AR-News: (AR) No bail for man's best friend

Fri Jun 4 10:12:05 EDT 2004

No Bail for Man's Best Friend

by David Showers 
Most people who run a foul of the law don't have to mildew in jail in 
anticipation of their trial. They can post bail and return to the salutary confines 
of their homes until the trial date. Even the vilest miscreants accused of 
unmentionable depravities can be ensconced in relative freedom until a verdict is 
However, man's best friend isn't extended that franchise in Fayetteville. A 
dog cited for viciousness is detained at the animal shelter until his case is 
resolved in court. While they're human counterparts bask in the largess of 
freewill, a dog, vicious or not, is confined to the city animal shelter. 
According to city code, "If a complaint has been filed in the municipal court 
against the owner or harborer of an impounded animal for violation of this 
section (vicious animal), the animal shall not be released except on order of 
the court." 
A dog cited for viciousness is given no dispensation to return to his owners 
in the interval between the time it was cited and its trial date. Because of 
the glacial pace of the legal system, dogs can be held for months before a 
municipal court judge resolves their situation. 
Opportunities to affect change are sometimes borne from calamities. 
Unfortunately, something dreadful must occur to roust people from their inertia and 
compel them to examine things more closely. In this instance, it was the shooting 
of a dog by a Fayetteville police officer April 12. 
On that red-letter day, Officer Kevin Griswold assisted fellow officer 
Richard Duncan on a traffic stop at 1798 E. Huntsville Rd., home of Clem and Kim 
According to the police report filed by Griswold, when he exited his vehicle 
a large German Shepherd emerged from behind a parked car about 50 or 60 feet 
away and ran toward him. Griswold backed up and tried to determine if the dog 
was tethered to some type of restraint, which it wasn't. The dog continued 
toward Griswold and at 10 to 15 feet away and according to the report, gathered 
itself to leap at the officer. Griswold unsheathed his gun and fired two shots 
from about six to 10 feet away from the dog. The shots hit the dog in the 
hindquarters and it trotted away while holding up its right rear leg. 
Fayetteville Animal Services was called and the dog was taken to the city 
operated Fayetteville Animal Shelter and later to Stanton Animal Hospital for 
emergency medical treatment. 
Mike, the name of the German Shepherd, survived the gunshots. However, animal 
services cited Mike for viciousness, stemming from an alleged incident that 
occurred in June 2003 and his owners, the Johnsons, were cited for having at 
animal running at large - even though Mike was shot inside the perimeter of the 
Johnson's property. 
According to the city code dealing with animals, an animal is at large when: 
"Not under the physical control of the animal's owner or harborer, or his 
authorized representative, either by leash, cord, chain, fence or enclosure of 
sufficient strength or construction to contain the animal."
The gate to the Johnson's backyard where Mike was kept hadn't been 
sufficiently secured to keep him contained. Mike was deemed viscous by the statue in the 
city code that defines a viscous animal as: "Any animal which, when 
unprovoked, approaches in a manner of attack any person upon the streets, sidewalks, or 
any other public ground or places; 2. Any animal with a known propensity, 
tendency or disposition to attack without provocation human beings or domestic 
animals; Any animal which, without provocation, bites or attacks a human being 
or domestic animal on public or private property; or Any animal owned or 
harbored primarily or in part for the purpose of animal fighting or any animal 
trained for animal fighting." 
Which one of those categories Mike fits into, if any, won't be determined 
until Mike's July 14 municipal court date. The issue before judge Rudy Moore will 
deal with the alleged viciousness charge from June 2003, which the animal was 
cited for when animal services detained him after the incident with Griswold. 
"It's my understanding that the incident from last summer is the only one the 
dog is being charged with," said Terry Jones, Washington County prosecutor. 
"He hasn't been charged with anything from the most recent incident in April. 
However, the incident from April will be considered by the judge if he has to 
make a determination to put the dog down." 
Unless Jones and the Johnson's attorney Nicole Fowler reach a settlement out 
of court, Mike will have festered in the animal shelter for three months. 
"We're in negotiations and trying to settle the case before the trial in July," 
Jones said. 
Fowler said the Johnson's aren't pursuing a negligent charge against 
Griswold, or remuneration from the city for Mike's medical bills. They only seek to 
secure Mike's release from the shelter. 
