08/05/14 — Dogs' owner due in court Wednesday

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Dogs' owner due in court Wednesday

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 5, 2014 1:46 PM

A man whose four pit bulls mauled a 71-year-old Wayne County woman is scheduled to appear Wednesday in District Court.

Terry Tremain Butler, 35, of 112 Country Run Lane faces charges of allowing dogs to run at large and creating a disturbance, Class 3 misdemeanors. According to N.C. General Statute 15A-1340.23, the maximum punishment for a person convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor with no more than three prior convictions is 20 days in jail and a fine of up to $200.

Charging owners in situations like this can be tricky, county Animal Control director Vicki Falconer said.

The questions center around if the dogs were unconfined -- and whether they are regularly unattended, she said.

Wayne County Animal Control last year responded twice to the home where the pit bulls were kept, but the calls were to look at conditions and had nothing to do with the animals running loose or being aggressive, Mrs. Falconer said.

"The Sheriff's Office and I are working on what other charges we can come up with. It just is very hard to justify criminal without going back and seeing a behavioral problem."

Without evidence that the owner was warned and ignored the instruction, Mrs. Falconer said it is difficult to file for more serious charges.

"My hands are fairly tied. If it is running at large and a constant running at large, we have gone as far as -- if (the owners) are not going to listen -- of taking charges out on them. It is a multi-step thing, and it is hard without proof to know for sure."

Often, when her office gets a call about dogs running at large, by the time officers can respond, the dogs are inside a fence or tied up.

She tells callers to try to get photographs.

"I am not saying I don't believe them, but it is hard go to court without (officers) seeing (the dogs loose)," she said.

And when she does write charges, Mrs. Falconer said she often cites the state statute instead of the similar county ordinance. She said she is in the process of trying to rework and to reword some county ordinances regarding dogs running loose.

The county's statistics on bites are scarce, but between June 2013 and May 2014, Wayne County recorded 143, 38 of which were inflicted by pit bulls or pit bull mixes.

But Mrs. Falconer said pit bulls are not inherently more dangerous than other dogs. It depends on how they are treated while they are being raised, she said.

"You hear it is in their blood. There is no way to prove it. Some of the best dogs that I have had in here that I have adopted out have been pit bulls."

One of the four pit bulls involved in the July 25 attack was killed at the scene. The remaining dogs were euthanized Monday.

"Anything involved in a bite I have to hold it for 10 days," Mrs. Falconer said. "Then after the 10 days, they have the option and can go home on a normal bite. On this one, I had already drawn up the dangerous dog orders for them."

On the day of the attack, she talked with Butler and gave him the option of determining the animals to be dangerous, and he relinquished them to her that day.

It is a very costly procedure to keep the animals once they have been labeled dangerous.

"They have to be within a certain-sized kennel within a fence. The kennel can't be adjoined to a fence. It has to have a top. It has to have a bottom. It has to have a dog house," she said. "It has to be so big depending on the size of the dog. If it is walked, it has to be muzzled and can't be on more than a three-foot leash. It has to have dangerous dog signs all over alerting the public that there is one. It is no way really for a dog to live the rest of its life."

Mrs. Falconer said she does not favor the procedure because the quality of life is so diminished for the animal.

"They are not a pet," she said. "They cannot be out. They have to be muzzled at all times if they are out. To me that is inhumane. You don't need a dog for that reason. But there are people that will do it."