Where do you want to fly?
Dom, a male pit bull mix, was deemed “vicious and dangerous,” after he attacked and caused the death of another dog — Scruffy — on May 26, 2018.
In testimony before the Washington County Animal Control Authority just weeks after the attack, Wilbur Brunner Jr. of Halfway, said the pit bull mix not only went after his dog, Scruffy, but during the attack Brunner’s prosthetic leg fall off.
“I was in hysterics,” said Brunner, who asked not to recount the events because it was too difficult. “I don’t want to go through it again. (Scruffy’s) bone was sticking out and a huge gash under the stomach.”
Scuffy was rushed to an animal hospital and euthanized.
This was just one of the many harrowing cases the Animal Control Authority hears monthly.
As is typical, it was up to this all-volunteer board to decide Dom’s fate.
An attorney for Dom’s owner asked them to lessen the charges of vicious and dangerous, but to no avail.
The authority voted unanimously to keep the designation, which according to the county’s Animal Control Ordinance, requires Dom to be muzzled and kept on a leash when outside.
It’s the job of the authority to render decisions based on the county ordinance — a document that outlines the rules for animal care, including punishments for breaking those rules — without being swayed by emotional and at times, gut-wrenching testimony.
It does not come easy.
“It takes a lot of soul searching,” said Randall Wagner, who served eight years on the authority, before stepping down after being elected to the Washington County Board of Commissioners in November. “It’s one of the hardest boards I’ve ever served on, because it’s so emotional.”
Dogs make up a majority of the cases before the authority. It’s evident that the men and women that go before the authority consider their pets nothing short of family.
Dom’s case was one of a handful the authority ruled on that Thursday night in June.
They also deemed that Levi, a male chocolate Labrador retriever, was “vicious and dangerous,” after he attacked the neighbor’s dog, Bentley, a bichon poodle mix.
Bentley was euthanized as a result of his injuries.
“We lost a dog,” Wagner said, that evening. “We lost (a person’s) pet. …I really have a problem with a person’s pet killing another dog.”
The law takes precedence over emotions
The four-member Animal Control Authority hears between three-to-five cases a month.
Cases typically start with the Humane Society of Washington County.
They issue a citation to the animal owner, who has the right to appeal the infraction to the authority.
The humane society responds to some 200 calls a month, said Crystal Mowery, field service director.
Calls that range from barking dogs, to roaming farm animals, to an animal attack.
“When we go out we may issue a citation,” Mowery said. “The (owners) have the right to appeal that to the authority.”
The authority can dismiss the citation or affirm it.
“The humane society is like the police, and the authority is the judge and jury,” said authority Chairman Travis Poole.
Poole contends that the authority must remain objective.
“It’s up to the (authority) to interpret the Animal Control Ordinance,” said Poole, who also works as an attorney for the Washington County Department of Social Services. “We need to be objective.”
At the same time, it’s important that pet owners be allowed to make their case.
“People want to be heard,” Poole said. “We’re not unsympathetic, but we’re required to take the law and the facts given and decide if there is a violation. If emotion creeps in, we may not (decide) appropriately.”
“They are there to hear both sides, and come to a conclusion,” she said. “People care deeply for their pets, and it’s stressful.”
It’s also stressful for her officers.
“Especially when they see an animal suffering,” Mowery said.
Poole, the owner of five-year-old Hunter, a basset hound/beagle mix, said the authority’s objective is to keep the hearings from turning into a “barroom brawl.”
Emotions ran high back in 2014, when the humane society confiscated a Hagerstown woman’s mallard duck, Quackers.
The humane society took Quackers after the woman called to report a neighborhood dog had attacked her duck and, in the process of defending the waterfowl, she was bitten, according to reports from The Herald-Mail Media, at the time.
The dog was ordered to be quarantined. Officers then put Quackers in a cage, since federal law requires the duck to either be released into the wild or euthanized.
Quackers’ owner fought to get the duck back. She had raised Quackers from an egg, and feared that the duck would be euthanized.
She made an emotional appeal to the authority, who agreed in a 3 to 2 vote, to give Quackers back.
An audience of about 25 people burst into cheers, reports stated.
Wagner was one of the board members to vote in favor of the appeal.
Today, Wagner said the authority serves a vital purpose, as it involves people and their pets.
“It’s a very important board,” he said. “They’re there to protect the citizens and the animals.”