The courtroom was packed Friday morning in Williamsburg-James City County General District Court. More than 20 residents of Colonial Heritage in James City County filled the benches. They waited to observe yet another court proceeding in their efforts to stop dogs from roaming at large after two dog attacks in their community.
Twenty-three minutes after the 10 a.m. docket began, Ashley Nichole Houston stepped up to defend herself on a summons as Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green sought her conviction.
Houston, 18 of James City County, was issued two summonses for letting dogs roam at large on March 17, less than a week after her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s mother were convicted on charges stemming from an Oct. 12 dog attack that killed a Cavalier King Charles spaniel.
Houston pleaded guilty to one of the dog at large charges and not guilty to the other.
Green called Williamsburg-James City County Animal Control officer Shirley Anderson to testify before the court.
Anderson testified that she’d received a complaint from a resident of Colonial Heritage about two dogs running at large and that she’d responded on March 17.
Houston told Anderson at the time that both of the dogs were loose and she was the owner, Anderson said under oath.
Houston told the judge while both of the dogs were loose, one remained on property owned by her boyfriend’s family the entire time. She accused the residents of Colonial Heritage of calling law enforcement when one of the dogs was not off the property.
That’s when Green produced a photograph of both dogs roaming on Colonial Heritage property that had been given to Anderson as part of the resident’s complaint. Houston told the court the dogs in the photos were hers at the time.
Judge Colleen K. Killilea took less than a minute after hearing arguments from Green and Houston.
Killilea found Houston guilty on two charges of dog at large on Friday morning and ordered Houston to pay a fine of $500 plus court fees.
Ownership of both dogs was transferred to Houston’s mother before the court proceeding. Both dogs now reside in York County. Ownership of the dogs has been transferred on multiple occasions, to the ire of Judge Killilea.
“There’s too much transferring ownership here,” Killilea said before adding that she considered Houston to be lucky that she’d been charged and not her boyfriend. He would have been charged with violating his suspended sentence.
Green said he felt the fine was appropriate for the charges.
Colonial Heritage resident Seth Wilson agreed, “Given the laws we have in Virginia, it was fair.”
Wilson has urged his neighbors to call 911 and document incidents of dogs roaming at large in the neighborhood. He said his only hope is that the dogs will stay away from Colonial Heritage.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.