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Columbia County Observer

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Pt II: The County 5 Meets Animal Control – Lake City Reporter Not Creditable

The 'hometown' paper's facts don't hold up to scrutiny

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The animal control conversation came to the forefront on March 21, when the issue came up on the agenda during the bi-monthly meeting of the Columbia County 5. After all the facts were presented, the Lake City Reporter, the 'hometown' newspaper', was not creditable.

Thursday, the County 5 Meets Animal Control

Sylvester "Bucky" Nash, county commissionerCounty 5 member Sylvester "Bucky" Nash kicked off the conversation, "There's a lot of response about the dogs, and snatching dogs out of backyards and different stuff like that... What I'm really askin' for, if the board is okay with it: me, the Humane Society and Code Enforcement get together and sit down and talk about these dogs that are in backyards that are -- I'm not talkin' about the ones that are tame or little Chihuahuas or anything like that. I am talkin' about dogs that get out; knock down the elderly; that can attack the children; and what can we do to make it better."

Resident Bonnie Taylor came to the microphone and explained the frustration that everyone feels when they are confronted by aggressive or vicious dogs:

"I live next door to two pit bull dogs. They are not in a fenced yard. Those pit bulls get loose. They're tied to trees all the time; 24 hours a day; doesn't matter the temperature; doesn't matter the weather.... they get loose. They pin the neighbors that are out there walking their little dogs; scare them to death; they call the police. We have filled out the proper forms. We've had them notarized; we've been doing this for over a year. Nothing happens. The dogs are still there."

Animal Control Supervisor Dale Griffin Weighs In

Dale Griffin: Animal Control Director
Dale Griffin listens to Commissioner Nash

Dale Griffin has been in charge of Animal Control for 11 years.

He said, "First off, I want to clear the air of 'At will, taking of animals.' Never, at any time did I propose that, ever... There is a big gap in what we are able to do, from a nuisance standpoint to a dangerous dog standpoint."

Mr. Griffin continued, "Currently, if a dog is confined - and that includes tethering -- as long as he's tethered, we have no recourse if he's in his yard. When he breaks loose and leaves, if we find him off property, we can pick him up. If he's back on property, all we can do is either issue a notice of violation or a citation. That doesn't mean much to people. The fine is 50 bucks. There is a big gap there. We do everything possible within the law that is currently on the books."

The Plan

Mr. Griffin handed out the St. Lucie County aggressive animal ordinance to the County 5.

He said, "Until we have the aggressive dog statute, which I have given you. The first page is a description on what it is; the other two pages are a copy of St. Lucie County's current statute. This is something I would like to look at and maybe adopt for our own code."

Animal Control handout explaing that they can't take people's dogs without due processs
The information provided to The 5 clearly showed that Animal Control could not take dogs off private property "at will."  Click to enlarge

This is the first time the board, or the Lake City Reporter had the plan, a written plan.

The plan that Mr. Griffin presented to The 5 clearly stated:  No animal that is the subject of an aggressive animal investigation may be relocated nor may ownership be transferred pending the outcome of an investigation and/or any hearings related to the determination of an aggressive animal declaration."

Translated into plain English: Animal Control can't take anyone's animal without due process.

Commissioner Witt Spoke Out for Editor Bridges

Newly minted County 5 member Toby Witt came to LCR editor Bridges' rescue.

In the November 2018 election, Mr. Witt won a squeaker: Mr. Bridges endorsed him.

Toby Witt, County CommissionerMr. Witt said, "I can see where the article kind of interpreted this very anti-property rights - that kind of stand. -Unintelligible- I can see why that got interpreted that way: 'Hey, we're gonna go take dogs off your private property.'"

The Plan doesn't say that. It say's the opposite.

Editor Bridges calls out from the audience, then tells The 5,
 "The quote's in the paper"

Editor Bridges calls out, "Can I say something?"

Commissioner Nash: "Go ahead."

Mr. Bridges, from his seat, begins engaging Animal Control's Griffin, who is at the podium.

Mr. Bridges looks over to Mr. Griffin, "We didn't interpret anything. We put in the paper what we were told."

Mr. Griffin responded, "You were never told that, sir."

Chairman Williams invites Mr. Bridges to the microphone, "Mr. Bridges, please come to the podium right here."

Bridges walks over and instead of addressing the Chairman, begins interrogating Mr. Griffin, "Are you saying the quotes were made up?"

Mr. Griffin:  "What you put is your opinion."


Editor Bridges (left) scurried back to his seat when your reporter attempted to photograph him at the microphone. Next to Mr. Bridges is Carl McKinney, the reporter of the article.

