Dog snatched out of his yard and jailed
Randy Flowers and Pamela Selig allege that City of Columbia animal control officers came into their yard and took their pet, Apollo, with no warning because their neighbor complained about his barking.
“I came home from work to find my dog gone and a note on our door telling me they had taken him because he was acting aggressive,” a frustrated Flowers said after the hearing. “Those officers said that he barked at them and that he was antagonistic toward them. Well they were in his yard. Why wouldn’t he bark at them? Then they threw a net over him and hauled him over the fence. He was scared and mad. Now they won’t let us get him out of the pound.”
“ We have two Chihuahuas that were also in the yard,” she said, her voice cracking. “They left the other two dogs alone and took Apollo to the pound, put him in a little cage with a concrete floor, and they wonder why he growls at them. Apollo sleeps with us, he plays with the Chihuahuas, and he’s never been caged in his life, and now he’s in one and he has no idea why. He’s used to sleeping on furniture and the bed and now he’s on a cold cement floor. They won’t even let me take him a blanket.”
Marli Drum, superintendent of the Columbia Animal Shelter said the blanket issue is about keeping the cages clean, not punishing the dog.
“We do provide blankets for elderly or sick animals and the very young ones,” she said.
“But to give each animal a blanket would create a laundry load we aren’t prepared to handle. The cages are washed down daily, and blankets would have to be changed then. We just don’t have the manpower for that.”
Apollo was taken February 17, and the city has cited the couple with fines of almost $ 1,000. They said they would pay the fines but now the city wants them to build a new fence around their back yard that would assure the dog couldn’t get out.
Flowers and Selig said that’s ridiculous because the dog has never gotten out of the yard in the entire time they have lived there.
“Apollo has never even tried to get out,” Selig said. “He stays in the house most of the time anyway. But he loves his yard and he doesn’t ever try to escape.”
Drum said the officer stated that the dog was not properly contained in the yard.
“ The gate wasn’t secured that well at all,” Drum said. “It was being held up with a baby gate and recycling bin and a dog of his athletic abilities could easily jump the four-foot tall fence.
Selig and Flowers ardently denied that Apollo could jump that fence.
“The gate is not being ‘secured’ by a baby gate and a recycling bin. Those things are there to keep our twoand a- half pound Chihuahua from getting out of the fence. If the officer would have paid attention to the fence instead of dragging Apollo over it by his neck, he would have seen that the gate is completely secure.”
Apollo’s owners said that their dog is miserable at the pound, and he doesn’t understand what he’s doing there.
“I go visit him and as soon as he sees me, he wags his tail and licks my hand,” Selig said tearfully. “He’s never been caged before, and he always gets treats and a soft bed. Now he’s in that awful cage with a cold floor, and there’s no way to explain to him that we are trying to get him out. And now they’ve told me I could no longer bring him treats.”
Drum said that Selig was bringing Apollo food that could possibly upset his stomach, and that’s why they stopped allowing her to feed him.
“ We keep all of the animals on Science Diet here so their digestive systems don’t get traumatized,” Drum said. “ The dog’s owner brought him a cheeseburger, and we can’t be responsible for what that could do to his stomach.”
Selig said that the pound wanted her to sign off on Apollo, and she refused. Flowers said that this is just a power game for Drum.
“She doesn’t like pitts, and she wanted us to let her murder our dog,” he said. “We will never do that. We love Apollo, and this fight isn’t over. We are going to get him back. Now the city is making an example of him. They are saying they can come on your property and take your dogs from your yard. That is dead wrong.”
Drum said she harbors no dislike for any breed of dog.
“I love animals in general and have over the years owned all different breeds of dogs,” she said. “This was nothing personal. A neighbor complained, and an officer went to the home to investigate the complaint and found the dog to be aggressive. Now it’s in the hands of the courts.”
Deloris Mungo, an animal rights advocate and volunteer with Pawmetto Lifeline agrees that Flowers has a point about how the dog was taken.
“The laws are so vague and poorly written that no one has any actual guidelines,” she said. “If the animal control officer can walk into a fenced-in yard and take an animal at will, then there needs to be some new legislation. In my opinion, if Richland County requires a warrant to search private property, why would the city ordinance supersede the county ordinance? Any dog will bark at an intruder that comes into its yard. That’s what they are supposed to do.”
Mungo said that during a recess in the hearing, she was talking to Flowers’ and Selig’s lawyer, Katrina Wright, when one of the animal control officers involved walked past them muttering a derogatory remark.
“He walked past us and said ‘lawyers and prostitutes…. don’t have much need for either one.’ I looked straight at him and asked Katrina if she heard what I heard. She said she did.”
The accused officer, Dennis Flory, was the same officer that took Apollo from his yard. He called the lawyer later in the day and apologized, Mungo said.
“But he hasn’t apologized to me yet,” Mungo said. “And if Katrina is the lawyer…then what does that make me?”
