Complaints from residents to the Board of Commissioners have prompted Havelock officials to revisit the city’s regulations on vicious animals.
Havelock Mayor Will Lewis said city staff was gathering information on how other cities and towns deal with animals that display threatening behavior.
The decision to revisit the rules came on the heels of an incident in which a female boxer/beagle mix named Sadie was ruled to be vicious. Under the current regulations, the dog had to be either euthanized at the owner’s expense or banned from the city, with the owners having to pay a $1,000 fee. The money is refunded after a year as long as the vicious animal is not brought back into the city.
Havelock Police Chief G. Wayne Cyrus said that Sadie was involved in an incident on Barden Drive on June 3 when it is alleged that she escaped her property and bit a woman in her left buttock while she was running down the street.
According to minutes from an appeal hearing conducted on June 17, the dog was deemed vicious based on the city regulations, and consequently, City Manager Frank Bottorff ruled that the dog should be either euthanized or removed from the city limits.
Though Sadie allegedly bit the woman, the incident was not witnessed and the reported bite did not draw blood or tear clothing, according to statements from residents in the neighborhood. Furthermore, the alleged victim did not seek medical attention for the bite.
To declare a dog vicious after such an incident didn’t make sense to Shirley Allard, a Havelock resident who spoke out against the current rules during a recent Havelock commissioners meeting.
“This family has gone through hell because of what has happened to the dog,” Allard said of the dog’s owners. “The dog is alive and well, but it cost them $1,000 that they didn’t have and the dog has gone out of the city limits and will soon go to Pennsylvania. It’s not right. If you have no bite marks, no torn clothes, no blood drawn, where is the evidence that a person was bit by the dog? It’s not right. I think the ordinance needs to be changed.”
Allard said the dog was living with a family that has three children ages 7, 8 and 10 and that there have frequently been other children in the home. She said that Sadie had never shown any aggression toward the family or other children.
Donna Scheck, who identified herself as Sadie’s owner in a statement to commissioners, said that birds in the city have more protection than pets.
“The same ordinance that took the dog away from my children allows the woodpecker to destroy my home,” she said.
Patricia Murray told commissioners Sadie’s plight affected her.
“It doesn’t matter what degree that aggressiveness is, the outcome is that the animal is put down or has to move out of the Havelock community,” she said. “I would like to petition the board to let the animal’s punishment fit the crime. There is a big difference between somebody getting a scratch from a dog than having their arm or their skin torn off. When you have people validating the gentleness of the animal and you have one person, no witnesses, no nothing claiming the animal bit them, to go on that claim, the investigation should be in detail. There are animal haters out there.”
Murray said that there are some people who are vindictive against families that have animals.
“All this should be taken into consideration,” Murray said.
Murray complained about the fines as well.
“If a family can afford it, they can pay $1,000 to save the life of the animal. Now how many animal owners can afford $1,000?” she said. “Either the animal is put to sleep or they pay the $1,000. I think that’s ridiculous. Some arrangements should be made that are more feasible.”
Lewis said the city, responding to several dog attacks, made stricter rules on vicious animals in 2011 when he was a commissioner.
“We took what was an ordinance that really had zero bite and we swung the pendulum pretty far, I think, into one that had zero subjectivity and had a lot of teeth in it, no pun intended,” Lewis said. “When we did that, we said that we’ll see how this works for a while and then we’ll go back and revisit the ordinance.”
Lewis said that the time to look at the rules has come.
“We’ve had a few instances where we felt that our ordinances should have had a little more subjectivity than we had in the ordinance, so some of the commissioners said that they’d like to look at it again and see what our options are,” Lewis said. “They want to look at whether we’ve swung the pendulum too far and gotten too strict about vicious animals.”
Cyrus said 322 dogs are registered in the city. Since 2012, animal control has had 15 dog bite cases, 13 of which involved people. Of those 13, seven of the dogs were euthanized, while six owners paid the $1,000 and removed the dogs from the city.
City Clerk Cindy Morgan said she expected commissioners to address the issue at its Aug. 11 meeting. Any changes must be approved by commissioners with a formal vote.
To view city rules on vicious animals, go to www.havelocknc.us and search the ordinances for animals.