HAMPSTEAD — A court case is underway between neighbors in Pender County, leaving a grieving woman mourning the loss of her pet.
Shirley Shoffstall’s two dogs, she says, are more like her babies. Last week, however, her Pomeranian, Coco, was killed by a dog belonging to a neighboring owner – the same dog that attacked her Havanese poodle puppy, Riley, in February and left her with a dog bite.
“I’m too scared to go out, walk out the front door to walk the pup,” Shoffstall said. “I have to go to the doctor because of panic attacks. I do not sleep. I do not know what to do.
His neighbor James Gobble said he adopted Pete, whom he calls Bubby, about eight months ago. Although he is unsure of his exact breed, he said he was part hunting dog with a tendency to hunt small game, such as squirrels and rabbits.
By county ordinance, Gobble does not have to return the animal, now deemed “dangerous” by local authorities. Pender County Animal Control does not have the authority to force an owner to surrender or euthanize a pet, under almost all circumstances, according to Lt. Keith Ramsey, who oversees the animal control division.
The Pender County ordinance defines a “dangerous animal” as one that has “demonstrated a fierce or dangerous propensity or tendency to threaten, attack to endanger any person.” Sheriff Alan Cutler is the only legal authority who can make this designation, based on animal control recommendations and reports.
According to Ramsey, Gobble received a dangerous animal letter on Wednesday, which means he must now comply with certain county regulations, including:
- Keeping the dog safe and restrained while on their property
- Make sure it is securely locked in a residence or outside building
- Keep him on a leash no longer than 4 feet long and muzzled on the outside
- Post dangerous dog signage in your front yard
- Notify the sheriff’s office if they should release the animal to a shelter or transfer ownership
Gobble said he was more than willing to comply with the guidelines, knowing his dog’s history.
Shoffstall said that wasn’t enough.
Last Friday, Shoffstall was leaving her Plantation Pointe condo to walk her dogs and the offending dog, who she describes as medium-sized, was near her property.
“I brought my pup back inside, but he grabbed the Pomeranian by the neck and started shaking her,” she said through tears. “He ripped her neck open and killed her.”
A neighbor heard her scream and came to her rescue by hitting the dog on the head with a plank, she said. The dog dropped the Pomeranian.
“He had this amazing look in his eye,” Shoffstall explained. “He turned his head and looked at me like, ‘You’re in the middle of me killing something.'”
Gobble explained that he tied his dog outside while working, but the dog took off and snapped the cable.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said.
This isn’t the first time that Shoffstall and his pets have fallen victim to Bubby’s attacks. She said that in February the dog cornered Coco but hadn’t yet latched on when Riley jumped between attempts to protect her brother.
The violent dog then allegedly grabbed Riley instead, and while trying to free him, Shoffstall said she was bitten in the process. She and the puppy were injured.
“After the first time he attacked one of his dogs, I went to see a trainer,” Gobble said. “I tried everything, electric collars, different types of collars because he slipped first. All these processes to try to extract this part from him, this desire to hunt game.
Shoffstall called the sheriff’s office to complain and was told to file a report, but she says nothing ever came of it.
“I can’t accuse a dog of trespassing,” Ramsey said.
He explained that the Pender County ordinance allows dogs to run free in their own yard and it is not considered a violation for the dog to run away from the yard. But if he generally wanders consistently, the owner will be subject to a civil fine of $50.
Gobble was not fined at the time because his dog had been confined to his property before running across the street.
Shoffstall said she was unhappy with his interaction with the sheriff’s office and animal control, but Lt. Ramsey said he was just following the rules.
“We don’t take reports of dangerous animals lightly,” Ramsey said. “This lady, I can sympathize with her, but I tried to explain that I have prescriptions that I must follow. I cannot exceed what is written.
He repeated that he had no legal authority to remove the violent dog or euthanize it, but the owner must quarantine any dog that attacks another animal or human for 10 days.
“If he shows rabies, he would be dead within five days,” Ramsey explained. “If the dog gets to the end of the 10 days, he’s not spreading rabies.”
Animals can be quarantined in their owner’s home as long as the person complies. Otherwise, the dog must be quarantined in a shelter at a cost of $10 per day to the owner.
At the time of the July 1 attack, the dog had not yet been deemed dangerous and therefore the sheriff’s office could not cite Gobble in civil or criminal proceedings; however, in the future, if Gobble fails to comply with dangerous dog guidelines, he could face criminal charges.
Violations could result in a class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of at least $50 and at most $500. Each day that a violation occurs, it carries its own offense.
“We take dangerous dogs seriously in this county,” Ramsey said. “On the same note, we don’t want to put that determination on a dog that is unwarranted.”
The 61-year-old has since hired a lawyer to file a civil suit against Gobble to pay her medical bills. Shoffstall’s attorney said he couldn’t speak to the litigation because it’s ongoing.
Gobble confirmed on Monday that he would be looking to relocate his dog.
“I would like to see him go to someone who has a country house or a farm,” he said. “Or someone who knows how to train that part of themselves. It is not me. I can not do it.
Advice or comments? E-mail [email protected]
Want to know more about PCD? Subscribe now, then sign up for our morning newsletter, Wilmington Wire, and get the headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.