CONYERS -- A 2-year-old black Labrador retriever was classified as a dangerous dog Monday during a hearing before the Rockdale County Animal Control Board.
The board voted unanimously to label the dog as dangerous following an appeal by the dog's owner, Julian Fincher, who told the board he would be unable to keep the dog due to insurance restrictions if it were classified as dangerous. In addition, Fincher said a dangerous classification would mean that the dog could not be adopted out nor would any rescue organization take the dog.
Board members Rachel Wilson and Ginny Van Rie were absent from the hearing.
According to testimony Monday and a report by Rockdale Animal Care and Control, on July 11 the dog jumped a 6-foot fence with an electric wire at the top in Irwin Place subdivision and went to the community pool. The dog reportedly appeared friendly and circled the pool fence a couple of times before climbing the 5-foot fence and jumping in the pool.
A boy swimming in the pool was bitten on the face, thigh, ribs and buttocks, according to the Animal Control report. The boy's older brother was also bitten on the hand as he tried to pull the younger victim out of the pool.
Both boys were taken to Rockdale Medical Center for treatment, according to their father, and released about an hour later.
The dog was removed from the pool by an animal control worker and taken to the shelter, where he was quarantined for 10 days before being released to his owners.
Under state law, a dangerous dog is one that:
(A) Causes a substantial puncture of a person's skin by teeth without causing serious injury; provided, however, that a nip, scratch, or abrasion shall not be sufficient to classify a dog as dangerous;
(B) Aggressively attacks in a manner that causes a person to reasonably believe that the dog posed an imminent threat of serious injury to them or another person although no such injury occurs; provided, however, that the acts of barking, growling, or showing of teeth by a dog shall not be sufficient to classify a dog as dangerous; or
(C) While off the owner's property, kills a pet animal, unless the dog is working or training as a hunting dog, herding dog, or predator control dog.
From photos presented by the victims' father of the injuries inflicted on the boys, Animal Control Board member Merry Carol Houchard said it was clear that the dog should be classified as dangerous.
"It's very obvious that the dog did cause a puncture, so I would have to vote to classify the dog as dangerous," she said.
Fellow board member Larry Atkinson agreed, noting that both the dog's owner and the victims' father had presented good evidence.
"The dog can't be asked what was going on in his mind," said Atkinson. "The fact is that the dog jumped the fence and it bit somebody in the pool ... "
Board Chairman Clement Brown agreed with some apparent regret.
"I feel terribly for you and your children," he said to the victims' father. "I'm sure they will never forget this act ... "
"And you're not going to forget what we're about to do here," Brown said to Fincher and his wife and son, who were also at the hearing. "That's what the law says, and we don't have too much choice."
Brown acknowledged that the Finchers had made a financial investment in improving fencing around their yard to keep the dog contained.
"Whatever we rule we are not going to make this thing go away," he said. "The children have been bitten, they've been harmed. You all have invested at least a couple thousand in this thing. I think you've already been punished."
Prior to the vote, Fincher told the board that the dog, named Tex, would typically try to "save" him and his family members when they went under water while swimming in the pool at their home.
"What I'm thinking is he's got it built in that someone's drowning," Fincher said. He said there was also a thunderstorm in the area on the day the boys were bitten, which may have contributed to the dog's behavior.
Fincher said he had the dog analyzed by a local veterinarian who determined that the dog was not aggressive.
Since July, Fincher said he has installed a high tech electronic fencing system in addition to the existing 6-foot fence around his yard.
Fincher added that he wouldn't speak up for the dog if he believed it was dangerous.
"My insurance company will not allow me to keep him with a label, so I'm basically pleading for his life," he said.
Under Georgia law, owners of a dog that has been deemed dangerous must register the dog with animal control. A certificate of registration will be issued if the owner has an enclosure that will securely confine the dog on the owner's property, indoors or in a securely locked and enclosed pen, fence, or structure; and has placed warning signs on all entrances where the dog resides.