A group of Lewisport residents said they’re fed up with being scared of, and attacked by, a woman’s two dogs, so they attended both the Lewisport City Council meeting and the Hancock County Fiscal Court to ask how they can protect themselves do something more than simply have the dogs repeatedly picked up and released by animal control.
More than a dozen residents came to the Lewisport meeting to voice their concerns and tell stories about being bitten and menaced by two particular dogs, who they said are allowed to roam the streets despite numerous complaints and incidents.
“The residents of 1410 Meadowlane have two dogs that have either bitten or threatened people walking or biking by this house,” said Veronica Taylor, who read a statement explaining the situation and asking for help. “There have been two incidents in the last week. Animal control was called for at least one incident.”
People call the dog warden, who comes and picks up the dogs, but once the owner pays the requisite fees, they’re returned home.
Matt Howard said he lives near the dogs’ owner and has had several problems out of the dogs too.
“My girlfriend was actually bit once and I got some pictures and I filed a police report,” Howard said. “It got her on the back of the leg… it left a big ol’ bruise on the back of her thigh.
“They came and got the dog, picked it up, quarantined it I guess for a couple of weeks and then they just went and picked the dog right back up and it was running back around,” he said.
That was about a year ago, but he declined prosecution because he wanted to keep peace with his neighbor and instead just asked the woman to keep the dogs put up.
“She was like, ‘You don’t have to worry about it. We’ll make sure the dogs are put up,’” he said. “Well two days later they’re just running wild again.”
His girlfriend was attacked again a few weeks ago when she was walking in the neighborhood and Howard had to come running and kick at the dog to get it to stop.
“It’s not just kind of barky, it literally tries to attack you if you go by there,” he said.
And in front of his house he saw one of the dogs bite another woman who was walking, and she had to go to a doctor for shots and medication.
“They came and actually picked both the dogs up that night but then the very next day the black and white one was back around…” he said.
“It’s to the point now where I literally carry my pistol. If I go to the mailbox, I always have my gun on me because I’m not getting bit again, nobody else in my family’s getting bit again. I’ll kill 10 dogs if I have to. I’ve made up my mind, it’s not happening again.”
Others said they’d been menaced by the dogs and had even had to protect an elderly woman who walks in the area. They asked about the consequences of spraying them with mace or even using greater force.
“If that dog’s in the street, especially if it’s coming after you, it’s fair game,” said Lewisport Police Chief John Garner. “You can mace it, you can hit it, you can tase it.”
Garner said that residents should file complaints against the dog owner, and that if they all sign it will hold more weight.
“In fact, if each one of you here tonight wants to come to the office and sign a complaint against the citation that’s already issued, which means every one of you gets subpoenaed to court, I believe if all of you go to court and present this to the court like you’ve presented here tonight, they may sit up and take notice and actually take an action,” he said.
Legal action was the topic during the fiscal court meeting, when several of the same group attended to ask the same questions of the county, since they are the ones who operate the animal shelter and hire the dog warden.
County Attorney Paul Madden, Jr. said that having a dog picked up by the warden and following a civil and criminal process are different things with different outcomes.
Whether a dog is vicious is determined by a judge, he said, and that can’t be decided unless there’s a complaint filed, charging the owner with harboring a vicious dog.
The judge will hear witnesses both for and against and decide whether the dog is indeed vicious.
If the judge says it is vicious they can order the owner to confine the dog in an enclosure at least seven feet high and that it not be allowed out except for vet visits, when it must be muzzled.
Then if the owner still allows the dog to run free, that’s when criminal charges, fines and even jail time can follow.
“Once they’ve determined it’s a vicious dog and they’re still not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, then you can come to the county attorney and the county attorney can file a complaint saying that they’re violating this finding of the court and this statute,” he said.
The fines are not less than $50 and not more than $200, imprisonment for not less than 10 days and not more than 60 days, or both fines and jail.
“Very rarely have I ever gotten to that point, but I have gotten to that point before,” he said.
The owner of the dog wasn’t publicly named in the meetings and didn’t return a Facebook message for this story.
By Dave Taylor