Police seek answer after dogs attack

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At least three agencies are investigating a weekend dog attack that left a 2-year-old Augusta boy hospitalized in critical condition.

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Bill Swint points to the fence dividing his yard with his neighbors', where his 2-year-old great-grandson Damien Chavous was mauled by four dogs. Mr. Swint said he's not sure how the child was able to climb the fence.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Bill Swint points to the fence dividing his yard with his neighbors', where his 2-year-old great-grandson Damien Chavous was mauled by four dogs. Mr. Swint said he's not sure how the child was able to climb the fence.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Family and Children's Services confirmed Monday that it is looking into Friday night's attack on Damien Chavous, as are the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and Augusta Animal Services.

The child remained in critical condition Monday at Medical College of Georgia Hospital, but Bill Swint, his great-grandfather, said the family is encouraged because he is moving his arms, legs and eyes.

The family says it is still unsure how the child got over a neighbor's fence in the 3600 block of Belair Road, where he was attacked by four dogs.

"We really feel bad about this, but who's to say his mother's at fault?" he said Monday. "How in the world were we supposed to know he would get over that fence?"

Family members said the child was playing unattended for about 10 minutes on his family's deck before they noticed he was in the other yard.

Mr. Swint said Damien's mother was making a bottle for her 2-month-old while Damien rode his tricycle on the deck. Because the deck gate was locked, the family did not expect the child to be able to get off it. The yards are also separated by a 4-foot fence.

"The gate is always closed. The backyard is fenced in," Mr. Swint said Monday. "I've lived here 45 years, and we've never had a kid climb over that fence."

The sheriff's office could file charges including negligence against the great-grandparents and Damien's mother, said Richmond County sheriff's Sgt. Ken Rogers. The animals -- which were being cared for by a local woman, Shirley Barnes, as part of her animal rescue operation, Hearts for Animals -- were confined in the neighboring backyard, Sgt. Rogers said.

Though the sheriff's office is also investigating Ms. Barnes, he said, there are no indications that she is at fault.

"The owner of the dogs hasn't done anything wrong as far as we can see, but have dogs in her yard," Sgt. Rogers said.

There were six dogs in the yard at the time of the attack, but only four were involved, said Augusta Animal Services Director Diane Downs. One dog was in the front yard at the time of the mauling. Another ran away when Animal Services arrived Friday night, Ms. Downs said. The five dogs that were at the home are being held at the animal shelter pending an investigation into whether their rabies shots are up to date.

"A local veterinarian is helping us determine whether all these dogs were vaccinated properly," Ms. Downs said. "No charges are pending related to the attack because the animals were confined to the yard."

There have been problems in the past, however.

Animal Services had been called to the residence several times over the past three years, Ms. Downs said. Four leash-law violations are pending against Ms. Barnes from 2007. In December, she received an animal cruelty complaint because she had more than 15 dogs at the address. Georgia dog owners can have no more than seven pets at their residence. Ms. Barnes has been in compliance with that law since January, Ms. Downs said.

Ms. Barnes is not registered as a licensed animal rescuer in Georgia, Ms. Downs said. But Ms. Barnes said she has rescued animals for more than three years.

"These dogs had been abandoned, and I took them in," she said. "I've done nothing wrong."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

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Nammy3
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Nammy3 07/14/09 - 12:38 pm
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RL~tell me you wouldn't look

RL~tell me you wouldn't look "guilty" too if your freedom was suddenly snatched from you after having done what they did to that child? Just being placed in such a small area after having free rein will do that to them too. Even if the dog hadn't been involved in an attack. {take a look at the one that was in the front yard and tell me you don't see that same "look"}

Nammy3
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Nammy3 07/14/09 - 12:43 pm
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Oh yeah, while I'm here let

Oh yeah, while I'm here let me address AAQ~~Oh yes, I did! As a single parent too! 3 young-uns. If I needed a shower, they came with me and played in the bathroom while I showered! If I had to use the bathroom, again, they came with me! {or maybe in bed sleeping,} If I was cooking in the kitchen they were there either, "helping"-lol, or playing right beside me. Had there been ANY supervision at all during this, his injuries wouldn't be nearly as bad as they are. But mine taught me well that stuff like this very thing can happen even when you are there. {You betcha, after all this, Mama will be THERE now! She'll be taking so many precautions, it won't even be funny.}

purmkinhed
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purmkinhed 07/14/09 - 12:46 pm
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You hope nothing happens to

You hope nothing happens to the dogs! Are you freaking crazy woman! Once they have attacked they will attack again. Those dogs need to be put down. Period! Now what I want to know is how the owner of the dogs is allowed to run a "dog shelter" in a residential neighborhood??? Surely not all rescued dogs are sweet little puppies. Some have been abused and forgotten (poor things) and are mean spirited. The owner of such a place is responsible for those animals and perhaps even the city for allowing her to run a shelter without a license and liability insurance. If I was the family of that little boy I'd hire me a good ole lawyer from Atlanta!

dani
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dani 07/14/09 - 12:48 pm
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lady..The dogs were kept at a

lady..The dogs were kept at a vacant house. They were alone.

