Help needed catching killer dogs

Published 12:04 am Thursday, August 11, 2011

NATCHEZ — Local officials and volunteers are calling for backup when it comes to solving a downtown animal problem.

After a pack of dogs began killing downtown cats in the late night and early morning hours in the last couple of weeks in July, Humane Society Vice President Nan Garrison said the problem is only getting worse.

To date, she said, the known number of killed cats is 21, and three cats have been seriously injured.

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“We’re at our wits’ end,” Garrison said. “I’ve been getting up at 4 every morning, driving around trying to see something, then going at night to reset my traps.”

Humane traps that work with levee systems, and that are baited with dog food, have been set up around the downtown area in hopes of catching the two dogs that remain free and are believed to be responsible for the killings.

Two dogs have already been “arrested” and are in custody at the Humane Society, Garrison said.

Originally, she said, three, not four, dogs were believed to have been responsible for the incidents, but after several eyewitness reports, the number rose.

“I know there are some people in this town who don’t care about cats … but this is blood sport,” Garrison said. “These dogs are not hungry. It’s gotten pretty similar to if you had a coyote running downtown.

“It’s almost carnivorous.”

The problem at the heart of the issue, though, is that pet owners are violating Natchez’s leash law, she said, because not all of the dogs are strays.

Under the leash law, dogs must be kept in a fenced-in yard or on a leash when they’re outside, she said.

“There are so many reasons for a leash law,” Garrison said. “It’s to protect property owners and to protect pets. (For example), how many times have you known somebody who has had a wreck or has almost had a wreck trying to dodge a dog?

“If you let your dog run free, that is so inconsiderate of your neighbors.”

While Natchez does have an animal control officer who works diligently to enforce the law, Garrison said, it’s impossible to do so single handedly.

“You would just be amazed at how many dogs are just laying in somebody’s yard, and there are just so many people who think they are not subject to the leash law,” she said. “If you could get every animal that is violating the leash law in custody, (the cat killings) would stop.

“It all just comes back to responsible pet ownership.”

Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins said while the police department enforces leash laws, they don’t have the capability to control animals.

“When anyone identifies a dog that’s not in a fenced-in yard or that’s not leashed, we take a report for a violation of the leash law, and we encourage anyone who sees a dog like that to come to the station and file a criminal charge against the owner for violation of the leash law,” he said. “The problem is determining who the owner is.”

Mayor Jake Middleton said like Garrison, he’s ridden through the downtown area at night hoping to spot something, and he’s thought through ways of possibly putting a stop to the killings, like organizing a neighborhood watch.

“(We could) maybe have some neighbors sit up an hour a night and take turns to see if they can spot these dogs,” he said. “I’ve also sat down and talked with the sheriff, and we’re possibly looking into getting a tranquilizer gun, then training a couple of key people to use it.”

The gun would come in handy for a number of reasons, he said, because other animals, like bears and deer, have also been known to cause problems when they get into residential areas.

“We may even call upon the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and see what they can maybe offer,” Middleton said.

Will Devening, who lives on South Union Street, witnessed the dogs attacking a cat one morning at 3 a.m., and described the two dogs that remain at large.

One is similar to a yellow Labrador retriever in color but not size. It’s shorter and fatter — probably weighing 60 pounds — with a long tail that curls toward its back.

The second dog is brindle colored and much smaller than the first, he said.

If the dogs are spotted between the hours of 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, people should call Animal Control at 601-442-6452. Other sightings should be reporting to Garrison at 601-445-5698 or her home number, 601-442-2156.

Until the dogs are caught, she said, cat and small dog owners are encouraged to keep their pets indoors.