ETOWAH COUNTY AL - TURKEYTOWN COMMUNITY: EMMA PARKER, 14, RECENTLY RECEIVED AN AWARD FROM THE FOP FOR SAVING HER LITTLE SISTER FROM AN ATTACKING PIT BULL THAT AUTHORITIES BELIEVE HAD "BEEN DUMPED IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD"
Alabama’s law aimed at protecting people and imposing penalties regarding dangerous dogs took effect June 1, about two weeks after an Etowah County family had a horrifying experience with a dangerous dog.
On May 17, Emma Parker, 14, and her sister Leila, who has since turned 9, thought they heard their cat outside their home in the Turkeytown community.
They went outside to look for her, and instead encountered a stray dog that had been hanging around the area for about a week, according to their grandmother, Dee Ragan.
They’d had no problems with the animal; it had come into the yard, but hadn’t seemed likely to harm anyone.
Emma said the dog started following them, then jumping on them — playfully, she thought. But suddenly it attacked Leila.
“At first I thought it was just tugging at her and playing,” Emma said. “But then I saw the blood.”
The dog had inflicted wounds on the girl’s legs and was dragging her. Emma said it dragged her from one end of the house to the other, and was trying to drag her into the woods.
Emma took action. She said Thursday night, when the Gadsden FOP Lodge No. 2 presented her with its first Heroism Award, that she just reacted.
“It’s your little sister. You want to keep her,” Emma said.
She said she started hitting the dog and managed to get it off her sister. But the dog knocked her down and went after the younger girl again. The struggle continued till their grandmother got home and heard Emma’s cries: “He’s got Leila!”
“I thought she said ‘he’s got the cat,’” at first, Dee said. She quickly saw that wasn’t the case.
“I hit it with my purse,” she said. “I got his attention,” so that the girls were able to move toward the house.
They all made it inside, Dee said, but the dog got in the house, too, before they chould shut him out.
He still was coming after Leila. “He chased her all the way into the bedroom,” Dee said.
The girls’ mother, Tabitha Ragan, was asleep after working a night shift.
“I woke up with Leila jumping on one side of the bed,” she said, “and the dog was on the other.”
Again, it was Emma who came to the rescue.
“She had the forethought to get something out of the refrigerator to lure him outside,” Dee said.
Emma said she threw the food she’d gotten outside and the dog went out.
He was outside still when the girls’ grandfather, retired Gadsden police officer Wayne Ragan, came home, having no idea what had happened.
“I was reaching over to pet the dog,” he said.
When Wayne found the scene inside and the injuries to Leila, they rushed the girl to a local hospital. She was transferred to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, where she stayed for 20 days.
Etowah County Deputy Joseph Hutchins was one of the first law enforcement officers on the scene, after Leila was gone. He didn’t know the extent of her injuries, but Emma and her Aunt Jennifer told him about the attack.
The dog wasn’t there either. After Hutchins talked to Wayne on the phone and photos of the injuries were sent to him, he knew they needed to find the dog.
“We started whistling and calling, trying to get the dog to come back,” he said, and it did. Emma and Jennifer went inside, leaving him alone with the dog till other officers arrived.
“I wasn’t too happy about that,” he joked.
But he had reason to be concerned: the dog was a PIT BULL MIX, he said, and it probably weighed 80 to 90 pounds, and it came at him several times.
“I couldn’t get a clean shot at it,” Hutchins said, because the dog was between him and the house. He was trying to keep the dog controlled until animal control officers could arrive.
ECSO Sgt. Chad Langdale approached and the dog charged at him. “He had a clean shot,” Hutchins explained, and he fired, striking the dog twice.
Still, the dog growled and barked and moved toward the officers. It took two more shots to stop it.
Tabitha said Leila is recovering well from her physical injuries. The dog’s body was sent for tests, but Leila still had to undergo a series of rabies shots in addition to treatment for her injuries.
She had some skin grafts, and she has to go to doctors periodically to have those checked, her mom said.
“She’s doing really well,” Tabitha said.
But the attack has had lingering affects.
“She’s scared to get out of the car when we get home,” Tabitha said. “She won’t go outside at all.”
When Emma received her award from the FOP — a plaque, a medal and some other awards — Leila was shy, trying to stay away from the attention.
As far as investigator and the Ragan family can determine, the dog was a stray. Dee said she believes somebody probably dumped it in their community.
There is no way to gauge, without knowing the dog’s history, if that law about dangerous dogs would have impacted this incident or not.
“Emily’s Law” was drafted in memory of Emily Colvin, a 24-year-old Jackson County woman killed in December by two dogs that attacked her outside her home. Her death came less than a month after two dogs attacked and killed Tracy Patterson Cornelius, 46, of Guntersville, in neighboring Marshall County.
The incidents sparked action.
“For too long, no one has been held responsible for the actions of their animals and we have had Alabamians that have been severely injured or killed,” state Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, said.
Livingston sponsored the 2018 bill in the Senate; Reps. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, and Tommy Hanes, R-Scottsboro, sponsored it in the House.
Under the law, if an owner’s dog has been declared dangerous, and the dog then attacks and kills someone, the owner can be charged with a Class B felony, and the courts can order dangerous animals to be humanely euthanized.
Hanes said in a statement that most dog owners are responsible, but “we should throw the book at lazy and irresponsible dog owners who knowingly allow aggressive and dangerous dogs to roam about endangering people.”
The law defines procedures for declaring a dog dangerous and what happens to such an animal. A dangerous dog that has caused serious physical injury can be put down; a dog that hasn’t caused serious injury could be returned to its owner with restrictions to protect people from the dog.
In the attack on Leila, there’s no way to know if the dog had injured anyone previously. For the safety of the community, deputies couldn’t wait for the dog to have its day in court —and ultimately, it might not have mattered.
If it were the dog’s first attack, a judge still would have the option of ordering the dog euthanized. Even if animal control officers had been able to confine the dog, given the protracted nature of the attack, and the extent of Leila’s injuries, its fate might have been the same.