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After months of reports that pitbulls have been roaming the streets of Chiefland attacking residents, commissioners Monday night voted unanimously to deem at least one of the dogs dangerous.
The vote came after commissioners, in the city's first-ever dangerous dog hearing, reviewed evidence from Chiefland Police and heard testimony from the city's animal control authority, the owners of the dog in question and residents living on the south end of Chiefland, many of the latter claiming to have been terrorized by the dog.
"I would like to say that, yes, my dogs bit people," said dog owner Kristian Williams, there with her children and boyfriend, Terrance Young, holding a pink poster adorned with images of the dog and words that spelled "Protective or Dangerous?"
Williams told commissioners and a packed City Hall that her dog, known as Princess, wasn't a threat and had only acted to protect her family and property.
"We are much more careful with her now," Williams added, stating that the dog is now being kept at a secure location "in the woods."
Princess has, according to police and reports from witnesses and animal control, been involved in at least three attacks in recent months. In February, the dog attacked an 8-year-old girl, causing her to be sent to Shands Hospital where she received 230 stitches to sew up wounds on her right calf, lower back and right arm.
Vivian Holoman, the grandmother of the girl, told commissioners the child cried in her sleep for weeks, saying, 'Dog go! Dog go!"
Holoman said she went to police but was told they couldn't do anything.
Police, along with animal control, have said in recent weeks that there was trouble determining who the owner of the dog was and that it was frequently moved from one location to another, making it impossible to locate.
Still, some say it's not just Princess that has been an issue.
Resident Elizabeth Heath said she was not too long ago confronted by another dog owned by Williams and Young, a white pitbull named King.
Heath said she was riding her bike when King broke free from his chain, crossed a street and came at her.
"I was hollerin' for help," Heath said, adding that she used her bike to keep the dog at bay. Heath said Young came by shortly thereafter and loaded King and Princess into a car.
Phillip Mitchem Jr. said he saw his father being attacked by King and Princess late last year. The animals, after breaking out of their penn, were coming at his father from two directions, tearing at his legs and eventually sending him to the hospital.
"They will getcha'," Mitchem said.
Chiefland resident John Donaldson said it's a shame that people should have to fear walking down the street.
"Somebody has got to explain that to me," Donaldson said, questioning why no prior legal action had been taken.
"They gave Michael Vick two years for fightin' a dog," Donaldson said.
Mayor Teal Pomeroy said the matter was only officially brought up to the commission a month ago and that the night's hearing was part of city officials' attempt to remedy the situation.
Ex-mayor Betty Walker told commissioners that regulations should have been put on the books years ago.
Commissioner Rollin Hudson asked City Attorney Norm Fugate about the other dog in question, King.
Fugate said, "I think you've got evidence to prove a lot of things tonight," though, he added, the other dog could be saved for "another day."
After the meeting, CPD Deputy Chief Al Graves said the night's meeting, establishing a formal petitioning process, was setting the stage for the city to deal with dangerous animals in the future.
"Really, it's time," he said.
Now, owners of dangerous animals can be required to place their animals in secure confinement, tattoo or microchip the animals, post signs on entry ways on property about the animal's dangerous nature. It also keeps owners from "playing the shell game," he said, explaining that owners will be required to show proof of where the so-called dangerous animal is being kept.
Police Chief Robert Douglas said animal control will be taking affidavits from the public concerning the dogs and that action will follow from that point.