Overnight shelter massacre
DOTHAN, Alabama––Changing the subject from how two pit bulls killed 29 cats to appealing for multi-millions of dollars to build a new animal shelter took Dothan, Alabama city officials barely seconds on July 25, 2019.
Dothan Animal Shelter staff found the 29 cats mauled to death when they arrived for work that morning. The two pit bulls who killed the cats were reportedly still in the cats’ enclosure.
Surrendered to the shelter just the day before, “Those dogs forced their way out of a pen. Then, they pushed hard enough on galvanized bars to knock (the bars) out of their clamps,” shelter director Bill Banks told WTVY reporter Ken Curtis.
“Ate their way out”
Agreed Dothan city commissioner Beth Kenward, “These dogs were able to eat their way out, for lack of a better term, and attack these cats. That is horrible.”
“It’s sad, and there is no doubt that (a new shelter) is overdue,” said Dothan mayor Mark Saliba.
About 30 cats who survived the pit bull onslaught were transferred from the damaged Dothan Animal Shelter, to the Northeast Ohio SPCA, in Parma, Ohio, for possible adoption.
The police-operated Dothan Animal Shelter shares the 20-year-old building with the Wiregrass Humane Society, founded in 1975.
The Wiregrass Humane Society formerly had no shelter, while the Dothan pound occupied a trailer.
Advocates dispute that the pit bulls are “aggressive”
Editorially endorsing the call to build a new shelter, instead of just repairing the existing facility, the Dothan Eagle noted that “The incident has incited the outrage of animal advocates from all sides, from cat enthusiasts to pit bull aficionados who decry the characterization of the animals as aggressive.”
Shelter director Banks had told Curtis of WTVY that he could not see releasing the pit bulls to potentially do harm again.
The pit bulls were impounded from Dothan resident Kenneth Hamilton––for the second time––after escaping from his yard. The same pit bulls had escaped from Hamilton’s yard in May 2019, killing two cats at a neighbor’s home, the cats’ owner told ANIMALS 24-7. Her account was confirmed by Curtis.
The pit bull mayhem at the Dothan Animal Shelter was scarcely without precedent, though pit bulls and other dogs who kill other shelter animals usually do the killing one animal at a time.
Nationally, pit bull impoundments have increased from under 4% of shelter dog intake in 1994 to a third of dog intake and half of the cumulative dog inventory, on average around the U.S. as of July 2019. Shelter euthanasias meanwhile have declined, on average, to less than 20% of dog intake.
Parallel to those two trends, deaths of animals in shelter custody from dog attacks, mostly by pit bulls, appear to have risen from almost unheard of to about 1,000 per year, projecting from an ANIMALS 24-7 review of records from the few major U.S. shelters that track and report the data.
Atlanta director resigned after similar
The rapid change of subject in Dothan from the pit bulls’ behavior to building a new shelter contrasted with the media and public response in Atlanta in November 2008, after Randy Travis of Fox 5 TV and a series of follow-ups by the Atlanta Journal Constitution exposed multiple instances of pit bulls killing other animals at the Fulton County Animal Shelter, a little over 200 miles to the northeast of Dothan.
The Travis and Atlanta Journal Constitution exposés focused on allegations that shelter director Jere Alexander refused to euthanize pit bulls deemed dangerous by staff, housed other dogs with pit bulls who killed them, removed 83 cats from the shelter in the name of a rescue group whose existence could not be verified, admitted having attended dogfights in connection with academic research, hired the wife of a convicted dogfighter, and maintained other associations with alleged dogfighters.
Alexander resigned soon after the exposé series appeared.
“Sovereign citizen” shooting
The Dothan Animal Shelter has been most often mentioned in recent years as the scene of a December 30, 2014 incident that culminated in then-Dothan police sergeant Adrianne Woodruff fatally shooting Robert Earl Lawrence, associated with the far-right “sovereign citizen movement.”
The altercation began when Lawrence entered the shelter with a pit bull he wanted to surrender, and claimed to have found in Dothan. Lawrence refused to provide identification other than a homemade “affidavit of identity,” however, and balked at filling out an intake form.
Woodruff, already in the building, became involved after Lawrence told chief animal services officer Renee Skipper that we would just dump the dog. Woodruff soon called for backup.
First responding officer Alan Rhodes initially asked, and then ordered Lawrence to stand beside Lawrence’s own car while Woodruff explained to Rhodes what was going on.
When Lawrence instead approached them, Rhodes told him to turn around, apparently to be handcuffed. A struggle followed, during which both Rhodes and Woodruff fired their tasers but failed to stop Lawrence, who grabbed Woodruff’s taser before she drew her gun and shot him.
