[ Carla Gibbs | Special to the Times ] This dog, made homeless by the Lime Rock Road fire, was found weeks later in another part of Eastpoint, and returned to its rightful owner.
[ Jerry Hurley | Special to the Times ] Butterball used to relax on the home's front porch, before its life was taken by a dog or dogs roaming the Apalachicola neighborhood.
[ Photo courtesy of Heather Carroll ] This pup, seen roaming in an Eastpoint neighborhood, menaced a small child.

Logging into any social media in Franklin County reads like a canine rap sheet.

There is a public service announcement post most every day about loose dogs for sale, or available for pick up, citing their crimes against cats and trespasses onto private properties, all of which raise questions about personal responsibility and animal control.

"People, what's up?" Frederic Kahler, of Apalachicola recently asked. "So many dogs are roaming without leashes, and often as packs. They gallop down the highways, where drivers honk at them and pop into yards and parking lots, and poop without cleanup."

"These dogs not only can kill, or harm other creatures including children, but can get hit, and trusting canines can be stolen," he wrote.

To this point, Heather Carroll of Eastpoint posted that a gray puppy growled at her daughter on her porch last week. "We never had a problem," she wrote, after posting the animal on a yard sale site, warning the owner that animal control will be called.

Franklin County Animal Control officer Albert "Bulldog" Floyd said they see these unofficial reports, but the trend toward posting offenses online, instead of making a phone call the first time a face-to-snout confrontation happens, makes issuing notices and passing out violations difficult, plus dogs potentially more dangerous if they return.

He said they get more calls when school buses start running, and will during upcoming hunting season, but problems are year-round.

"If cases get severe enough, they'll call," he said. "We respond in 30 minutes. But when dogs are popping up at houses, we're Johnny-on-the-spot. That gives us a chance to encounter the problem head-on."

Law got tougher

Since it became illegal, in 2017, to have an unleashed dog in a public space anywhere in Franklin County, there are fines of up to $500 for violations, and animals can be confiscated in cases of repeated violations (see sidebar) Animal control enforcement employs two, on-call officers that cover ground between Carrabelle to Alligator Point.

There is also a leash law in the county that states dogs must be harnessed, or respond to voice command.

Animal control, state and local law enforcement, and city and county code enforcement, are all charged with enforcing the revised ordinance. Karen Martin, director of the Franklin County Humane Society, said its role is to refer to these agencies.

"Part of the animal welfare world here is to re-home any animal after its five-day mandatory hold," she said. "We have a responsibility to public safety and health, but cannot investigate."

Floyd said that when officers are out on patrol. "we don't take somebody's dog, just to take them. Some people want that, and some don't. It's hard to please people, especially with animals.

"If we know it's yours and is off the property, we will work with neighbors to get the dog put up," he said. "But the issue is sometimes hard to prove, if a dog is back at its house when response arrives.

"We are not blind," Floyd said. "We do have strays."

Some stories have happy endings

Publicity also has led to feel-good stories in the lost and found, such as last week's chance reunion set up by Carla Gibbs of Eastpoint when she came across one of nine dogs owned by Luther Glass, of Ridge Road.

His two boys had to let loose seven hounds from a backyard pen in the heat of the June 24 Lime Rock fire. His house burned down with one house dog in it.

"I got one dog back that week," Glass said. "Someone called about it at the foot of the bridge with burned paws."

Of the dog Gibbs found, he said "she's skinny, and caught briars in the woods." He is still looking for remaining blue tick walkers, two tri-color males, and an aluminum white female hound.

"This poor pup was so close but couldn't find its way home," Gibbs said, of its location on North Bayshore Drive. "The reason I posted it is because we've gotten back to business since the fire, and yet months later, this dog shows up.

"This is Eastpoint," she said. "We see dogs running around all the time, without thinking. I am hoping people will pay attention. People want their dogs back."

Glass says in rural areas, dogs regularly escape to go after raccoons and fox attracted to chickens. Plus dogs trained to run deer, bear or hog can "do a bunch of loops, then get backwards on themselves," he said, referring to having to pick up his dogs as far as Cash Creek on Highway 65.

Franklin County Dog Hunters Association President Charles Brannen, also of Ridge Road, said, "Everybody pretty much looks out for one another. The woods are hard on dogs, and when they give slap out, or get hungry, they will come back."

Butterball succumbs to dog attack

Inside city limits, Franklin County Solid Waste Director Fonda Davis said issues stem from people failing to spay and neuter their pets. "One week, an area is flooded with strays, then nothing for the rest of the year," he said. "If a female dog in a neighborhood is in heat, it will draw other dogs."

Floyd said coyotes are also found inside city limits. "If you get a lot of kittens it's a primary food chain for coyotes," he said. "But we have always had feral cats and always will. This is not linked to the dog issues.

"We do not have packs killing animals," said Floyd, who has 29 years on the job. "Occasionally, dogs get together and kill a cat. It is better county-wide," he said. "It was a lot rougher when people were not used to animal control. Now you have to tie your dog up, and people are responding."

Jerry Hurley has a slightly different opinion, since losing his cat, Butterball, to a nuisance dog near his house in Apalachicola.

"You can't always call them (animal control), until nothing can be done," he said.

Hurley believes Butterball was a stray that got dropped off two years ago, "because he was obviously an outside cat who liked people. He took to our two feral females, Sunshine and Brindy, seldom left our yard, and slept on our front porch every night."

Back in April, peace on his porch was disrupted around 3 a.m. when his golden retriever heard commotion. "Later that morning, we saw Butterball's body beside the street in front of our house, with his throat cut out," Hurley said.

"We found blood with paw prints in it on our front steps and porch, claw marks in the wood and blood mixed with saliva all over with a lot of yuck in it," he said, of the gruesome task of scrubbing the deck. Hurley believes the culprit was a "middle size dog in frenzy," the same dog that has been in his yard since.

Hurley said his feral cats escaped the attack, "but Butterball was too wide to get through the spindles or was protecting them." Given the crime scene, "he was dragged kicking and screaming."

He has since bought bear spray and a BB pistol for protection, and has had two more dogs jump on him and rip his shirt. "Five minutes later, a woman drove by and asked had I seen a big pit bull puppy and another dog running loose," he said. "She was trying to find them. But it scared me."

Attacks on people fortunately rare

Davis said attacks on people are rare, and he does not have to use law enforcement often. "Recently, we had one dog show up in downtown Apalachicola on the Soda Fountain staircase that bit a service contractor, in front of Centennial Bank," he said.

Business owners on the block said there was a dead cat behind the building, days before the bite.

The process for this scenario has different stipulations. "They have the right to appeal," Davis said. "We have to give the owner enough notice to pay all the fines and meet the requirements to return it. If the dog is declared dangerous, it get a rabies shot and micro chipped. Before we turn it loose we evaluate whether there is a place to keep the dog and if it should be muzzled, but we cannot enforce that they have a fence," he said.

The ordinance states that if an animal violates probation, a three-person board has the authority to make the decision to destroy a dog.

"It is important that people make an effort to stay in contact," said Martin. "If your animal goes missing, that's the very first thing, because ultimately, the responsibility of any pet lies with the owner. It's not ours to knock on doors and sometimes we can only rely on the findings of veterinarians," referring to people who call when they see their dog on the Humane Society website for adoption, but never reported it missing.

"If the dog is not reclaimed, we are legally positioned to move forward with whatever is best for the animal," she said.

Ultimately, said Floyd, "These problems are no bigger than anywhere else.

"People take advantage, and it's a small town, but that's why is should be easier to cooperate with enforcement," he said.