Lamar Simmons, left, a farmer in northwest Oktibbeha County, presents his case for amending the county's vicious dog ordinance to the board of supervisors at Tuesday's meeting. Simmons said a stray 100-pound German Shepherd killed 13 animals on his farm. He was told that the Oktibbeha County Humane Society re-homed the dog, but the Humane Society denies this and the county sheriff's department does not know where the dog is. Photo by: Tess Vrbin/Dispatch Staff
September 10, 2020 10:48:16 AM
An Oktibbeha County farmer approached the board of supervisors Tuesday to take issue with the county's ordinance and procedure for dealing with vicious dogs, saying it does not sufficiently protect livestock, after he lost several animals to a 100-pound German Shepherd with no known owner.
Meanwhile, no one can tell him exactly where the dog is now.
Lamar Simmons, who lives in a rural area between Starkville and Maben, told the board about a dog that he said killed 12 goats and a rabbit on his farm over the course of several months. The goats were worth $100 to $150 each, and the dog also killed 13 rabbits and four dogs on other nearby farms, Simmons said.
The dog entered Simmons' property through a fence that should have been able to keep it out by the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said.
Simmons said he wants the county to change its vicious dog ordinance.
"From what I gather, if a human did what the dog did to my livestock, it would be felony animal cruelty," Simmons said.
The ordinance defines a "vicious dog" as one "with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack, when unprovoked, to cause injury or otherwise endanger the safety of human beings, domestic dogs, livestock or poultry." A vicious dog that kills or severely injures a human "shall be immediately confiscated and thereafter destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner."
The Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Office has the authority to enforce the vicious dog ordinance, but Simmons said he was under the impression that the Oktibbeha County Humane Society intervened and shipped the dog to another state without notifying him.
However, the Humane Society does not send vicious dogs out of state or bring them in from out of state, and the shelter will euthanize an animal if it has "irremediable medical or behavioral issues," community relations director Martha Thomas said Wednesday. She declined to comment to The Dispatch on Simmons' specific situation, other than to deny the claim that the organization re-homed the dog.
The Humane Society deals with every animal on a case-by-case basis, Thomas said.
"If there is any evidence or the Humane Society has firsthand knowledge that a specific animal has attacked a person or another animal, we follow state and local laws governing the situation and work closely with law enforcement if relevant," she said.
OCSO receives reports of vicious dogs "several times a year," Capt. Brett Watson told The Dispatch, but the department's involvement in Simmons' case was "minimal" other than trying without success to find the dog's owner, since there was no apparent criminal activity.
Simmons told the supervisors he caught the dog attacking one of his animals and shot it in the face with a rifle but did not kill it. Watson told The Dispatch the dog received veterinary care for the wound and was likely turned over to the Humane Society by someone who lives near Simmons' farm.
Watson said he had also heard that the dog was sent away but did not know for certain and has not spoken to the Humane Society about it.
Simmons said he was told he could not file a civil lawsuit in justice court if the dog had no owner, and he wants to take his case to circuit court to find out what happened to the dog and why it has not, to his knowledge, been put down.
The ordinance states that a vicious dog can be put down if Oktibbeha County Justice Court determines it is not properly confined, shows no signs of ownership or vaccinations or cannot be peacefully captured. It also allows any person to end the dog's life "without any attempt to capture, restrain and impound" it if the dog "poses a serious and immediate threat of serious harm to a human."
District 1 Supervisor and Board President John Montgomery agreed with Simmons at Tuesday's meeting and said the current ordinance "doesn't have quite enough teeth" to protect farmers in Simmons' situation. The supervisors agreed to revisit the issue at Monday's meeting, hopefully with a representative from the Humane Society present.
OCSO is researching other jurisdictions' vicious dog ordinances and will present its findings to the board of supervisors so they can consider strengthening the county ordinance if they so choose, Watson said.
Simmons said he appreciated the opportunity to talk to the board of supervisors directly, since Oktibbeha County Humane Society Director Sarah Akins and County Prosecuting Attorney Haley Brown Smith have not met with him in person. He emphasized the dog killed animals for sport, not for food, and he said the only way to prevent the dog from killing more animals or possibly humans would be to put it down.
"I'm trying to save the next person down the line," he told the supervisors. "I've been asked by some of these people I've been talking to (if I) just want to kill a dog. I have a dog. Everybody I know has a dog. It's not about that."
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