Nammy3
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Nammy3 07/14/09 - 12:50 pm
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Yeah, that's what I've heard

Yeah, that's what I've heard purmkinhed. They get the "taste of blood," it's all over for them. Or so they say. I honestly wouldn't know, I only had one dog in my life and she died week before last...had her 15 yrs!! NOTHING like this EVER came close to happening.

HillGuy
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HillGuy 07/14/09 - 12:55 pm
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There is NO excuse why

There is NO excuse why parents would keep their eye off a 2 year old long enough that he was able to leave the yard and climb into a neighbors yard. The dogs were only doing what they knew to do, protect their property from what they thought was an intruder. It is not like the dogs left their yard and jumped the fence and attacked the child. Negligent parenting is what is at fault here, not the dogs. It would be a travesty to see these animals destroyed.

purmkinhed
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purmkinhed 07/14/09 - 01:01 pm
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Vacant of not it was in a

Vacant of not it was in a residencial neighborhood. With it being a vacant house makes it even worse for the dogs were unsupervised! Nammy, although that is true in most cases, it is not in all. Not all dogs that bite need to be put down. It depends on the situation. In this case it seems to me that those dogs were just flat out visious. And it also seems to me that the owner wasn't feeding them often enough and maybe that's why they attacked that poor child. An animal doesn't need to look malnourished in order to be in servere pain from hunger.

purmkinhed
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purmkinhed 07/14/09 - 01:12 pm
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HillGuy, How would you feel

HillGuy, How would you feel if that was your son? Would you still want to save those poor ole mean doggies???? Or would you have gotten out your shotgun? Although I'm all for saving those poor animals that people abandon with glee and are so irresponsible as far as spaying, netuering and having their shots done. When a dog feeds like that they usually are never the same and need to be put down. If you feel so strongly about it then how about this... You adopt them!

buckydog1
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buckydog1 07/14/09 - 01:16 pm
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punkin, you have any dogs?/

punkin, you have any dogs?/ If So ,do you ever leave your house? Enough said. By the way, your screen name seems to be apropriate.

Debster
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Debster 07/14/09 - 01:23 pm
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Let's get this straight ...

Let's get this straight ... the dogs were minding their own business when a kid scales the fence and comes right on over. Yet, mom and another adult are BOTH inside? This is stupidity at its most obivious. NEVER, I repeat NEVER, leave a child unattended. I have two children - a 4 year old and an 8 year old and I still don't let them go outside by themselves. If I have to come inside, they are right behind me! And, speaking to the ranter about fences being made to climb, my kids have NEVER climbed our fence to get into a neighbor's yard. They have been taught that that's not acceptable. Perhaps this little boy should have been taught the same thing. Tragic? Absolutley. But, the dog owner's fault? No way!

Tujeez1
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Tujeez1 07/14/09 - 01:54 pm
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sjgraci....."Barking at all

sjgraci....."Barking at all hours of the day is against the law." Can you give me the legal barking hours for the Eastern Daylight Time Zone?

gnx
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gnx 07/14/09 - 02:01 pm
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I don't understand how the

I don't understand how the grandfather is 'not sure' how the child managed to scale the fence. Any small child with working arms and legs is fully capable of scaling that fence with ease. Little ones are not only quick and curious, they are quite capable of disabling or getting around any child-proof device you choose to employ. Five or ten minutes is more than enough time for even the best behaved youngster to find trouble without looking for it.

Tujeez1
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Tujeez1 07/14/09 - 02:03 pm
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Pumkinhed......you need to

Pumkinhed......you need to grow a new pumkin....that or gets some new seeds.

