By Ed Brock
Lorena Funicello's life has changed a lot since May 19, the day a dog jumped a fence and attacked her while she was checking meters at her Morrow rental property.
There are the physical scars. She still has trouble with her right hand that was badly mauled by the pit bull terrier that attacked her.
And then there are the psychological effects. The sight of a dog running loose in a neighborhood recently sent her into a panic from which it took her hours to calm down.
"I have nightmares ? I see that dog coming at me," Funicello said. "The worst part is I used to love dogs."
As a result of the attack the dog was declared dangerous, a label that requires the animal's owners to take specific precautions, including special fencing, signs, special insurance and a permit that costs $100 a year.
If the owner can't meet those requirements or simply chooses not to meet them, the animal is killed. That's what happened in the case of the dog that bit Funicello, Clayton County Animal Control Capt. Toni Tidwell said. The owner of the dog said she didn't want to comment on the incident.
A dog is declared dangerous if it "inflicts severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property" or if it "aggressively bites, attacks or endangers the safety of humans without provocation after the dog is classified as a potentially dangerous dog," according to the Georgia code.
Tidwell has declared four dogs to be dangerous thus far this year, but the county's animal control board reduced one case to "potentially dangerous," meaning all the same precautions have to be met but the special insurance is not needed. The board comes in only when the owner of the dog seeks to appeal Tidwell's classification of the dog as dangerous.
"We sit and listen to all that happened," said Jonesboro veterinarian and board member Donald McMillan.
The members of the board come from all walks of life, McMillan said. They look at medical records and consider the animal's past history before deciding to uphold the dangerous dog classification, reduce it to potentially dangerous or simply dismiss the case altogether as a fluke.
And the hearings can get emotional.
"We've had people who want to fight us," McMillan said. "People don't want their child bit and they don't want their dog declared dangerous."
There are varying reasons why dogs bite, but one reason why children are so often the victims of dog attacks is because they tend to run and scream when a strange dog approaches them in an aggressive manner, Tidwell said. She encourages anybody who is confronted by a dog to stand still if possible and, if knocked down, to cover their face and curl into a ball.
Tidwell said she couldn't think of a particular breed of dog that is especially dangerous from birth.
"A lot of it is how they're raised," Tidwell said.
And training a guard dog to be vicious is also unnecessary in most cases, McMillan said.
"A barking dog is all you need for security," McMillan said.
There's another way to prevent dog attacks in the county, Tidwell said, and that is for dog owners to build higher fences around their back yards so the dog can't jump out.
Dealing with a stray dog that bites is somewhat simpler, assuming the dog is caught. One pack of apparently wild dogs has been running through Charlene Jeong's neighborhood in the Runny Mede subdivision for the past two weeks despite efforts by animal control officers to capture all of them.
"They're terrorizing my neighborhood. We're afraid to go out in the yard," Jeong said.
Wild dogs can be hard to catch, Tidwell said. For example, they've been trying to capture a pack that roams near Oliver Elementary School for some time.
"They've become very wary. They see our trucks and run away," Tidwell said.
In another case, some soft-hearted person has been destroying the traps animal control officers leave out for the dogs. But pets are a greater threat, anyway.
"I'd be more scared of the pets than the strays because the strays are going to avoid people except when cornered," Tidwell said.