Public outcry erupts over dog killing
By Peggy Mackenzie
A local controversy has exploded over the killing of a family dog by a Greenbrier County Animal Control (GCAC) Officer on Apr. 21. While a Lewisburg family is mourning the loss of their dog for not being leashed and having gotten into a neighbor’s trash, a petition at change.org has rallied more than 2,000 respondents requesting the county commission terminate the county’s only animal control officer (ACO). Petitioners to the web site reported that “this is not an isolated incident,” and that the ACO has “a long history of misconduct” and killing animals “with no provocation.”
On Tuesday night, the Greenbrier County Commissioners saw many of those Greenbrier Countians attending the meeting to publicly protest ACO Robert McClung’s continued employment with the county, or at the very least, requesting McClung be reprimanded.
From the point of view of dog owner, Tamara Curry, the incident began when she and her two-year-old daughter were awakened by gunfire immediately outside the home. Fearfully, Curry crept to the window, and looking outside, saw her two-year-old dog, Max, a Lab/Boxer mix, bleeding on the porch. She then heard a man say, “Well, you shouldn’t have been so stupid.”
Not understanding what was happening, Curry ran to collect her daughter and call her husband, who was working; at which point, she heard additional shots fired, then a car door slam and a vehicle drive away. When she went to check, she found a note from the GCAC under the front door, which read, “We have removed two dogs from your property.”
She found both her dogs missing from the property: Max, and Tyson, a six-month-old Boxer mix. After contacting GCAC, the family learned a neighbor had called the police to report that the Curry’s two dogs were in their trash. When GCAC officer McClung arrived, the dogs ran home.
McClung later told the Currys that he had attempted to capture Max using an animal control pole (a stick with a loop on the end). He allegedly stated that the dog’s hackles were raised and it had “bared it’s teeth and tried to bite him.” In an effort to wound him, McClung stated he fired two shots at the dog. Realizing he had seriously injured it, McClung then fired three more shots, killing it.
For the Curry family, the fact that McClung made no effort to contact her to let her know that her dogs had been out of the yard, or that he had just shot and killed Max, makes the tragedy even more difficult for Curry and her family to comprehend.
“It’s important that people know this happened and could possibly happen again,” she stated in a Facebook post shortly after the incident.
McClung is reportedly one of a select number of individuals certified through the National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA). The NACA training is designed to prepare animal control personnel for the challenges of solving the animal/people problems in today’s world, states the NACA website. A quote from the site reads, “ACOs make four times the public contact of other law enforcement officers with the result that they have four times the exposure and four times the possible liability.”
Back at Tuesday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Woody Hanna assured the gathering there would be an in-house investigation. However, since the ACO employee is directly answerable to the commission, it was not advisable that the investigation be conducted by the commissioners. Hanna said it is not clear yet what agency will oversee the investigation.
The audience was also advised by Commission President Mike McClung (no relation to the ACO) that the commission could not comment or respond to remarks made because the contentious item was not on the evening’s agenda.
The first of only seven speakers was Matt Curry, brother-in-law to dog-owner Tamera Curry, who referred to NACA guidelines, which he quoted, “Personnel frequently encounter hostile or aggressive animals, and those employees must be able to defend themselves in order to retreat to call for assistance.” He also said the use of force, according to the WV Code, states if an ACO does carry a fire arm, the bullet must be able to kill the animal with one shot. “According to witnesses,” Curry said, “this did not take place.”
Two speakers, Harvey Neel and Donald Sutgeon, spoke briefly in support of McClung, stating he was a good and decent man handling a difficult job, and “if he used force, I’m here to assure you he didn’t think he had any other choice.”
They were followed by Valerie Renee, an animal rescue worker, who said the questionable behavior of the county’s ACO did not make her feel safe in her own community. She asserted that the community needs assurances that the ACO handle these issues with proper protocol prior to discharging weapons. She added that empathy and job training are important. “This is a public safety issue and not about leash law violations,” she said.
In a follow up telephone interview with Commissioner McClung, he stated the commission will find resolution of this uneasy, and complicated, situation regarding the ACO. In McClung’s view, at the commission meeting, the only qualified person to speak on the issue at hand was Tamara Curry, because only she witnessed the incident. He posed the questions, do we have grounds to let the ACO go? Do we rewrite the protocol for the ACO position? Do we create a “blue ribbon panel,” or charge our insurance carrier with assessing the liabilities before the county, or turn the investigation over to another more qualified law enforcement agency? Ultimately, he said, “The resolution of the issue is yet to be determined.”