The dogs that killed five goats in Lecanto are dangerous and should be kept in a secure kennel if they are ever to leave the Citrus County Animal Shelter, County Administrator Randy Oliver ruled Thursday.
During a hearing, Oliver upheld the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control’s declaration for Jack and Jill, sibling mixed-breed dogs owned by Out of the Box Animal Rescue Inc.
Rescue president Robert Schweickert Jr., through his attorney Luke Lirot, agreed during the hearing that Jill was the aggressor and should be declared a dangerous dog. They were unsuccessful in asking Oliver to lift the declaration for Jack.
Both dogs are being housed at the animal shelter following the Feb. 11 attack that killed five goats belonging to Chuck Sanders of Lecanto. Sanders lives a short distance from Out of the Box, which is operating out of the former FDS Disposal site on State Road 44 across from the county landfill.
The property owner, William Ray, says Schweickert isn’t paying rent and he plans to evict him.
Once Oliver signs the order, Schweickert will have 14 days to provide a secure pen for both dogs. He also must pay a $500 annual license for each dog, plus housing fees accumulated daily from the shelter. As of Thursday, the fees were up to about $700 total, shelter director Colleen Yarbrough said.
Before releasing the dogs from the county shelter, animal control officers will inspect the property to ensure Schweickert is fulfilling the dangerous-dog ordinance.
Animal Control Director Lora Peckham said the fact that the property owner plans to evict Schweickert could make that inspection process troublesome.
Peckham testified during the hearing that both dogs have a history of aggressive behavior. Officers who responded to 70 complaints when the dogs were owned by someone in Citrus Hills reported the dogs chasing them and neighbors. Peckham said the dogs chased her back into her own animal control vehicle.
“I watched them chase neighbors,” she said. “I watched them chase other officers.”
Out of the Box rescued the dogs from the shelter after they were placed on a five-day hold as part of county policy that allows rescue groups the opportunity to save dogs that cannot be adopted due to bite or aggressive histories.
Schweickert said he and rescue volunteers were in the process of moving dogs from Floral City to Lecanto when he asked volunteers to place Jack and Jill in an upstairs office with food and water, and close the door.
A volunteer notified Schweickert later on Feb. 10 that the dogs had escaped. Schweickert said he and volunteers looked for the dogs until dark that night and couldn’t find them.
Sanders, who has lived on the nearly 5-acre property for 17 years and has had goats for 12 years, said he came out early in the morning on Feb. 11 and found the goats dead. The dogs aggressively charged a fence that separated the goat kennel from the rest of his property and he considered killing them, but changed his mind.
“Two more dead animals, what is that going to accomplish?” he said. “I basically went through my head, nothing this tragic has ever happened. Not even close to this.”
Since then, he said, he learned the dogs had an aggressive history and that Schweickert was untruthful to him about it.
Schweickert and two Out of the Box volunteers, both Lecanto High School students, told Oliver they had never seen Jack or Jill being aggressive. Schweickert, however, acknowledged Jill as the dominant of the two.
“Jill wears the pants in the family, so to speak,” Schweickert said.
After the hearing, Lirot said Schweickert plans to follow the dangerous-dog ordinance for Jill. He said he didn’t know yet whether Schweickert would appeal in court the ruling for Jack.
Oliver noted in his ruling that it’s unlikely that Jill alone killed the large male goat.
“It’s implausible from a practical standpoint,” he said, “for one dog to take down a goat that’s over 200 pounds.”
This story was updated to include the animal shelter fees accumulated so far for housing Jack and Jill.