Chairman Williams: "You all need to talk to the board."

Mr. Griffin:  "OK. What he put in the paper is his opinion. Yes. I never said we were gonna' 'at will' - there's not even enough time to go over everything that I spoke with the reporter himself about. But never did I say, 'at will' would we go on anyone's property and take their dog."

Mr. Bridges:  "OK, but the quotes in the paper."

Commissioner Nash
Not concerned with the truthfulness of the 'hometown' paper

Mr. Nash weighs in: "Here's my thing. I really don't care. My point is that you raised it to the level that you have. Here is my concern: from the time that dog breaks the chain, until the time the dog is apprehended - what does that dog do?"

Commissioner Williams Defends the 'hometown' newspaper
 "It's pretty close"

Commissioner Williams to Mr. Griffin: Here's what I have found. And I'm not callin' you a liar and I'm not callin' Mr. Bridges a liar, but this is what I'm sayin'. A lot of times when you say things and we don't, don't really comprehend what we are saying and most times - 90% of the times - what the paper write might not be verbatim, but it's pretty darn close to what -unintelligible- what was said."

Mr. Griffin responded, "It doesn't matter at this point. We'll do what we need to do."

The County 5 established a committee composed of Mr. Nash, Mr. Griffin, County Attorney Foreman and three citizens to come up with a solution.

Mr. Griffin thanked The 5 and left the meeting.

Tom Barritt
Humane Society/Animal Control Chief

Saturday afternoon, Tom Barritt, weighed in with the Observer. He explained Animal Control's Griffin's duties: "Dale has been in animal control for years. He oversees the animal control functions. Because of his expertise, he's sort of like a consultant and provides guidance to that side of the house."

Jessica Puls and Donnie Daniel in court
Animal Control cases have been prosecuted in front of the Special Magistrate for sometime. Here, Chief Animal Control Officer Jessica Puls (left) and Donnie Daniel listen to a defendant as the bailiff looks on.

Mr. Barritt on the plan submitted Thursday evening: "What we're trying to do is put something together. What the County has now does not have a whole lot of teeth for addressing aggressive animals...  We don't have anything in our laws that allow us to get out there and address some of the issues that have been brought to us by residents of Columbia County."

Mr. Barritt continued, "There is nothing in what you have been given or given to anybody, where we have ever said that we're going to go on your property and take your animal."

Your reporter asked: "I read the articles and the ordinance and the editorial again, and I said to myself, 'That guy Dale Griffin sounded like an intelligent person; he couldn't misspeak that much where the paper said, 'That's what he said?'"

Mr. Barritt: "I'm not saying he didn't say it because Dale Works for me, I'm saying that because Dale would never say that. He said he didn't say it at the meeting, and he was adamant about that."

Your reporter: "I have one final question, 'How do you think the articles in the newspaper affected animal control?'"

Mr. Barritt: "I think it adversely affected us, because people will have an image of what we are not. We are animal advocates. That's what we are. We're here to support the residents of Columbia County and supporting them on what their wishes are, as well as being an advocate for the animals... We would never say that we're gonna' go and take your property off your property. We would never do that and I don't believe we've ever done that."

Mr. Barritt concluded: "If you read what St Lucie says, 'The animal will be confined by the owner...' Where do they come out saying we're coming in to take your animal?"

Animal Control's Dale Griffin
"I just want to get the job done"

Animal Control Officers Michelle Massee (left) and Jessica Puls
Michelle Massee and Jessica Puls present an animal control case to the Special Magistrate.

Saturday night, Animal Control Chief Dale Griffin weighed in.

Your reporter asked, "How long was your conversation with the reporter?"

Mr. Griffin answered, "Probably 4 minutes. Very brief. I told the guy there was too much to discuss in a short conversation. Too lengthy to talk about over the phone. Obviously, he took everything I said and created his own story. Let me make it clear, I never used the words 'at will.'"

Mr. Griffin continued: "I'm not interested in creating a pissing match with them. I do not want any bad press from them. I don't want to battle with them. I just want to move on and get the job done... We are people that care about the animals and we have to deal with people in the process."

Epilogue

The LCR, in its self-serving follow up article on Friday, in spite of a wealth of evidence to the contrary, held its ground.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On April 2, 2019, a reader from Fort White wrote:

While The 5 are considering an "Aggressive Dog" ordinance they need to consider a minimum care standard ordinance for horses and livestock. Starving large animals push down their fencing and cause highway fatalities!

I would also increase funding to animal control and give them the authority to investigate and further prosecution of large animal/livestock cruelty, because the Sheriff's Dept. doesn't have the training, know-how or bother, generally.

Disgusted in Fort White

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