By Willoughby Mariano firstname.lastname@example.org
That a kindergartner was fatally mauled by roving dogs this week was a shock and outrage to those who live near the school bus stop where he and other children were attacked.
That a small pack of them were loose in a Westside Atlanta neighborhood was not.
Dogs routinely wander the streets in Atlanta’s working class and poor neighborhoods. On any given day, there are so many that Fulton County animal control officers could easily remove 100 dogs from the streets if they had the manpower, said Oliver Delk, director of the county’s animal services.
“It’s such a large number, we can pull that many just by riding by,” Delk said. “The problem is resources. We just don’t have the resources.”
Only 14 animal control officers and a supervisor cover all of Fulton County’s 1 million residents, from Milton in the north to Palmetto in the south. Officers have 24 hours to respond to a call, but try to address vicious animals as quickly as they can.
Logan Braatz, 6, and Syari Sanders, 5, were walking to their bus stop near Gideons Drive in southwest Atlanta when they were attacked, police said. Logan died from his injuries. Syari underwent emergency surgery and remained at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston on Wednesday.
Keeping an eye out for dangerous dogs has become a part of everyday life in these neighborhoods, just as routine as watching for stranger danger or steering clear of abandoned homes. And in recent years, the problem has grown worse, residents said.
They’re not certain why, but local leaders think it’s tied to the real estate crisis that devastated Westside neighborhoods and the economic recovery that is leaving many residents behind. Families forced from their homes by foreclosure or eviction often abandon their pets, said Leida Hardmon, 71, a Washington Park resident who serves on the area neighborhood planning unit (NPU) board that covers nearby Mozely Park, where the attack took place.
“Now we have generations of stray dogs,” Hardmon said.
During an NPU meeting the evening of the attack on Tuesday, elderly residents complained to city council members and other officials that they no longer take walks because of the stray animals. One attendee said he’s seen dogs “as big as horses” charge down the street. Another said she had to chase one off with bear spray.
Drewnell Thomas said her neighbors are worried about a school bus stop in nearby Bankhead that is known for stray dogs and illegal dumping, and she’s worried about the children. She carries a four-and-a-half foot walking stick for safety when she walks her Shih Tzu.
“It’s for the dogs of every breed,” Thomas said. “The ones on four legs and the ones on two legs.”
Syari and Logan were no match for the dogs, Syari’s grandmother Sabrina Williams, 42, said at the meeting. The F. L. Stanton Elementary kindergartners were too small and slow to get away.
“It was like they were trying to eat them, feasting off kids,” Williams said. “My only regret is I couldn’t be there to protect them.”
Williams said she was grateful that officials promised to address the neighborhood’s stray dogs.
“I know we have worse problems out there. Abandoned buildings. Sexual assaults,” Williams said.
For years, the Mozely Park neighborhood was different, said NPU chair Jason Allen. Families typically keep their pets behind fences, but residents have paid less attention to them as they have taken on additional jobs to make ends meet.
Some residents don’t spay or neuter their dogs, while others breed them to make money. Allen and other residents said Cameron Tucker, the owner of the dogs involved in the attack, was one of two or three residents in the neighborhood they suspected of being a backyard breeder. Residents complain that animal control officers are rarely around, or that they come too late.
“We are working with county officials and elected officials,” Allen said. “It seems like the ball just gets dropped.”
Tucker was arrested Tuesday and faces counts of involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct.
Residents who gathered near the school bus stop after the attack said they didn’t know the dogs involved, but the neighborhood is so close knit that they know most of the animals that run loose by sight. Tariao Robertson, 34, showed a picture in his camera phone of one that keeps coming by his house because his is in heat.
“I don’t know if anyone calls animal control,” Robertson said. “But this is an eye opener.”