Two weeks ago at around 9:30 in the morning, Jennifer Jenkins heard a ruckus on the front porch of her Victorian district home.
“There was banging and a lot of noise, and I opened the door and saw that three dogs had a hold of one of our cats,” recalls the Foxy Loxy proprietor, who couldn’t identify the dogs’ breeds, only that they were of medium size and brown.
“Two of them backed off when I came out, but the alpha dog tried to haul off with her in his mouth,” says Jenkins. “I finally got him to let go.”
The horrific incident continued as she and boyfriend Markus Kuhlmann sped to the animal hospital with their tuxedo–marked cat, Saxby. Sadly, Saxby died on the way.
“Huge chunks of fur were missing, it was awful. I mean, they were trying to eat her,” mourns Jenkins. “The vet came in and said, ‘Even if I had been there at your house, I still couldn’t have done anything for her.’”
Dogs attacking cats is one of the oldest stories under the sun, and roving packs of wild dogs are a persistent urban legend in Savannah. Stories have circulated for years about groups of canines roaming the city streets, damaging property and in some cases, slaughtering pets. A call to confirm any attacks with Savannah Chatham Animal Control was directed to Metropolitan Public Affairs Administrator Julian Miller.
According to Miller, as many as 26 cats were killed by a group of dogs that terrorized Ardsley Park last fall. The killing spree stopped when the dogs were rounded up by Animal Control officers, and Miller reports that they were not wild as the legends proclaim, but domesticated animals that had gotten loose.
“As far as we know, there are no packs of wild dogs in Savannah,” assures Miller. “All of them belong to somebody.”
Section 9–5022 of the city code declares that “it should be unlawful for any dog to be on the streets, lanes, highways, roads or squares of the city,” and that owners are responsible for keeping their dogs on a leash or contained in a yard. If citizens see any dogs at large, alone or in a pack, Miller says they should contact Animal Control immediately.
James S., a longtime resident of the Parkside neighborhood who prefers not to be identified, says his family has lost two cats in three years and had another injured two months ago by dogs owned by neighbors who let them out at night.
As is their instinct, the dogs meet up and run the streets.
“These are not feral animals. Most of them are clearly domesticated and belong to someone,” says Mr. S.
He adds that the dog packs typically attack more than one cat in a night. “They just leave the body and move on. It’s for sport.”
After seeing the damage the packs can do, Mr. S. worries that state law disincentivizes people from defending their cats on their own property.
“I’m a gun owner, but I don’t know whether I’d be liable for animal cruelty if I had to shoot a dog to keep it from killing my cat,” he wonders.
In fact, the new suite of state animal cruelty laws does account for the defense of pets and property. While the 2000 Georgia Animal Protection Act punishes animal cruelty as a criminal offense with jail time, statute 16–12–4 ends with the condition that “nothing in this Code section shall be construed as prohibiting a person from: (A) Defending his or her person or property, or the person or property of another, from injury or damage being caused by an animal; or (B) Injuring or killing an animal reasonably believed to constitute a threat for injury or damage to any property, livestock, or poultry.”
But beware of taking the law into your own hands. Vigilante justice poses serious risks, and Miller reminds that Animal Control is there to address concerns regarding dogs at large. He does ask that residents be patient with the department.
“We have five officers that cover the entire county and over 300 calls a month,” Miller points out. “We do our best to respond when there’s a problem, but they’re hard to catch.”
Indeed, in Jenkins’ neighborhood, Connect spotted four light brown dogs lounging together on the sidewalk on 37th Street near East Broad last week in the late morning. An Animal Control officer was on the scene, dropping treats to trap the dogs until they spooked and ran.
It is not confirmed whether those particular dogs belonged to owners or were the culprits who killed Jenkins’ cat.
Miller says the department will continue to survey the area.
Connect also received a report of another cat killed by a pack of dogs just this weekend in Baldwin Park.
For now, Jenkins plans to keep her other two outdoor cats inside.
“I suppose if you let your cats outside there’s always risk, but Saxby was just a fat old chick who hung around on the porch,” she says ruefully.
When the dog pack saw the cat on Jenkins’ property, “I think she wasn’t able to get away. They came up and cornered her and she didn’t have a chance.”