By Ed Brock
It may be more than two years before Little Man, an American pit bull terrier, can be released from Clayton County Animal Control.
It's already been more than a year since Little Man was seized from the Noah's Ark Road home of Cynthia and Antonio Byrd in July 2002 on suspicion that the dogs were being used in fights. In August Cynthia Byrd was given two years probation and 500 hours of community service after pleading guilty to violating a county ordinance on the housing of animals.
Antonio Byrd is scheduled to go on trial Monday on charges of animal cruelty and violation of the leash law in connection with the same case, although that trial is most likely to be delayed.
Cynthia Byrd is prohibited from owning animals during the time of her probation and now county officials say they may not be able to release Little Man until Byrd finishes her probation. They would then have to wait an additional 90 days if Byrd doesn't claim the dog before he would be considered abandoned property.
"We're going to do what the court tells us to do," Clayton County Animal Control Capt. Toni Tidwell said. "Unfortunately Little Man may get caught in the middle."
Police removed three dogs from the Byrds' house after another dog named Big Man was found wandering on the road near the house suffering from severe injuries. Three other dogs were also taken from the house.
Little Man and Big Man had injuries prosecutors said were indicative of dog fighting and Big Man's injuries were so severe that he had to be killed.
In response to a request from the Clayton County Police Department's legal adviser Kenneth Green, the Clayton County District Attorney's office did an investigation to determine if Little Man could be considered abandoned property under the law, District Attorney Bob Keller said. Ordinarily property that is unclaimed after 90 days is considered abandoned, but this case is unique, Keller said, because Cynthia Byrd has been legally prohibited from owning animals.
"Which means she didn't abandon the dog, she was ordered not to have it," Keller said.
Thus the law does not apply until after the probationary period. But Clayton County Solicitor General Keith Martin said he doesn't necessarily agree with that but rather he believes the sentence means Byrd has surrendered ownership of the dog.
"Our interpretation of that sentence is if Cynthia Byrd exercises ownership over the dog she violates the terms of her probated sentence," Martin said.
Legal adviser Green said the county is waiting to see what happens in Antonio Byrd's case.
"Once that's resolved we'll get together and discuss some strategy on what to do with the dog," Green said.
Even if Antonio Byrd is acquitted of the misdemeanor charges he faces in state court he wouldn't be able to take custody of Little Man any time soon. He will be in jail for some time on felony charges against him, Byrd's attorney Steve Frey said.
"We wish the dog well," Frey said.
Frey also added that is client is completely innocent of the charges and wasn't even living with Cynthia Byrd at the time the dogs were seized.
Tidwell said she hopes to see Antonio Byrd at his trial and get him to sign over custody of Little Man, and then she hopes to find Cynthia Byrd and convince her to do the same.
Cynthia Byrd did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
If Little Man is forced to stay in the county's kennel the result could be harmful to the dog and expensive for the county.
The county has already had to pay $1,500 in veterinarian fees and boarding an animal there costs $15 a day, meaning Little Man's boarding has already exceeded $5,000.
And being locked up in a cage for such a long time is no good for the dog.
"He has no socialization," Tidwell said. "We try to but we have our jobs to do so socializing the dog is very hard to do."
Even though the county animal control staff does its job well, the kennel "is not an environment conducive to that dog being mentally health," Clayton County Humane Society Vice President Robin Rawls said.
Little Man could end up "kennel crazy," Rawls said, leading to anything from repetitive behavior like pacing to aggression.
"I am also concerned that Little Man is going to come down with a disease," Rawls said.