m. July 26 he heard a noise outside his residence and found that a dog was attacking Chopper, who was chained in the backyard. Their dog was transported to a nearby animal hospital to be treated. Thomas came home from work at 8 a.m., when she maintains Big Boy was chained up.
Worley responded and took the report around 2 p.m. “The dog was loose when I got there,” said Worley.
He talked with Thomas, who said she didn’t realize the animal was loose, and the two attempted to retrieve the dog and bring it back to the house. Worley and the pet’s owner caught the dog about 20 minutes later, Worley said.
“The dog still had the chain from where it broke loose,” said Worley. “He was dragging the chain.”
Worley said the 7-year-old chow had never had his rabies shot, while the boxer mix did. Once that was determined, Thomas surrendered the dog to Worley, who took it to the shelter. The dog likely would have been put down, but Thomas called the next morning and requested the animal be returned. In order for that to happen, the dog had to be deemed as potentially dangerous, which was Worley’s ruling.
That ruling was immediately appealed by Thomas, and the hearing was set.
At the hearing. Thomas said she found that the boxer’s injuries, which she originally believed to be serious in nature, included lacerations to the gums and ears requiring sutures. She said there was no information that the dog was “killed or nearly killed,” as she had been intially told. She pointed out the statute governing “dangerous dog” rulings which stipulate the infliction of a “severe injury” She said that is defined as physical injuries such as broken bones or disconfiguring lacerations and others that require cosmetic surgery.
“I’m pretty sure he probably did get in a fight with the dog,” said Thomas. “I’m taking their word for it … because I wasn’t there. I did offer to pay the vet bill, which I only think is fair, because my dog did walk into their property.”
Thomas was asked by board members whether there had been any incidents in the past of aggressiveness or violence. She said if she ever thought the dog was a danger to her family or others, she would be the first one to call the authorities.
“I have kids myself and my nieces and nephew come over to the house,” she said. “I don’t believe in harboring dangerous animals.”
Health board member Dr. Beth Turner asked whether there was any dried blood, injuries or other signs of a fight on Thomas’ dog. Thomas said there was not. Worley said he did not see anything.
“Not that I noticed,” he said. “Not that stood out to me.”
As board members passed around pictures of Chopper’s injuries, the severity of them was discussed.
“Are these injuries considered severe or life-threatening by your definition?” Dr. Ron Faircloth asked Turner. “We could potentially label a lot of dogs potentially dangerous. The statute states that it has to be a severe injury. That’s where the interpretation becomes critical.”
“Looking at the injuries in those pictures, I would not consider them severe,” Turner said. She also mentioned the lack of clear signs of a fight on Thomas’ chow. “That dog should have had blood on him in some shape or form. The dog should have some amount of blood on him. I would not classify that as a severe injury.”
Board member Paul Bradshaw said he was not completely certain Big Boy was the one involved in the scuffle.
“Can we be sure that this is the same dog that attacked the dog?” asked Bradshaw. “I can’t be sure.”
“It seems reasonable that it would be, because she practically agrees that it was,” said Faircloth. “But, with no blood on there and no other witnesses, it makes it difficult.”
As she stated her case, Worley said she had not received a report from Animal Control despite requests, nor had she been issued a citation. Worley said he believed he told Thomas she could obtain a report at the Sheriff’s Office, where those request were to be placed. He said Thomas was also informed she would have to go through the hearing process before getting her dog out of the shelter, at which time the citation would be issued.
“She’d be issued a citation when she got the dog out of the shelter,” Worley noted.
He noted a complaint of Big Boy breaking loose of his chain last year. Worley said he told her at that time to make sure she got the dog to the vet and had it vaccinated for rabies. Worley said she did not. When asked by board chairman Dr. Ted Thomas why she did not have her dog vaccinated, Thomas conceded it was a “lack” on her part.
Worley said it is a $250 fine along with court costs for having an unvaccinated dog. In addition to also paying the vet bill for the other dog, Thomas agreed to have a proper holding facility for hers.
The board first considered a vote to uphold the Animal Control ruling of Big Boy as “potentially dangerous.” No one voted in that regard. Thomas then asked for a vote to uphold Thomas appeal that Big Boy was not potentially dangerous. All hands raised.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.