Doberman owners vow to fight Brunswick County's dangerous dog ruling

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

BOLIVIA—Over protests, a county committee upheld a dangerous dog designation for two Doberman pinschers a resident said threatened her in June.

The decision came Monday during an appeals hearing before the environmental health committee of the Brunswick County Board of Health.

Thirty people, many of them sporting paper buttons reading, “Free Teddy & Nina” with photos of the rescued dogs, turned out in support of the dogs and their owners, Larry Kirby and Diane Robinson of Bald Head Island.

The couple’s neighbor, Lori Barfield, testified she felt it necessary to use pepper spray when she arrived home in an open golf cart on the night of June 10 and the dogs charged through her yard on Leopard Frog Court.

“I was certain I was about to be attacked while my daughter watched,” Barfield said.

After the incident, Barfield said she required police escort to and from her home and witnessed the dogs riding the Bald Head Island ferry without required muzzles.

“I urge you to uphold Mr. Yousey’s decision and spare us another terrorizing incident,” she said.

Brunswick County health director Don Yousey signed a dangerous dog order and seizure of the dogs July 9.

Richard Cooper, director of Brunswick County Animal Services, testified the dogs met the county’s dangerous dog rules enacted last year because they behaved in a vicious and threatening manner.

‘Not a danger’

Kirby told the board he did not remember the incident quite the same way Barfield and Bald Head Island police reported it.

He said Nina was off her leash because she has been sick with lymphoma and her throat was swollen.

“She’s an exceptionally gentle dog,” Kirby said. “Neither of these animals have ever had a complaint about them. Nobody was bitten. The dogs were not terrifying anywhere. They’re not a danger to these people. They’re not a danger to anybody.”

Kirby said Bald Head Island would not allow him to build the county’s required enclosure for dangerous dogs. For now, the dogs are being boarded at a Wrightsville Beach veterinarian’s office.

“I want these dogs back home,” Kirby said. “The only person to ever make any complaints is sitting right there,” he added, pointing at Barfield.

Board member Marty Cooke questioned Kirby’s assertion he was about 50 feet away when Barfield encountered Nina and used pepper spray.

Though the dog owners had supporters in attendance at Monday’s hearing, “no individual in this room saw what happened,” Cooke said. “I would’ve done anything I could’ve possibly done with respect to your children. No one saw other than this lady.”

While Kirby acknowledged he wasn’t close enough to see or hear exactly what took place, “you’re making it sound like I was in Shallotte when this happened,” he said, drawing laughter.

Decision upheld

Committee chairman Phil Tripp asked why Barfield was riding around with pepper spray.

She said it was because the dogs confronted her husband in their yard 18 months ago.

“I don’t see people ride around with pepper spray unless there’s a reason,” Tripp said.

Committee member Dr. Daniel Blizzard asked why Kirby and Robinson continued to walk their dogs by the Barfields’ home.

“Our properties form the corner,” Kirby responded. “It’s not an intentional walk past them.”

Yousey suggested the board delay a decision until written testimony could be weighed from friends of the dog owners, an animal behavior specialist and an animal trainer who said the dogs posed no threat.

The committee, however, unanimously voted to uphold the dangerous dog ruling.

Robinson said after the hearing the issue isn’t over and she will take the matter to court with assistance from her attorney, Calley Gerber of Gerber Animal Law Center in Raleigh, who also attended the hearing.

The board of health later discussed a recommendation by Yousey to charge a refundable $150 fee whenever a dangerous dog complaint is made to help offset frivolous cases, especially when such complaints are later dropped, which he said happens frequently.

The board instead recommended consulting county attorney Huey Marshall to assist with the legalities of fining people who do not follow through with complaints.