After dog ownership ban, Ripley calls last dog attack an accident and judge's decision 'political'

Staff writer

More than a week after two James City County residents were convicted of several dog law violations after attacks in a Lightfoot neighborhood, one of the pair has spoken out.

Sandra Ripley, 57, was convicted on March 15 along with her 21-year-old son, Aaron Ripley, in connection with roaming dogs and a dog attack in Colonial Heritage.

A judge ordered both to forfeit their dogs or give them away as a condition of their suspended sentence and bond, according to final dispositions filed in Williamsburg-James City County General District Court.

In the days following the convictions, Sandra Ripley has said the decision to ban the family from owning dogs was a “political” one, but did not elaborate further when asked.

“Please do not think my son and I are not truly sorry (the victim)’s dog was injuried (sic) and had to be put down,” Sandra Ripley wrote in an email. “In our lives, we too have had dogs injuried (sic) by others and had to make that painful decision.

“That is why we made the decision to have our dogs put down soon after all this happened back in November, the court did not have (to) order us too (sic).”

Residents in the Lightfoot community said they hoped the ruling would stop dog owners from letting pets run freely in their community, however, Sandra Ripley said her family’s roaming dogs were not purposefully let out.

Instead, Ripley said the most recent dog attack that killed a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on Oct. 12 was an accident — the tropical storm that blew through Williamsburg caused a tree to fall through her fence and allowed the dogs to escape.

“We never wanted any of this to happen,” Sandra Ripley said in a phone call that bounded between angry, accusatory and sad. She said the first dog attack was a fluke when her son’s roommate let the dogs run off when he wasn’t home.

Sandra Ripley said she and her son had given up their dogs, although that’s not clear in records in Williamsburg-James City County General District Court.

However, dogs owned or apparently owned by the Ripleys have continued to roam after the judge’s decision, filings in Williamsburg-James City County General District Court said.

On March 17, Aaron Ripley’s girlfriend Ashley Houston was issued two summonses for letting dogs roam. Both dogs were owned by Aaron Ripley and involved in the case settled just two days prior, according to court documents.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green said the March 17 incident remained under investigation.

“Whether or not Mr. Ripley violated the court’s order will be dictated by the facts of the case,” Green said in an email.

Gloria Nelson, a resident of Colonial Heritage, said she felt ill when she found out about the roaming dogs after the court’s decision.

“When I heard Paris and Bear were already out 48 hours after the hearing, I just cried and felt sick,” Nelson said.

Other residents, including the victims of the dog attacks, have continued to push both the county and state legislators with the hope that the law can be strengthened.

State Sen. Majority Leader and James City Republican Tommy Norment carried a bill in the General Assembly to make the fines steeper when packs of roaming dogs are caught. That bill was signed by Gov. Ralph Northam and will become law July 1.

Sandra Ripley said her family has been targeted and thrust into the spotlight. She said residents of Colonial Heritage sit on their back porch waiting for the slightest reason to call the police on her.

James City County Freedom of Information Act coordinator Ania Eckhardt said prior to the March 17 calls there were no 911 calls regarding dogs or Ripley’s properties in the past few months.

“We got slammed harder than people who fight dogs,” Sandra Ripley said.

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at srobertsjr@vagazette.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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