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Pit bull owner required to pony up $250 in 15 days to appeal a ‘dangerous dog’ citation

POSTED: October 31, 2007 5:07 a.m.
After biting a UPS delivery driver on Oct. 12, all the freedom Kellie McAlister’s Pit bull "Cheech" used to enjoy went up in smoke.

McAlister said the loss of Cheech’s freedoms is the result of a freak accident, and Cheech is being punished because she can’t afford to pay for an appeal to Animal Control’s decision that classified Cheech a "dangerous dog."

According to McAlister, she had her door open on Oct. 12, and was getting ready to leave her house for work a when she heard someone come in the house. It was Jason Narvil, who was there to deliver multiple Avon packages.

"He didn’t announce himself or anything," McAlister said of the UPS driver.

She said Cheech beat her to the door, and started to bark and growl at Narvil who became frightened and started yelling at McAlister.

"His immediate response was ... he starts yelling at me to get my dog, and panicking that this dog’s about to bite him," McAlister said.

"I’m saying ‘dude, stand still, stand still,’" McAlister said.

McAlister said Narvil started to back out of the house and tripped over the threshold of her doorway. As McAlister reached for her dog, she tripped over Narvil, hit her head on a tree and lost consciousness. She said she busted her nose and her lip in the fall, and she will have to see an oral surgeon for the damage to her tooth when she hit the tree.

"I’m on the ground, the guy’s on the ground, then my dog really goes after the UPS driver," McAlister said.

When she came to seconds later, McAlister saw Narvil fighting Cheech off of him with some of the smaller packages.

Cheech bit Narvil on the hand, which required stitches.

"In my dog’s defense, he saw me and the guy both on the ground and blood," McAlister said. "(Cheech) was protecting me, because the guy came in the house."

McAlister said Narvil’s injury is partly to blame on the fact that he came down her one-way road the wrong way.

"Had he have pulled in the driveway, he would have seen the ‘Beware of Dog’ sign, which surely would have warned him don’t walk in my house," McAlister said.

Narvil declined to comment on the incident.

Six days later, McAlister received a notice from Hall County Animal Control informing her that Officer Rick Phillips had determined Cheech to be a dangerous dog, because he inflicted injury on Narvil without provocation.

Animal Control officials are required by law to investigate all animal bite cases, and Phillips said the office has investigated 361 animal bite cases this year. Of those, Phillips said only a handful of cases resulted in a dangerous dog classification.

Because the case is still open with Hall County Animal Control, Phillips could not discuss McAlister’s case specifically, but he said in all bite cases he observes the dog before classifying it dangerous or potentially dangerous. He said he makes his decision depending on the severity of the bite and the circumstances as to how the bite occurred.

"Every case has its own merit," Phillips said.

But McAlister’s neighbor, James Smith disagrees with Phillips’ decision, and said if he had conducted a more thorough investigation he would not have made the same decision.

"That dog got a bad rap," Smith said. "(Animal Control) needs to get a history of the dog before they say that."

Now that Hall County Animal Control considers him dangerous, Cheech must wear a muzzle every time he goes outside for the rest of his life. And he is no longer allowed to stick around when McAlister has visitors. When people visit, McAlister is required to lock Cheech in her bathroom. Only she and her fiancé can have the key to the locked door.

Also, McAlister is required to obtain an insurance policy that covers $100,000 for any accidents, and post signs on her property that warn passersby of her dangerous dog.

There is no statute of limitations on his actions, and Cheech will always live under these conditions unless McAlister wins an appeal to Animal Control’s decision. But she says she can’t come up with the $250 it costs to pay for the appeal before the 15-day period ends on Nov. 2.

Hall County Magistrate Court has a provision for those like McAlister who cannot afford a defense attorney, and McAlister was allowed to apply for a fee waiver.

Ana De La Garza, director of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit’s Indigent Defense division, said based on the information McAlister provided, she is not eligible for the fee waiver, because she did not meet the federal poverty level requirements.

"Because I am not in a financial situation to pay them $250, my dog is guilty," McAlister said.

Ann Bishop, who prosecutes cases involving Hall County Animal Control, said the fine was put in place because the appeals process takes court time, and the magistrate court judge requested the fee.

Judge Elizabeth Reisman, who hears cases involving Animal Control, said the number of Animal Control hearings had turned into a big expenditure for the court, because a lot of people were appealing the decision.

"Everybody thinks their dog is friendly and sweet, and they’re not always that way when they’re protecting their property," Reisman said.

Reisman said it may be possible for someone like McAlister to get an extension on the case, but she had never dealt with that situation and she did not know for sure how it would work.



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