After at least two dog attacks, complaints about roaming dogs, criminal charges and dozens of emails, James City County officials met with homeowners in Colonial Heritage Monday in a closed-door meeting to assuage residents’ concerns over roaming pit bulls.
The meeting came after homeowners banded together to effect legislative change to protect themselves after at least two dog attacks occurred in the gated community, according to resident Gloria Nelson.
A Virginia Gazette reporter was invited to the meeting by residents but was turned away at the door.
Colonial Heritage residents have routinely contacted county officials to ask questions about dog laws, report roaming dogs, dog attacks and some have even shared their horror and grief after they experienced an attack.
Residents seek change
According to email records received from a Freedom of Information Act request, residents and county officials have corresponded about the dog attacks more than 80 times between Oct. 13 and Dec. 2.
On Oct. 12, two pit bulls attacked a Cavalier King Charles spaniel in Colonial Heritage, which resulted in the spaniel’s death, according to an email from the spaniel’s owner.
On Oct. 15, James City County Supervisor for Stonehouse, Sue Sadler, told one Colonial Heritage resident that she spoke with the county attorney Adam Kinsman as well as Williamsburg-James City County’s top prosecutor: Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Greene.
“I was just informed that Nate Greene, the Commonwealth (Attorney) for James City County will be handling this case personally,” Sadler wrote in an email.
Criminal charges have been filed first against Sandra Jane Ripley, 57, and her son, Aaron Christopher Ripley, 21, as a result of the dog attack, according to Virginia Gazette archives.
Aaron Ripley was charged on Dec. 12 with dog at large — a class four misdemeanor, according to the James City County Police Department crime log.
In October, Sandra Jane Ripley, 57, was charged with misdemeanors including two counts of dog at large and one count of violating a dangerous dog order, according Gazette archives. She also was given a summons for having a dangerous dog.
The Williamsburg-James City County General District Court previously adjudicated one of the two dogs involved in the attack to be a dangerous dog. Online court records show Ripley was found guilty of owning dangerous dogs in 2017.
Among the trove of emails sent to the county was an email from the owner of the spaniel killed in the attack, Susan Sale.
As Sale took a walk with her spaniel named Sheldon, two pit bulls ran up and attacked him until a man ran out of his house and beat the pit bulls with a golf club.
“I pulled on Sheldon’s leash and was screaming trying to get him loose from the pit bulls,” Sale wrote in the email to Sadler. “The pit bulls came back at least twice to the scene and my neighbors yelled at them and they kept running/ … I called 911 to ask for Animal Control and police. None came.”
Sale discovered an animal control officer arrived later.
Sheldon initially survived, despite a collapsed lung, mangled ear and other wounds, Sale wrote. His demeanor was completely different, and he soon developed pneumonia and was suffering.
“Everything he (the veterinarian) was telling me was negative for Sheldon,” Sale wrote. “I had prayed for God’s guidance on this whole process. I felt that the most loving thing to do for him at that point was to let him go...”
Sale’s experience is just the most recent example of dog attacks in the community.
On Nov. 30, residents reported more roaming dogs in the neighborhood including a confrontation between the dogs and “a frail woman walking with a cane.”
Residents have created an “Ad Hoc Dog Safety Committee” and some have resorted to carrying canes, golf clubs and baseball bats while walking in their neighborhood, according to Nelson.
While residents have expressed outrage over the attacks to public officials and pushed for changes in the law, those changes may not come quickly or easily.
General Assembly could act
On Nov. 27, James City County supervisors met with General Assembly representatives to go over the county’s legislative agenda. Stronger laws to protect residents from roaming dogs was one bullet point on the list.
For Colonial Heritage’s Delegate to the General Assembly, Brenda Pogge, R-York, changes could come by way of permitting James City County to create its own ordinances.
“I do not want to put in any one size fits all pieces of legislation,” Pogge said. “I don’t want to do anything that tips the balance across the state in what people can do with their dogs. It’s not just a one size fits all problem.”
Pogge did not say if she would sponsor any legislation as a result of the dog attacks.
“I want to make sure there are not any unintended consequences that could affect one demographic or another,” Pogge said. “If we can localize something as much as possible to directly affect this group of people then I’m more conducive to that.”
Until the law changes, the community and dog safety committee have indicated they’ll continue to lobby for the legislation.
“Victims experience isolation, helplessness and hopelessness,” wrote Connie Sullivan, a victim of a prior dog attack. “They are further disenfranchised when people in positions to help, do not help or acknowledge the victim’s attempts to reach out for help. Our greatest fear is that critical state and local changes/additions to dog law, will not be established....”
Del. Brenda Pogge (R-York) representing parts of James City County and most of York County. Email: DelBPogge@house.virginia.gov
Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) representing Williamsburg, parts of James City County, York County and Newport News.Email: DelMMullin@house.virginia.gov
Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City County) representing the city of Poquoson, Gloucester, King and Queen, King William and New Kent counties as well as parts of Hampton, Suffolk, Isle of Wight, James City, Surry and York. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sen. Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) representing all of Williamsburg, parts of James City County, York County, Hampton, Suffolk and Newport News. Email: email@example.com
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.