Another passer- by heard a similar remark from the same animal control officer and has sent a letter to Columbia City Police Chief, Randy Scott. Drum said that she was unaware of any altercation at the hearing.
When the officer was asked for a comment by this reporter, he declined.
What bothers Mungo and many other people at the hearing is that this is the caliber of person who is in charge of animals in the city.
“How can you feel safe and know that your animals are getting humane treatment with people like this man in charge of them?” Mungo said.
Flowers may have articulated it best.
“They call that road that the pound is on HUMANE Lane…..and then they steal our pet and throw him in a cage. What a joke.”
Jane Brundage, cofounder of Pets Inc. in West Columbia said that while this particular incident is indeed awful, pet owners across the Midlands need to worry.
“If these laws pass in Richland County, animal control officers will be able to take your animals from your yard if a disgruntled neighbor complains. Two other shelters offered to house Apollo at the hearing, but the city refused. Why? He would get better care and not be so traumatized. These shelters would have housed him for free, but the city refused. Why not alleviate tax payer dollars and let Apollo be in a better environment”
Other advocates echoed Brundage’s sentiments.
“ This is simply a power play for Marli,” one animal advocate who asked for anonymity said after the trial. “It’s happened over and over. She could care less about the animals. She’s just making a stand and letting everyone know she’s in charge. I doubt seriously that Apollo will get out of this alive. She will figure out a way to kill him.”
Drum said that after the March 21 hearing, Apollo would be returned to his owners but depending on the outcome of the trial, they may have to make some changes to his lifestyle.
“If the dog isn’t found to be aggressive, he will be released and go back home as is,” she said. “If he is deemed to be aggressive there are certain changes that will have to be made. They will have to do something about the fence, which they may not want to do since they are renters. He will have to be kept in a kennel of some sort or secured on a chain. When he goes out, he will have to be muzzled and as with all dogs in public, he will always have to be on a leash.
Brundage said that Selig and Flowers may get Apollo back, but after this horrific experience, he will be a changed dog.
“He’ll probably never be the sweet dog he was before that agent dragged him over the fence and threw him in a cage,” she said. “This will teach him fear and to not trust humans. It’s such a shame.”
The courtroom was full on Monday with animal advocates and people who didn’t even know Apollo’s owners. They all said they were just coming to make a stand for the unfairness of the incident.
“ This dog did absolutely nothing,” one rescue worker said in the hall. “This is wrong on so many levels that you can’t begin to count them. Marli Drum and that agent that took the dog should be ashamed of themselves.”
Brundage said this was a sad and sordid story, but it was not a one time thing.
“Columbia residents need to understand that if the Richland County Council passes the new animal ordinances that are before them right now, the next time, it could be you that has your pet taken from your yard. It could be you begging for your pet’s life. People need to get involved and let the city of Columbia and the Richland County Council know how they feel.”
When the judge announced a March 21 postponement of the hearing and said he wouldn’t release Apollo until then, the room’s reaction was everything from shocked gasps to open weeping. As they left the court room people kept going up to the couple and hugging them and saying how sorry they were. Selig tearfully thanked the people but her main concern was her pet.
“I just can’t believe he has to stay in that awful place for another two weeks,” she said. “He hasn’t done one wrong thing. He’s never bitten anyone or gotten out or hurt a soul.
You just can’t explain it to him like you could to a person. This is so awful. We’re willing to pay the fines. Even people accused of murder can get out on bail. Why won’t they let us have our dog at home?”
As we go to press with this story, Pamela spoke to the Star. “When I went to visit him today, another dog that was very aggressive was placed in the cage next to Apollo. When I sat down to pet him, that dog charged his cage and was growling and gnawing at the bars. Of course Apollo growled back and tried to protect me. My biggest fear is that the city will deem that as aggressive behavior and put him down. I can’t hold him, I can’t do anything but pet him through the bars. That mean dog was there for the first time today. I don’t know why they put him next to Apollo. He’s going to torture my baby. And Apollo is going to be there for two more weeks, and we can’t do one thing to help him.”
It should be noted that last week The Columbia Star ran an article about another pitt bull, Knolla Grace, who was picked up by the same officer, Dennis Flory. Knolla Grace and another dog of a different breed had gotten out of their fence. Witnesses and the dog owners said that Flory returned the other dog to their yard but took the pitt to the pound. While she was there, the pound had another break-in and Knolla Grace was taken. She’s been missing ever since. Some of the other stolen dogs were found in the Bamburg area where authorities believe they are being trained to fight. There is a $ 1,000 reward for her return.
There were several break- ins at the pound where only pitt bulls were stolen. Carey Shealy, owner of Statewide Security Systems, installed surveillance cameras for the pound at no cost. One thief was caught on camera, but he was wearing a hooded jacket and never looked directly at the camera. Shealy said he just wanted to help catch the dog thieves and had the means to do so. Brundage said Shealy did the same thing for Pets Inc. in West Columbia.