A Saline County woman remains hospitalized with serious injuries after being attacked by multiple dogs, authorities said.
The same dogs allegedly attacked a 13-year-old girl just days before, yet the dogs are allowed to remain at the owners' home due to the lack of a county animal control program.
On Thursday, Nov. 8, a man told Saline County Sheriff deputies that his 13-year-old girl headed outside for a walk along Gravel Ridge Road. He said she later returned and said the dogs had bitten her. The report said the girl had bite marks on her right hip and that the dogs tore up the girl's backpack.
Then on Tuesday, a woman walking along Gravel Ridge Road was charged by several dogs when she approached the 22900 block. Authorities said the dogs took her to the ground, tore her clothes, and began biting and scratching her. She told deputies that she managed to escape to a neighbor's home where emergency crews responded and later transported her to the Saline Memorial Hospital emergency room.
The report said the victim suffered numerous cuts, scrapes, abrasions, scratches and puncture wounds to her arms, legs, back and head. The report also said the wounds to her left forearm would require surgery.
Deputy Brad Hicks noted that after photographing the victim's wounds, he went to the home at 22900 Gravel Ridge Road to speak with the dogs' owners — Ritchie and Connie Hart — who reportedly admitted to Hicks that they were recently cited for violation of the county's vicious animal ordinance and that their dogs were still under quarantine. Ritchie Hart reportedly said the dogs appeared to have broken through the lattice door to their pen.
Hicks noted that Ritchie Hart had installed a metal gate reinforced with chicken wire and lattice "prior to my arrival." The deputy noted five pit bull-mix dogs inside the pen and said the pen appeared secure. Hicks said Ritchie and Connie Hart were cited for violating the vicious animal ordinance and said the dogs would have to be quarantined for an additional 10 days.
Hicks said the Harts were given the option to quarantine the dogs at a veterinary clinic, but Ritchie Hart chose to keep the dogs at home under quarantine. Hicks also noted that the dogs were not up to date on their vaccinations and that he attempted to make contact with Benton and Bryant animal control, but got no response. Hicks also noted that he notified the Saline County Health Department of the incident.
In 2010, the Saline County Quorum Court passed an ordinance which addressed the regulation of vicious dogs and the actions required by law enforcement in the case of a dog attack. According to the ordinance, all owners must attach a metal tag to the dog's collar. The tag must include the name and phone number of the owner, along with verification that the dog has been vaccinated against rabies, as required by state law. According to the reports of these dogs in question, each noted that the dogs had no collars or tags.
If the dog has been vaccinated and the owner has proof but does not have a tag on the dog, then an officer cannot issue a ticket to the owner, the ordinance states.
If the dog is determined to be vicious by the law enforcement officer, then the dog is to be apprehended and impounded at a local animal shelter. If a dog is determined to be rabid, then it will also be apprehended and impounded.
According to the ordinance, the Saline County Sheriff's office is required to notify any owner of the apprehension of a dog either by certified letter, by posting at the address of the owner, or by hand-delivering notification of apprehension. The apprehension of the dog also will be posted on the Sheriff's Office website.
Once an animal has been impounded, the owner has 10 days to either appeal the impoundment decision because the owner feels the dog is not vicious or has proof that the dog is not rabid. If the judge rules the dog is vicious, the owner is responsible for paying all fees for the impoundment along with any other fines deemed necessary by the county district court judge.
If the owner decides to not retrieve the dog, the dog will either be put up for adoption or destroyed humanely, reads the ordinance. The owner has seven days to claim the dog before it is considered for either outcome.
A full copy of the ordinance is available at the Saline County Courthouse.
Pennington said, "This has been an ongoing problem since I first came here to Saline County. I have addressed this problem with the Quorum Court many times. I think the main problem with the county is that it is expensive to have a county animal control program. You have to have at least one vehicle for transportation of the animals. You'll have to hire full-time employees and then there is the cost of having a facility. I understand and sympathize with the citizens on this issues and this is a real problem."
Numerous county residents have voiced their concerns about vicious dogs at numerous Quorum Court meetings through the years, but no long-term solution has been addressed by the Quorum members.
Lt. Scotty Courtney said the penalty for the vicious dog ordinance ranges between a fine of $250 to $500 for the first two offenses, and between $500 and $1,000 for multiple offenses. Ritchie and Connie Hart are expected to appear in Benton District Court at 8 a.m. on Dec. 13.
Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Ken Casady told The Saline Courier that he has not reviewed this specific case as it was just reported on Tuesday. However, he said with past cases, if a dog is proven to be vicious and has a history of attacks, a judge does have the authority to have the dog euthanized. Casady said this has happened in the past here in Saline County.
According to Pennington, if a judge orders the euthanasia of a dog, a veterinarian will be engaged to accompany a deputy to the residence where the procedure will take place.