Divided over dogs

Monday, October 15, 2007
Rockview residents, from left, Rocky Carroll, Anthony Carroll and Bill Lenand discussed their concerns about the Donleys' pit bulls. (Fred Lynch)

ROCKVIEW, Mo.

Matt Sanders takes a look at the pit bulls.

Anthony Carroll says he wears a .44 Magnum when he is outside his house in Rockview because of his concern for a pit bull at large. (Fred Lynch)

Angela Donley of Rockview says these days she constantly feels threatened. She worries about the safety of her home, her children and those members of her family that are most threatened, her seven pit bulls.

"I haven't worked a full day's work in over a week, because I had to come home and deal with something," Donley said. The reason, she said, is that her neighbors are on a campaign to drive her out of Rockview, using her dogs as the reason. The dogs aren't vicious, she said, and have never tried to attack anyone in their three years living in Rockview.

But Donley and her husband Tim aren't the only ones in Rockview feeling threatened. The neighbors say the Donleys' dogs are the real threat -- vicious animals that could attack at any time. One of them is on the loose, they say, making them worry that a bloodthirsty pit bull might pop out from around the corner of a building and attack. "Bloodthirsty" is not an exaggeration -- that's how the Donleys' neighbors characterize the dogs.

Shawn Kilburn of Rockview showed that pit bulls can be friendly, like his own dog, Suzy Q. "It depends on how you raise them," he said. (Fred Lynch)

"The only kids that play outside anymore is his kids," Anthony Carroll, a lifelong resident of Rockview, said of his neighbors' children and the community's fear of the Donley dogs. Carroll wears a pistol on his hip, in part, he says, in case one of the dogs tries to attack.

Carroll's nephew Rocky Carroll and neighbor Bill Lenand nod in agreement. These three and their neighbors feel so strongly about the issue they signed a petition with 50 other residents of the unincorporated community between Scott City and Chaffee, asking the county government to do something about the pit bulls. Since Rockview is unincorporated, the population isn't measured by a census. But 50 people is a significant proportion of the small town's residents.

And those 50 want to ban the breed from Rockview.

"Have you ever seen a dog chew a kid up?" Carroll asks as he grills burgers on a sunny fall afternoon on his little piece of land he calls Carroll Corner. "You don't need dogs like that in a community like this."

But the Carrolls and Lenand don't seem to mind when another neighbor, 18-year-old Shawn Kilburn, brings his pit bull Suzy Q around.

Tom Donley showed the heavy chain and collar that he puts on a pit bull when he takes it out of a pen so it can get exercise in the back yard. (Fred Lynch)

But members of Shawn's family also signed the petition, and Shawn himself says he's seen Tim Donley fighting pit bulls in his backyard.

"Dogfighting" is a term you'll hear a lot from these Rockview residents when justifying their petition. The Donleys, they say, breed fighting dogs.

But Lanette Baker, director of the Sikeston Area Humane Society, said she found absolutely no evidence of abuse or training dogs for fighting purposes.

"I actually had a call Tuesday that somebody had apparently looked on the property and there was a dog with its throat torn open, and blood was all over the place," Baker said. "I went out that afternoon, and there was nothing. None of the dogs had any injuries like that."

Baker said she has dogs more vicious than the Donleys'.

"I was in danger -- of getting licked to death," Baker said of her trip to the Donley house. Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter has visited the property, as has presiding commissioner Jamie Burger. Walter said the couple is following the law, and the dogs are secure. Burger said he's continuing to monitor the situation.

But still she's gotten a rash of calls about dogfighting, she said, all from the Rockview neighborhood. The Humane Society of Southeast Missouri in Cape Girardeau has received none.

The issue of regulating pit bulls has come up recently in Scott City, where some neighbors became concerned after one of the dogs attacked and killed another dog.

The Donleys do raise pit bulls, as they have for 15 years, Angela Donley said, although they only have two females, not enough to trigger regulations for dog breeding operations under state guidelines.

In the contracts they require dog buyers to sign, the Donleys include language that prohibits abuse.

Tom and Angela Donley of Rockview discussed their problems with neighbors who don't like the pit bulls they have on their property. "I own this piece of land," Angela said. (Fred Lynch)

"I ... agree not to fight or mistreat this animal in any way," the contract reads.

"These dogs are like my children. I don't want to see them harmed," Angela Donley said.

She does admit one of the dogs, a 12-year-old male, is a bit testy. But he's kept in his kennel, secured and unable to get out.

The Donleys also admit that one dog escaped and hasn't yet been found. But they say the dog has been spotted in Chaffee, where Tim Donley works for the city. Tim Donley said the city is on the lookout for the dog, but the couple said this dog, like the others, isn't vicious.

Marilyn Olson Neville, a local animal behaviorist, said pit bulls aren't vicious dogs by nature, but due to bad publicity, they have a tendency to inspire fear.

Tim and Angela Donley raise pit bulls at their home in Rockview, Mo. Their neighbors believe the dogs are dangerous and have mounted a petition drive asking the county government to do something about the pit bulls in the unincorporated town between Chaffee and Scott City. Matt Sanders takes a close-up look at the breed.

Certain breeds aren't really more aggressive, Neville said, but individual dogs can be more genetically aggressive, and the way they're raised can also make them mean.

Baker said she's had more problems with aggressive chocolate labs than with pit bulls.

But Walter and Burger said they understand people's apprehension about pit bulls, whether it comes from media coverage or from a real tendency toward aggressive behavior.

"Some neighbors are concerned, and that type of dog is a scary dog," Walter said. "I would be nervous ... but with them confined like they are ... there's really not a whole lot that anybody can do at this point."

Walter said his department rarely gets calls about vicious dog concerns. Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department Lt. Vince Diebold said the situation is the same in Cape Girardeau County, where even dog-at-large calls only happen about once a month.

Angela Donley played with her pit bulls, 11-month-old Jade, front, and Gypsy, 9.

In Rockview, some of that concern might be tied to incidents that happened before the Donleys came to town three years ago. Anthony Carroll's neighbor, David Dean, said his daughter was attacked by a pit bull five years ago, but wasn't injured too seriously.

The county, like neighboring Cape Girardeau County, has no ordinances dealing with animal control. Instead, the unincorporated areas are governed by minimal state guidelines, which primarily deal with nuisance issues, like animals harassing or attacking livestock.

Burger said the only county in the area with any sort of animal control ordinance is Jefferson County. He said the county defers to the expertise of the humane society on how to deal with issues like these.

But Anthony Carroll and others say the Donleys are adept at fooling authorities, moving many of their fighting dogs in and out with the help of out-of-town friends. The Donleys deny those charges. Right now, their kennels are full.

When they moved here they had 32 dogs. About half died mysteriously, the Donleys said.

The Donleys say they won't move or get rid of their animals. Instead they're erecting an 8-foot-tall privacy fence to keep out prying eyes, and prevent neighbors from harassing their dogs. They hope the fence will defuse the situation, as it will provide another barrier for neighbors, more assurance that they'll be safe from a roaming pit bull.

But Tim Donley said the neighbors don't want him to build the fence.

He doesn't know why.

The whole community isn't allied against the Donleys, though. Neighbor Jennifer Hebrock lets her children play with the dogs. Hebrock said the dogs don't frighten her -- the other neighbors do.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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