Woman attacked by dogs outside of Green Forest

Friday, September 13, 2013 ~ Updated 3:49 PM
Vera Thirkield of Black Diamond, Wash., was sent the the emergency room with multiple animal bites that she sustained while being attacked by three stray dogs outside of Green Forest on Sept. 6.

CARROLL COUNTY -- A vacationing woman was sent to the emergency room with multiple animal bites that she sustained while being attacked by three stray dogs just outside of Green Forest city limits on County Road 1651 on Sept. 6, according to official records.

Vera Thirkield of Black Diamond, Wash., was diagnosed with animal bites during a visit to the Mercy Hospital emergency room, according to hospital records.

She was met at the hospital by Deputy Joel Hand of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office. Hand took a statement from Thirkield about the reason for her visit. In that statement, she said she was helping her husband back up their recreational vehicle when she was attacked by three dogs. She also stated the dogs belonged to Susan Hammame.

Hand's record of Hammame's statement said that the dogs were all strays that had been abandoned near Hammame's property. The biggest of the dogs was abandoned seven months ago by Hammame's son's ex-girlfriend.

Hand informed Hammame that the dogs must be caught and quarantined and studied to determine if they were rabid. Hammame told Hand the biggest of the dogs was already caught and that she would not catch or quarantine the others because she was not the owner, according to Hand's incident report.

"I feel very sorry for the lady. I don't know what happened because I wasn't home, but this is something that shouldn't have ever happened," Hammame said in an interview after the attack.

People often abandon dogs near Hammame's property, and along with running the multiple strays off of her property nearly every evening, Hammame has spoken with multiple organizations to abate the problem, she said.

"I have called the sheriff's office, animal control, the humane society and the health department from Harrison, and they all said they didn't have any facilities or room to deal with them," Hammame said.

Stray dogs and animal attacks outside of city limits are reported to the sheriff's office and do not fall under the jurisdiction of municipal animal control offices. Carroll County does not have a county-level dog catcher to deal with such problems.

"[Hammame] has done everything she is supposed to," Hand said. "I don't see that this was a case with a vicious pet owner, and she is trying to make amends."

Hand continued to explain that there is no county leash law and he considers it unlikely that people would vote for one because his office gets more complaints about stray dogs chasing cattle rather than attacking people.

Protocol for this situation is to quarantine and study the dogs for rabid behavior and update all the dogs' vaccinations before they are released, said Matt Bodson of the Department of Health in Harrison.

The owner is responsible for the quarantine. If the incident happens outside of city limits with strays, then the animal will be euthanized and sent to a lab for the Department of Health to analyze, the cost for which and catching the animal is the responsibility of the victim, Bodson said.

If Carroll County were to enact legislation and appoint a county dog catcher, they still would lack a place to keep the strays they catch. The local rescue organizations and humane societies are booked full of dogs, according to officials from Unconditional Love Dog Rescue and Good Shepherd Humane Society.

"I don't think people could even begin to realize how big the problem is," said Diane Ferguson of Unconditional Love. "I don't know how a dog rescue or humane society could not be full, you can't ever not be full."

The rescue groups and humane societies can only store dogs, not catch or retrieve them, and a recent influx of canines have made that even more difficult.

"The shelter tries to work with people, but the problem is we don't have the ability to go and pick up animals," said Janice Durbin, manager of the Good Shepherd Humane Society. "We always have a waiting list for animals to come in, for dogs and cats both. The number of dogs that have been dumped this year seems to have been increased though. I can't actually pull out numbers, but we are feeling it and other rescues are feeling it too."

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