It happened to Jennifer’s two miniature horses nearly two years ago. Stray dogs got past her fence and approached them as carnivores on the strike. The tiny horses were slightly larger than the fierce dogs, but they were much more domesticated and much less able to fight in defense or otherwise.
Jennifer found her darlings laying next to one another in the tall grass, barely alive and with their flesh shredded and hanging by the mongrels’ heavy claws and hungry teeth. She and Bobby, her husband, loaded Thunder and Prince into the van, and as much as it pained them, they took photos for evidence in whatever trials lay ahead. They drove to the veterinarian and eventually said goodbye to their dear pets there.
Jennifer wrote her story for the members of MySaline.com, some of which are in the news business, and it quickly spread to the newspaper and television topics. Jennifer was heartbroken, devastated. But she knew she had to speak about it because she knew it would happen again, and feared it could be worse.
She described the attackers as a “pack of dogs” that had been in her Vimy Ridge neighborhood for years. Saline County has an ordinance against stray animals, but as Saline County Sheriff Bruce Pennington said recently on Channel 11’s evening news, “We don’t have the equipment to transport it or to grasp that animal.”
Sheriff Pennington was giving a comment on the subject because this time a child had been mauled. Teenager James Nowlin was walking alone near his house on a snow day out of school when dogs came charging at him and punctured his skin in several places, causing him to need one stitch for each of his 15 years.
I heard the news and went to MySaline to break the story. Jennifer had already been there and wrote the following title for her discussion: “I told Saline County it would happen, and now it has!” I saw the pictures on TV and the boy was bitten all up and down his left leg and arm. The stitches were to stop the bleeding. As a parent, I would be mortified to find that there was a lack of resources for animal control, meaning this type of incident – or worse – was imminent.
What if the boy hadn’t been as old as his 15 years? What if he had a younger child with him? What if nothing is done about this situation?
I remembered that Jennifer had gone to speak to the Saline County Quorum Court in 2008 to speak about the matter. She brought poster-sized enlargements of the photographs she took the horrifying day her miniature horses were mauled. As a friend held the posters up for the court and the audience to see, Jennifer spoke in a quivery voice, begging the Justices of the Peace to find a way to do something about the problem before it happened to someone’s child.
Whether it was the fault of this person or that person or no person, nothing was done, and a Saline County child has now been scarred for life, with medical sutures holding his skin together.
I called the Saline County Courthouse and spoke with County Judge Lannie Fite’s assistant, Joy Ballard. I just wanted to see when the next Quorum Court meeting would be, since some people might want to attend and revisit this issue. She was as friendly as could be and asked whether I wanted to speak at the meeting. It’s on Tuesday, so she had to check to see if she could get me on the agenda.
I took a deep breath at her question and realized that it needed to be me speaking for the people in the county. Though I live in the city limits, I am also governed by the county. I have a JP for my district and I have friends and acquaintances who are also JPs on the Quorum Court. I have a name from MySaline.com and from writing for this award-winning newspaper. It was me who needed to speak.
“Yes,” I said. “Go ahead and put me on there if you can.”
Ms. Ballard assured me that if she couldn’t get me on the agenda at this late time, I would still be able to speak, since the judge always opens public time at the end of each meeting. Then she asked me what I wanted to speak about. I reminded her of the miniature horses that were mauled to death and of the child who was recently mauled as well.
She was gentle with me, asking, “Now you know that the residents voted this down, right?”
“Yes, I know.” She was referring to the 2008 election where residents voted against a tax for animal control by about two to one.
“Do you have a solution?” I don’t know if she thought I was a genius or crazy, but she was as nice as she could be.
“I think that I do.” I explained to her that I had spoken with a few JPs and they had told me that while they would vote for a referendum to the public to vote on Saline becoming a wet county, they would not be the one to introduce it.
“Oh, well that’s another subject entirely!” I could see Ms. Ballard’s eyebrows go up over the phone.
I reasoned that the county is stocked with restaurants selling adult beverages already, and more are on the way. (One is even co-owned by a district judge.) Those restaurants are paying taxes in adjacent counties because they can’t take delivery in Saline. Anybody who wants a glass of wine or a beer in their home must purchase it miles away at the county line and leave their tax dollars there. Baptists, Methodists or otherwise, I’m talking to you.
One nameless local law official told me with concern that a good percentage of those adult beverages purchased from a Pulaski or Garland County store would be opened by the customer before the end of the long trip home. Think of how far it is from the center of Bryant or Benton to the Pulaski County line. If you live in Bryant near the high school, you’re looking at a 10-mile drive round trip. If you live in Benton, you can tack on two to five miles each way.
Look, I don’t expect to turn the county over in a day. I actually expect the response to my speech to be a decidedly neutral, “Thank you for your comments, Ms. Russell.”
I also expect that there will be plenty of strange folks holding hands in a wall against this idea. Those folks would be (man this is going to get me in trouble, but you already know it so here goes…), yes, the church folks and the liquor store folks at the county line. On the other hand, there will be folks that are 100 percent for turning the county wet. But they’ll be doggoned if they’ll speak up for it, because of their elected position or their church position or their family business and the list goes on.
The simple facts are these:
1. According to studies done in Arkansas by Potsdam, the State University of New York, Drunk driving happens more in dry counties because of the drive home.
2. According to my eyeballs and yours, County residents are already buying adult beverages, but other counties are getting the profit and tax revenue.
3. According to Arkansas municipal code, City governments are able, and most certainly will create ordinances for whatever type of sales and/or businesses they prefer or do not prefer in their jurisdiction.
And lastly, the one that will likely get me in the most trouble…
4. According to Acts 17, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 3 and more, drinking is not a sin. Being drunk is.
I conclude with an appeal. I hope that this matter can be approached with the mindset that the resources must come from somewhere. What I am proposing is that the JPs consider it in their hearts and minds whether they want another mauling on their hands. The simple relocation of tax dollars will provide the revenue needed to make this right. Some one of you, please speak up, as I have committed to do onTuesday.
This column appeared in The Courier on Sunday, February 14, 2010. See the archives for more of Shelli’s Columns.