ALBANY — “Just writing these two names is going to make some people angry,” Albany City Commissioner Chad Warbington says, and the tone and manner in which he makes the statement leaves no question as to the seriousness he feels.
“King and Chloe.”
Warbington pauses for a beat or two to let the names sink in.
“That’s the name of two Rottweilers that almost killed a man in the fall of ‘19,” he says. “The man’s wife literally had to beat the dogs off of him.”
Warbington pauses again and then adds the kicker: “Both of those dogs are still alive and are being held at the Albany Humane Society.”
A few days later, the Ward IV commissioner calls The Albany Herald.
“I know you’re working on that story about the dangerous dogs, but have you finished it yet?” Warbington asks. Informed that other parties being interviewed for the story had not yet been available, Warbington says, “You’re not going to believe this. They let the female dog (Chloe) have puppies while she was being held, and now one of those puppies has attacked and bitten a 2-year-old girl.
“This is just unbelievable.”
Warbington, who proposed changes to put more teeth (no pun) in the city’s dangerous dog ordinance after the King and Chloe incident but found little interest among fellow commissioners in pursuing the matter, says the time has come for the city to take some kind of action to prevent dog owners from allowing dangerous animals to run free.
Ward IV Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said she’s looked deeper into the current city ordinance since she received a call from a constituent who said she not only had had to grab up her small dog and risk being bitten by large dogs in her neighborhood but that she’d been threatened by the owner of the large dogs — who’d twice been cited for letting the animals run free — and had been told, essentially, to “walk somewhere else” by Animal Control and Albany Police officers.
“I think maybe the time has come for us to take a closer look at the city’s dangerous dog ordinance and see if we can’t make some changes to protect our citizens,” Fletcher said.
But representatives of the Albany Humane Society say a system is in place to handle any kind of issue that might arise with dangerous animals in the city if Albany officials merely followed their own ordinance.
“You take the case of those two dogs that attacked the man almost two years ago,” attorney Joe Dent with the Albany-based Watson Spence firm, who represents the Albany Humane Society “basically pro bono,” said. “With COVID limiting what we could do in court, a virtual hearing was held in that case in August of 2020. A ruling was made by the judge, but the owners filed a motion asking for a new trial. The city was supposed to respond, but as you see, that’s been more than a year and nothing’s been filed.
“The dogs were brought to the Humane Society, but they are not responsible for making a determination whether an animal is dangerous or not. And the Humane Society cannot unilaterally decide to euthanize an animal without a court order. The dogs are still there because the city has not responded to the request for a new hearing.”
Albany City Attorney Nathan Davis, noting that “it’s been hard to get anything going in our courts because of COVID,” said he understands the concern over the inaction on the two dogs that attacked the Albany citizen, but that the appeal has to be heard in Superior Court before any action is taken.
“It’s the law,” Davis said. “Only the Superior Court can issue a euthanasia order. It has to be frustrating for the people involved to know that not only are those two dogs still being housed at the Humane Society but that the female, which was pregnant, was allowed to deliver her puppies and now one of those puppies has attacked a little child.
“I remember the compelling testimony given by the woman in this case. Without any coaxing from anyone, she said, ‘I thought I was going to watch my husband die.’”
Discussion of the city’s dangerous dog ordinance, which defines what a dangerous or potentially dangerous dog is and lays out the steps owners must take in order to keep such an animal on their property, left many questions unanswered as to what can legally be done — from “rehabilitating” animals to euthanizing them — in extreme cases such as the ones previously mentioned.
Warbington proposed several changes to the ordinance in August of 2020, including requiring owners to have a significant amount of liability insurance; meeting all safety requirements within 20 days after a dog has been classified as dangerous by Animal Control or having the animal euthanized, and requiring immediate euthanization of an animal if a second injury occurs.
“I’ve heard that the folks at our Humane Society want to move these kinds of animals to other shelters — sending our problems elsewhere — or rehabilitate them, which is something I’ve never heard of,” the city commissioner said. “I’ve also heard that they don’t even have anyone there who is certified to euthanize. And I’m pretty sure our contract with them says that after an animal stays there for three days, it becomes property of the shelter and they decided what to do with the dog. That doesn’t make sense.”
Humane Society Director Lulu Kaufman says most of Warbington’s statement is erroneous.
“First of all, we had our people get certified for euthanization in house, but we’ve had so much turnover with COVID we’ve decided when it was necessary, we have a veterinarian — Dr. (Karl) Dockery — come onto our premises and do it,” Kaufman said. “If we have a group of animals that must be euthanized, we take them as a group to Dr. (Melvin) Newell at Westover Animal Hospital. It’s easier that way.
“But we do try to do everything we can to save animals that come to our shelter. We had a 91% save rate last year, and it was 46% in 2016. In the last year we’ve had 1,070 dog rescues that have been spayed or neutered, adopted out or sent to other shelters. We love this community, and we think we’re doing a valuable service.”
Dent said that, just as the city has been guilty of not following procedures called for by its ordinance — which, he says, has not been updated to implement recent changes in state ordinances — the city also has not taken action on renewing its contract with the Humane Society, which essentially is performing its duties on a month-to-month basis.
“We proposed a new contract at the city’s July 28, 2020 meeting,” Dent said. “We talked about some changes with Nathan (Davis), including a substantial payment increase because the Humane Society is being paid the same thing it was 13-14 years ago, and costs have increased substantially. It was tabled, I think, on the same day that (proposed changes to) the dog ordinance was tabled.
“(Albany Police Department) Chief (Michael) Persley is in charge of handling this, and I’ve reached out to him — called and emailed — and so far we’ve gotten no response.”
Persley said Thursday that progress is being made to move contract talks forward (Dent called the same day and said he had talked with the police chief about the matter), but he said questions surrounding dangerous animals has little to do with the city’s existing ordinance. It’s “what comes after” that poses the so-far unanswerable question.
“We handle the case; we have a process,” the APD chief said. “It’s what comes after that is causing the confusion. What happens after a dog has been determined to be a dangerous animal? What’s taking place courtwise, when should an animal be put down? And, from a law enforcement standpoint, what do we do with an animal owner if they haven’t done what our ordinance says they are required to do?
“These are questions the city (commission) must answer. The Humane Society’s contract does not cover dangerous dogs. That’s something for Animal Control and our Animal Control Board to decide, and then for a Superior Court judge to rule on.
With “more than half of my staff” either quarantined or recovering from COVID-19, Kaufman said the Humane Society, which is currently caring for 150 animals, still does not have sufficient staff for further intake of animals. The city has been, in emergency cases, taking the animals to shelters in surrounding communities, like Lee and Worth counties.
“They’ve been great about helping us, but we have to deal with this issue,” Warbington said. “I applaud the Humane Society’s vision of rescuing and adopting out all the dogs they can, but when it comes to animals that bite or otherwise intimidate our citizens, I’m on the side of the citizens.
“Our situation with the Humane Society is complicated because they’re providing services now, essentially with no contract. This is something we need to address. We need to get a contract. And they need to follow the contract.”
That, Dent responds, is no problem.
“Right now, up to and including euthanization, we’re doing what we’re contracted to do,” he said. “I don’t think our City Council — our commissioners — understand how these procedures work. And then, you have an issue where the city drops the ball in a hearing in which people were seriously injured, and the Humane Society gets the blame.”