"There is a lapse in the city code pertaining to what happens to animals when 
cases are pending," Fowler said. "Any common criminal gets a chance to post 
bail until proven guilty. I hope that this is a reflection that there is a 
lapse. I hope it's a springboard to help get an ordinance underway.
"The best case scenario is that an ordinance is written to provide a grace 
period between the arrest and the court date. The worst-case scenario is that 
Mike could be put down. The people at the animal shelter are smart, educated 
people. There could be an ordinance that put together some type of review board 
at the animal shelter that recommends to the judge what should be done in 
instances like this." 
When asked if there was a lapse in the city code Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody 
responded, "It's just an awful thing what's happened to Mike. The Johnson's 
are really nice people. I wouldn't say there's a lapse in the code, but it is 
something we need to look at. I need to consult with the city attorney, animal 
services and the city council to see if there's something we can do to correct 
City attorney Kit Williams is in the process of updating Fayetteville's city 
code. He plans to create a provision that will resolve problems such as Mike 
in a more expeditious manner.
"We need a provision that will speed things up," Williams said. "The one I'm 
drafting will have an arraignment a week after the charge has been filed. A 
trial will follow two weeks later. As things are now, it takes months to resolve 
situations like this. It would be better for everyone involved to deal with 
matters like this in a more expeditious manner."
In Rogers, the city code deals expeditiously with such matters. When a dog is 
cited for viciousness, it is not held at the animal shelter. A dog deemed 
aggressive or viscous is only held at the animal shelter if it bites someone, a 
spokesman for the Rogers shelter said. After that, the dog is quarantined for 
10 days to determine if it has been administered the requisite battery 
vaccinations. In that 10 day time period, a judge determines if the dog was provoked. 
If provocation existed, the dog can be given back to his owners after the 
10-day period. 
Mike has fully recovered from his harrowing experience, said Kim Johnson and 
Services Director Jill Hatfield. Johnson credits Mike's convalescence to the 
care and compassion of the staff and the volunteers at the shelter. The 
Johnsons visit Mike between 10 and 45 minutes three to four times a day. 
Mike is kept in a 4x12 enclosure, somewhat larger than the enclosure other 
animals are kept in, Hatfield said. He's let out once an hour and when the 
Johnson's visit Mike they can walk him in the park behind the shelter with the 
accompaniment of an animal services officer, provided no other dogs are in the 
park, Hatfield said. While Mike has appeared to recover fully, prolonged 
confinement can make it difficult for a dog to retain its normal psyche, Hatfield 
"Mike's mental and physical situation hasn't deteriorated," Hatfield said. 
"But dogs that have been in here for six months or more have deteriorated 
mentally. They need social interaction. After a while, they start to think - Why am 
I here?" 
While his countenance and physical proportions appear menacing, people close 
to Mike say those are prima facie misconceptions. They describe the 90-to-100 
pound German Shepherd of having a bark worse than its bite. The Johnsons' 
neighbor, Don Thompson, who came to the aid of Mike after he heard the shots 
diffuse sonorously through neighborhood, describes Mike as being very docile. 
"He comes in our house and plays with my grandchildren which rage in age from 
eight months to 12-years old," Thompson said. "He really likes children. I 
even asked the Johnsons if he could come to a party I had with about 25 people 
Mike didn't know. Everybody just loved him. But he can look viscous when he 
Kim Johnson said when she and her husband moved to their home-an old gas 
station they converted into a house that was featured on HGTV's "Building 
Character"-more than two years ago they were victims of vandalism and other 
destruction of property. When they bought Mike from a reputable breeder in Muskogee, 
Okla., the vandalism stopped, Johnson said. His presence and stentorian bark 
deterred any further vandalism. 
Fayetteville Police Chief Rick Hoyt said that Officer Griswold loves dogs and 
owns a German Shepherd that he adopted from the animal shelter. 
"He was very upset by what he had to do," Hoyt said. "When the dog is in 
command of his owners, I'm sure he's the nicest dog. But all this took place in 
probably under two seconds. He (Griswold) didn't have time use other means of 
force. Our officers' mace and baton aren't speed holstered like their pistol is. 
I know he knows enough about dogs to determine whether a dog is defending its 
territory or attacking someone. A dog bite can be very serious."

© 2002 Fayetteville Free Weekly
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