No criminal charges against dogs' owner yet after pit bull attack

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

PONTOTOC – After Wednesday’s pit bull attack that claimed the life of a 51-year-old man, authorities are questioning what legal action, if any, can be taken against the animals’ owner.
Three pit bulls attacked and killed Ronnie Waldo on Casey Swanson’s property at 879 Topsy Road, off Randolph Loop in Pontotoc County.
Waldo was renting a trailer home on Swanson’s property just 50 yards from where his mangled body was found by a friend.
Waldo was going to Swanson’s home to borrow an element for a hot water heater that he and Raymond Blansett were fixing at Waldo’s trailer. When Waldo hadn’t returned after 20 minutes, Blansett went to look for him.
What he saw was the dogs attacking Waldo. After escaping the animals himself, Blansett said he called 911. Waldo was pronounced dead on the scene.
Pontotoc County Sheriff Neal Davis said the incident remains under investigation, and no one has been arrested or charged. Davis said his office is working with the district attorney’s office to see if any criminal charges can be filed.
Messages left with the district attorney’s office by the Daily Journal were not returned.
Because Pontotoc County, like most counties in Mississippi, does not have a leash law or vicious dog ordinance, it’s unclear if criminal charges can be filed.
“We are looking into it to see if there was a crime that was committed,” said Davis. “What happened was a tragedy, and our hearts go out to the victim’s family. But we are just working on completing the investigation to see where we can go with it.”
Even with a vicious dog ordinance in place, it still may have been difficult to find grounds to file criminal charges, according to Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson.
Lee County has a dog ordinance that prohibits aggressive dogs from being able to run freely in the county. But that ordinance excludes animals from being deemed vicious when they are on their own property.
“I think it can be a civil matter, but as for a criminal matter, I just don’t know,” said Johnson. “I hate this happened to anyone anywhere, but it’s sort of a difficult case.”
The Lee County ordinance states that an animal cannot pose a threat on its own property. It also says that animals don’t have to be confined if they are on their owner’s property. It does not single out any particular breed of dog.
Pit bulls have been a hot-button issue in Mississippi for years. Some towns have banned the breed entirely within their city limits.
Waldo’s death makes it the second killing by a pit bull in Northeast Mississippi and at the least the third attack since 2009.
In October 2009, 16-month-old Destiny Marie Knox was mauled to death in Union County after the family’s pit bull came into the home and attacked the toddler. Union County sheriff’s deputies had to kill the dog when they arrived on the scene.
In September of the same year, a pit bull severely damaged the face of an 18-month-old girl on Feemster Lake Road in Tupelo. The child received more than 100 stitches to the face but survived the attack.
Even though pit bull attacks are highly publicized, the dogs may be getting a worse reputation than deserved. Don Cleary, director of communications and publications for the National Canine Research Council in New York, said because fatal dog attacks are so rare, it’s difficult to draw commonalties between each case.
About 30 people a year are killed by dogs nationwide. Cleary believes dog attacks have more to do with what the animals are used for than their breed.
“The better dogs are cared for by the owners” Cleary said, “the less we hear about these types of cases.”
According to research from the NCRC, dogs kept outside a home – in kennels or on chains – and those kept for negative functions, such as fighting, protection and breeding for financial gain, are more likely to attack people. These dogs often don’t have the same positive social interaction with people like dogs that are family pets have.
Neal said investigators have not determined if the dogs involved Waldo’s death were used in fighting, but they were kept outside in kennels and at least one was chained. There also was a litter of puppies on site outside.
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@journalinc.com.