GREENFIELD — Greenfield police are pursuing criminal charges against the pet owner whose dogs, they say, have been involved in two attacks – one on a young boy and one on an elderly woman.
The dogs’ owners, Karla Johnson, maintain her pets are hyperactive but not aggressive. She said she doesn’t believe the dogs, pitbulls named Lily and Roscoe, did what police have alleged. She said multiple dogs in her neighborhood run loose.
Meanwhile, neighbors of the Oak Commons housing addition, where the attacks occurred, are asking why it took two incidents before officials intervened.
About 30 residents who live in the area packed a meeting room of the Greenfield Police Department Wednesday in hopes of getting some answers.
Among them was Melissa Hawkins, whose 7-year-old son was attacked last week in a neighbor’s driveway.
The dog charged the boy and yanked him to the ground, biting him, Hawkins said. Her son required more than 50 stitches to close the wounds to his arm and face.
“I heard growling, I heard him screaming,” she said. “It’s something I’ll never get out of my head.”
Johnson was questioned the day Hawkins’ son was bitten. She said all her dogs were in the house at the time of the incident.
“I would take responsibility if my dog did it,” she said. “I’d hate it if anybody got bit.”
Three days later, two dogs lunged at Tink Spencer, who was standing in her garage unloading her car in a neighboring housing addition. The dogs, also described as pitbulls, bit both of the woman’s arms.
“They were on a mission,” said Spencer, who received 20 stitches. “I couldn’t get at anything to fend them off.”
The attack occurred on Spencer’s 82nd birthday.
Johnson said Roscoe and Lily pushed through the back fence of her yard the day Spencer was attacked, but she followed the dogs in her car and doesn’t believe they reached the nearby Cricket Reel subdivision, where Spencer lives.
Johnson said she also stopped along the way to warn people her dogs had escaped.
“I’m like 99 percent sure they didn’t bite anybody,” she said.
Mayor Chuck Fewell addressed the crowd gathered at the police department Wednesday, saying he was appalled by the severity of the dog attacks and is working with local officials so Greenfield citizens can feel safe.
“…We will not tolerate any type of harboring vicious animals,” he said.
Greenfield Police Chief John Jester assured residents that while the criminal investigation is still ongoing, officers have taken the legal steps necessary to seize the dogs they believe are responsible.
Greenfield/Hancock Animal Management director Jeff Leffel said Roscoe and Lily match eyewitness descriptions of the dog involved in two separate attacks that occurred in the past week and a half.
While residents said the dogs had created problems in the neighborhood for some time, Leffel said animal management never received any complaints.
Neither did police, Jester said.
As a result, Leffel said his hands were tied after the first attack April 9. Animal management officers weren’t familiar with the dogs in question and couldn’t prove which home they came from.
Leffel said he visited Johnson’s home, but the two dogs she showed him didn’t match the description of the animal that attacked Hawkins’ son.
Johnson said that’s because Leffel asked her if she had a white pitbull. She brought out her two white dogs and left Roscoe, who is white with brown patches, in the basement.
Even if officials had been able to identify the right dog on April 9, that would not have guaranteed a criminal case, Jester said.
“The courts don’t always see that because it’s a one-time thing,” Jester said.
That left residents frustrated.
“(The second attack) could have been prevented had action been taken the first night,” neighbor Nina Feltner said.
Jester doesn’t disagree, saying the incidents have prompted him to re-examine the department’s policies for dealing with animal attacks. He is also looking into getting equipment that would better prepare officers to respond.
Leffel pointed out that having an animal that is unfriendly toward strangers is not illegal, so there were no preventive measures that could have been taken by local authorities.
Failing to secure an animal with the potential to be dangerous, however, is a crime.
“If you’re going to have a dog that is that protective and territorial, you have to go above and beyond normal expectations to keep that dog contained,” Leffel said.
Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin confirmed his office has been in contact with investigators, but a completed report has not yet been received.
The dogs are being held in quarantine at the city/county kennel. Leffel and Jester agreed the animals are unadoptable and will likely be euthanized.
The thought brings Johnson to tears.
She said she has contacted a lawyer about the next step.
“I’m gonna fight,” she said. “These are my babies.”