By Ed Brock
When Cynthia and William Brown learned that Clayton County Animal Control officers had picked up their dog "Red" after he escaped from their back yard, they were actually relieved.
"At least we felt better because nobody had snatched him up," Cynthia Brown said.
But when William Brown went to retrieve Red on April 28, the Monday after the dog was picked up, he was told his dog was not there. The Brown's would later learned that two state inmates assigned to work in the animal control facilities at 1396 Government Circle in Jonesboro had sold Red to a stranger for $20.
Initially they were told that Red, a 60 to 65 pound American Pit Bull Terrier, might have escaped by crawling down a drainpipe as some animals had done before, Brown said. But when the Jonesboro couple brought pictures of their dog to the pound an officer there said she remembered him.
The officer also told them that an unidentified man had come into the pound that day and shown an interest in Red. The officer had shown him Red before realizing that the dog could not be put up for adoption for another day or two because Animal Control is required to give owners three days to retrieve get their animals.
Two weeks later the Browns learned that the two inmates from Clayton County Correctional Institute, 29-year-old Jamie Heath and Manuel Sosa, 41, had failed a polygraph test and then confessed to selling Red and another dog to the man.
"They both pointed he finger at each other, saying they were just standing lookout for the other," Clayton County police spokesman Capt. Jeff Turner said.
The other dog sold to the man was apparently a stray.
Heath and Sosa have been charged with felony theft by taking in connection with the case, Turner said, and police have issued outstanding warrants for their arrest on those charges.
"They're outstanding because (Heath and Sosa) are in jail on other charges," Turner said.
Sosa was convicted on charges of possession of cocaine and marijuana and his final release date is April 2010, CCCI Assistant Warden Frank Smith said. Heath is serving time for DUI, obstruction of a police officer, possession of a firearm and possession of cocaine and is not scheduled for release until May 2006.
Heath was to be considered for parole in November 2005 and Sosa was to be considered in August, but Smith said part of the sanctions levied against them in connection with the incident is a 180-day parole extension. They were also given 90 days of restriction and some isolation time, Smith said.
This isn't the first time animals have disappeared from the shelter and inmates have been suspects in their disappearance.
"In 2001 there were apparently some pit bull puppies that were missing," Turner said.
The head of animal control at the time, Capt. Larry Gibson, changed the inmates assigned to the shelter and the disappearances stopped.
Visitors to the shelter are now required to show identification and sign a log, Turner said.
"That policy was implemented as a result of the theft of that dog," Turner said.
It's entirely possible that the man who stole Red plans to use him in dog fights, Clayton County Humane Society Vice President Robin Rawls said.
"Dog fighters come to my place all the time," Rawls said.
Dog fighters are sometimes very blatant in their approach.
"The first thing they ask is if we have any pits," Rawls said. "Our policy makes it very difficult for them to adopt a dog."
That policy includes an extensive screening process and a $150 adoption fee that most dog fighters in this area don't want to invest, Rawls said.
Part of the screening process, particular for someone looking to adopt potential fighting dogs like pit bulls, Rottweilers and chows, is a home inspection.
"Usually that's when they start backing away from me," Rawls said. "They don't want me to come to their homes."
And for two or three weeks after a suspected dog fighter attempts to adopt a dog the staff at the Humane Society shelter on McDonough Road in Jonesboro have to watch out for other people who express an interest in the dogs. Sometimes the dog fighter sends someone they know who can pass the home inspection to get the dog.
Brown said she's heard horror stories about dog fighters, and she worries about Red, a dog she described as "just a big, dumb dog."
"If they try to fight that dog he would be torn to death because he doesn't have a mean bone in his body," Brown said.