A lawsuit brought against Woodruff and the city of Dothan by the Lawrence estate was on November 8, 2018 dismissed by the U.S. District Court of Southern Alabama.
The case nonetheless remains a “sovereign citizen movement” cause celebré.
Frozen puppy case
An earlier cause celebré involving the Dothan Animal Shelter erupted on August 22, 2014 when 14-year animal control officer William Henry Roberson, 57, of Webb, Alabama, was charged with misdemeanor cruelty for allegedly “knowingly” putting a mixed breed puppy into a storage freezer alive.
Found by another employee 20 to 30 minutes later, the puppy “died a short time later,” wrote Dothan Eagle reporter Matt Elofson, adding that “Roberson has been placed on administrative leave pending a determination hearing.”
The hearing determined that Roberson believed the puppy was already deceased.
Before the Lawrence and Roberson cases, the Dothan Animal Shelter was probably best known for involvement in frequent impoundments of alleged fighting dogs.
The archives of the 101-year-old Dothan Eagle document that the region, near where the Alabama, Georgia, and Florida borders converge, has long been a hub of dogfighting, hunting feral pigs with pit bulls, and criminal use of “bulldogs,” including by the Ku Klux Klan.
Though dogfighting was illegal, a “good fighting bulldog” could be bought through classified ads in 1932 for $4.00, worth about $75 in 2019 dollars.
Local athletic teams in every sport have been named the Bulldogs, only tangentially after the University of Georgia Bulldogs, whose home in Athens, Georgia, is 278 miles away.
Johnny Ray Lewis
Yet despite the visibility of dogfighting, the first local dogfighting bust on record appears to have been that of Johnny Ray Lewis, of nearby Cottonwood, in 1995. Sheriff’s deputies seized 21 pit bulls from Lewis, all of them later euthanized, but Lewis walked on a warrant defect.
Ten years later Lewis, then age 40, was found in possession of 38 alleged fighting pit bulls, plus apparent dogfighting paraphernalia. Those pit bulls were also euthanized.
Lewis was on September 28, 2007 convicted by jury on 17 felony counts of training pit bulls to fight. Houston County Circuit Judge Ed Jackson in November 2007 sentenced Lewis to serve 102 years in prison, six years for each count, with 34 years to be served before eligibility for parole. Lewis was also fined $34,000.
“I’ve been a district attorney for over 20 years and this is the first case I’ve prosecuted on dogfighting-related charges,” Houston County assistant district attorney Butch Binford told Dothan Eagle reporter Matt Elofson. “I think this man has been involved in dog fighting for a long time,” Binford added. “I’m glad he won’t get away with it again.”
Many more big busts
Between Lewis’ arrest and his conviction, Dothan judge Ben McLaughlin in November 2006 sent Timothy McLeod, of Ozark, Alabama, to prison for 11 years in November 2006 for criminally neglecting 14 pit bull terriers at an alleged dogfighting arena in his back yard, as well as for possession of marijuana and another controlled substance.
Joey Senn, 39, of Ariton, a Dothan suburb, pleaded guilty on November 17, 2011 to 21 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty in a case involving pit bulls, six of whom died from alleged neglect. Dale County Sheriff’s chief investigator Harvey Mathis told Elofson of the Dothan Eagle that Senn kept the dogs for hunting, rather than fighting.
Dothan was again involved in a dogfighting case––one of the biggest on record––in August 2013, when federal agents seized 367 dogs, nearly all of them pit bulls, from multiple locations in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
Thirty-seven of the pit bulls were seized in and around Dothan. Temporary housing for the impounded pit bulls was set up at the National Peanut Festival fairgrounds in Dothan, Alabama, and at a warehouse in Gainesville, Florida.
91 counts were reduced to just seven
Yet another mass impoundment came in Cottonwood in January 2015, when 65 dogs, mostly Dogo Argentinos, a pit bull/mastiff cross, were seized from Jerome Wesley Hughes, then 49.
Hughes was initially believed by law enforcement to have been involved in hog/dog fighting, but denied the allegation, and was not charged with hog/dog fighting, which has been illegal in Alabama since 2004.
Indicted on 91 counts of cruelty to animals for alleged neglect of the Dogo Argentinos, Hughes after extensive legal maneuvering was at last tried on ten cruelty counts in March 2018. Convicted on nine counts, Hughes was in May 2018 sentenced on seven counts, and was ordered to serve a year in jail.
The 65 Dogo Argentinos were eventually surrendered to the Town of Cottonwood for rehoming.