Dog owner fights to remove 'dangerous' label

emoody@beaufortgazette.comAugust 20, 2012 

The owner of a dog involved in an attack on another dog that caused fatal injuries last month is appealing a Beaufort County Animal Control decision that the animal is dangerous.

Owner Mare Baracco filed a notice of appeal Wednesday with the Beaufort County Magistrate's Office after Judge Joseph Kline upheld Animal Control's decision. On Aug. 10, Baracco also pleaded not guilty to a citation of allowing an animal to run at large and requested a jury trial.

Kline heard approximately three hours of testimony during a hearing Aug. 8, and filed his ruling Aug. 13. In it, he said the dog's aggressive behavior led to the death of the another dog, so the court must find it "a nuisance animal at best or a dangerous animal at worst."

According to testimony and a report from the Port Royal Police Department, Sally Germer and Buddy Brown were walking their two small dogs past Baracco's Madrid Avenue home on July 4 when Baracco's dog got out of the fenced-in yard and bit one of the dogs. The injured dog was taken to Port Royal Veterinary Hospital, where it died the next day.

Testimony during the Aug. 8 hearing included the owners of both dogs, neighbors, the police officers who filed the report and the Animal Control officer who investigated the case

In the notice of appeal, Baracco's attorney, Kimberly Smith, argued the ruling does not say whether the burden of proof was met. She also argued that the dangerous animal ordinance was incorrectly quoted and defined, that the ruling had factual errors about testimony and that Kline conducted outside research on the dog breed.

Calls to Baracco and Smith were not returned.

During the hearing, Baracco said her dog is a mix that includes Rhodesian ridgeback, but the police report referred to the animal a pit bull. She said the incident was "just an accident" and that her dog is not dangerous.

"Would I say he's a territorial dog with his yard?" Baracco's friend and city of Beaufort Police Department investigator Trisha Gutterson testified. "Yes, which is not uncommon for most dogs, but I've never seen him be aggressive with any other dog."

Animal Control Officer Brittany Chaplin said though the dog seemed friendly when she saw it unrestrained at its home, the decision was made to issue the dangerous animal notice.

"After further reviewing the county ordinance and speaking with my supervisor, it was determined we cannot predict the future and we cannot predict the activity this animal will conduct," she testified.

Owners of dangerous animals must either keep the animals inside their homes or in secure kennels, unless the dogs are leashed and muzzled. The owners also must have at least $50,000 in liability insurance, according to the notice Baracco was given.

Related content:

Port Royal officials continue research on animal control ordinance

Port Royal official calls for 'one-bite' ordinance

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