Reprinted from Mitchell News Journal
BY BRANDON ROBERTS
BAKERSVILLE – Spruce Pine resident Katie Callahan was on an evening run Sunday, Aug. 21, through the English Woods neighborhood when she was viciously attacked by a loose pit bull. She was bitten so severely on her leg and buttocks she was taken by ambulance to Blue Ridge Regional Hospital and treated for her wounds.
Until now, however, there was nothing anyone could do about the attack.
With her left leg turned black and blue and wrapped in a bandage, Callahan stood in front of the Mitchell County Board of Commissioners during its monthly meeting this past Thursday and had a rather simple request.
“I am here to ask the commissioners a committee be formed to address dangerous dogs,” said Callahan, a self-proclaimed animal lover and former member of the Mitchell County Animal Rescue Board. “This dog was not on a leash or behind a fence. If it had been a child or an elderly person who was attacked, they could have died.”
Callahan’s request was granted. A dangerous dog declaration board has been established with Mitchell County Sheriff Donald Street, Spruce Pine Police Chief Billy Summerlin and Mitchell County Animal Rescue Executive Director Patricia Beam comprising its members.
Per the North Carolina General Statute addressing dangerous dogs, an appeals board was also established with Spruce Pine Town Council member James Acuff, Gouge Elementary principal Colby Calhoun and county manager Charles Vines comprising its members.
After the appeals board, the next step is the North Carolina Superior Court.
“North Carolina has a general statute for a vicious and dangerous dog,” Street told the commissioners. “Part of that statute says there has to be a person or board in place to declare that dog vicious and dangerous. What I want to ask from (the commissioners) is to give me approval to establish a board – and I’ve got three members ready to sit on that board right now – to be able to determine if the dog is vicious and dangerous. We want something done. If you’re out here and you own a dog that’s biting people when they are walking down the road and minding their own business, the dog needs to be put up and something needs to be done.”
The statute does not deal with the dog; it instead deals with the dog owner.
“We’re more than willing to charge that person with anything we can, but I what I want to do first is, if it’s a bite, the dog is going to have to be quarantined for 10 days,” Street said. “After that, I’d like to work out something that before they can get that dog and take it home that they’re going to have to sign some sort of paperwork with us showing how they’re going to house that dog. If that dog is out, we’re charging them.”
Having a dog deemed dangerous microchipped is also part of the plan, Street said, which allows the board to determine a dog belongs to a specific owner.
“At this point,” Street said, “I can’t make an owner do anything.”
Street mentioned a deputy, Ashley Beam, who was bitten in the face by a dog that was running loose after it was returned to its owner.
“I’m afraid if we don’t do something someone is going to get killed before this is over,” Street said. “And just thank God Katie was not killed. How that dog, once she fell, decided to run off I have no clue.”
Mitchell County Animal Rescue Board Member Gloria Schulman told the board there have been several vicious dog attacks in the past month and the board feels “very strongly” there needs to be something done to stop it.
Beam said the past two bite dogs quarantined are “very dangerous.”
“I released one out of quarantine and the owner was there,” she said. “Someone came in with a stray dog and he said he heard the commissioners were going to talk about the dangerous dogs and the owner of the dog that was being released out of quarantine said, ‘Yeah, I think they should do something.’ He was oblivious to the fact his dog was dangerous. Someone is going to get seriously injured or killed if we don’t do something.”
Summerlin agreed something needs to be done to address dangerous dogs.
“(The Spruce Pine police) are in favor of something,” he said. “The owner of the dog (that attacked Callahan) was cited and that’s about all we can do on our end of it because he was in violation of our leash law. That’s a small amount compared to what she is going to have to pay for her doctor bills.”
County attorney Lloyd Hise said the first step is the county adopting an ordinance that clearly defines how a dangerous dog should be housed and making the first offense a Class III misdemeanor.
“(We need) to give everybody one chance, because this could happen by accident,” Hise said. “But after that dog is loose a second time after being declared dangerous, it should be a more serious offense.”
Beam said the two dogs recently quarantined could’ve easily gotten out of where they were being housed.
The dangerous dog board and board of appeals were approved. Ordinances pertaining to dangerous and vicious dogs will be presented in October at the board of commissioners’ regular meeting.