Everyone agrees Pebbles, a black and white American pit bull terrier, didn’t have to die.
Deborah Cooper, a Murrwood Court neighbor to Pebbles’ former owners, told members of the Mobile City Council at its meeting Tuesday, July 6 that she found the dead dog hanging while tethered to an improperly constructed trolley runner.
“She died a painful death and she suffered,” Cooper told councilors.
Cooper said Pebbles’ death is the latest incident in a string of about 20 neglected or abused dogs owned by her neighbors. She told councilors that over the previous four years she has witnessed other pit bulls chained up with padlocks on collars and animals going as long as two weeks without food. In one incident, Cooper said, her family purchased a pit bull named Cash from neighbors for $100 and then spent about $3,000 getting him healthy.
In Pebbles’ case, Cooper said she complained to the city’s animal shelter about the newly illegal trolley system setup, but nothing was done.
“The failure of animal control is a direct reflection on city leadership,” Cooper said. “Mr. [Mayor Sandy] Stimpson, their failure is your failure.”
Another speaker, Terri Mitchell, said officers spent two hours knocking on the door, but Pebbles’ owners never answered. Mitchell said officers did not rescue Pebbles.
“I want to know how much the city paid those officers to knock on the door for two hours and not go into the backyard to do their jobs,” Mitchell said.
While Mitchell said she believed Pebbles could’ve been taken by officers in the backyard without permission based on the improper pulley system setup, Executive Director of Public Safety Lawrence Battiste said it would take more than that. There have to be signs of abuse or neglect for officers to intervene on private property, he said, and in Pebbles’ case, those signs weren’t present.
The dog had food and water present and while officers could identify the pulley system was improper, they couldn’t have used that solely as a reason to take the dog, Battiste said. The relatively new ordinance, which made the pulley system runner setup illegal, he said, only allows for a fine.
Battiste said the owners in this scenario were warned and shown how to use the pulley system properly.
Battiste agreed with Mitchell, Pebbles didn’t have to die, but focused the blame on neighbors he said “watched the dog hang for 10 hours” and did nothing but wait on the city for help.
“That’s ridiculous,” Cooper said after the meeting in an interview with Lagniappe. “He’s implying that I watched the dog die. I found the dog and it was 17 hours before the owner knew she had died.”
Battiste and Stimpson pointed to a lack of employees within the department as an issue for the failure.
“Under no circumstances does the administration condone animal cruelty,” Stimpson said. “I assure you that is not something we want going on in the city. Whatever we’ve got to do for the hiring we will.”
Battiste said the animal control department is currently short five animal control officers and three kennel techs. He blamed a lack of interest in the jobs he described as “one of the most thankless” in the city.
“There are a lot of issues we need to correct, and we’re working to correct these things daily. We will work at correcting the issues at hand,” he said.
Councilman Fred Richardson, who is running for mayor this year, recommended the council create a committee of concerned citizens to meet and update councilors on issues with animal control.
The animal control department’s budget is not readily available, as it has been recently combined with the spending plan for crossing guards under police support services. Fiscal year 2019 was the last time animal control had its own line item. In 2019, the city budgeted just over $824,000 for operations and personnel in the department. Animal control officers are paid anywhere from about $29,000 per year to $45,000 per year.
Mitchell and Denise Grier, a former American Rescue Foundation volunteer, suggested the issues with animal control were related to the age and size of the city’s animal shelter. Grier told councilors there are packs of wild dogs currently running the streets due to the city’s inability to house strays at the small facility.
“We desperately need a larger shelter,” she told councilors. “I urge you to find funding for a new shelter. We need to get these dogs off the street.”
Following the meeting, Mitchell suggested taking $6 million from the Mobile Police Department budget and putting it toward a new animal shelter.
This story was updated at 3:48 p.m. to correct the spelling of a name and to correct a factual error.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here