Nammy3
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Nammy3 07/14/09 - 02:14 pm
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Mom arrested on "Breaking"

Mom arrested on "Breaking" story....

lynnsay22
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lynnsay22 07/14/09 - 02:19 pm
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I looked at those pictures

I looked at those pictures and for whoever said those dogs look vicious.....you are crazy. Those dogs just look scared just as you would if you were locked up in a cage not really knowing what's going on. It is absolutely completely the adults fault. If there was more than one adult in that house, which it seems, then someone should have been watching him. Think of it this way, if that child had came into your yard like that and your dog attacked him because your dog was protecting his (and your) property, would you want your dog to be killed? Hell no!! I love my dogs and yes one of my dogs will protect what is hers. If this had happened to me, I would fight like hell to keep my dog alive. I hope the child will come out of this alright. But I also hope that the people who are TRULY at fault are punished. It's a shame leaving your 2 year old child playing on the deck alone....locked gate or not. Bad stuff happens and you have to do what you can to prevent it. And that means keeping an eye on your children who have no idea what is safe or unsafe.

LP.SAV
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LP.SAV 07/14/09 - 02:49 pm
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Dogs would have only attacked

Dogs would have only attacked if they were vicious, hungry, and/or if they felt threatened by or JEALOUS of one of the OTHER DOGS (if the owner had been "feeding and watering" them properly every day). If the owner had been simply throwing food over the fence, and not feeding them individually, they would have fought over the toddler when he entered "their area" as if he were food.
At this juncture, these dogs should not be kept alive. They are not suitable to use as pets or in any capacity if there will ever be any type of animal contact, including human. I have seen well kept dogs attack other dogs, humans, and wildlife for no reason, except they had tasted blood before.
I'll pray for the little boy and his family. Young parents have to learn to think about the consequences of everything their children are doing at all times.

purmkinhed
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purmkinhed 07/14/09 - 03:00 pm
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That's right y'all attack the

That's right y'all attack the other persons name like a child that you all are. Y'all just hate the fact that I'm right!!! LMAO

hotmama64
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hotmama64 07/14/09 - 03:01 pm
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i agree with lp@sav that is

i agree with lp@sav that is all true

emergencyfan
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emergencyfan 07/14/09 - 03:28 pm
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This bloodlust nonsense that

This bloodlust nonsense that pumpkinhead and LP keep going on about is a bunch of bull. This is the same sort of mentality of the people that tell you to let your dog have puppies so she'll get "mean and protective" and make better guard dog (instead of spaying like a responsible pet owner). My dog is a rescue and I couldn't ask for a sweeter or more loyal companion, in fact, she's better behaved that most children I come in contact with. Separate these dogs from their "pack" and put them into loving homes with people who will spend some time training them. The dogs apparently didn't attack the Uncle who rescued the boy (at least there was no report of him being bitten) so they don't sound "vicious" to me. Vicious dogs would have attacked the Uncle as well.

truthisstillhere
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truthisstillhere 07/14/09 - 03:51 pm
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i think it unfair to brand

i think it unfair to brand these dogs as vicious at this time......no one was in that yard to see what that little boy may or may not have done to the dogs to set them off.......they may not have just attacked because he came over the fence......perhaps he started pulling tails, hitting them, or something else.....no one was there and unfortunately the dogs can't say.......perhaps it was one of the dogs that started and as natural instinct some of the other may have jumped in........in my experience truly vicious dogs would jump a 4ft fence just to get to someone, yet these dogs never jumped the fence or dug a hole out of the yard to get to the boy before, and from all accounts the child was left unattended in the yard previously......a natural reaction does not make a dog vicious

lynnsay22
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lynnsay22 07/14/09 - 04:56 pm
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honestly if these dogs were

honestly if these dogs were truly vicious they would be attcking each other as well. and i have heard nothing about any of the dogs fighting each other. just something to think about

Happy Camper 455
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Happy Camper 455 07/14/09 - 05:24 pm
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Wrong again.

Wrong again.

Happy Camper 455
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Happy Camper 455 07/14/09 - 07:48 pm
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Nammy loves animals more than

Nammy loves animals more than people. Nammy cares more about the poor precious pups who have lost their freedom than she does for the poor child fighting for his life. That just makes me sick. YOU make me sick.

Nammy3
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Nammy3 07/14/09 - 07:53 pm
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And where the hell did you

And where the hell did you get that idea? Then go puke!

HillGuy
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HillGuy 07/14/09 - 08:03 pm
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What if the child had scaled

What if the child had scaled the fence and drowned in a pool in the yard? Is it the fault of the pool owners? I say its the fault of the parents of the child for being negligent. This child could have just as easily ran out in the road and have been struck by a car. It takes quite a while for a 2 year old to scale a fence. Why were the parents not watching this child. Any number of things could have happened to this child because of the negligence of the parents.

purmkinhed
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purmkinhed 07/15/09 - 12:56 pm
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I never said the parents

I never said the parents weren't at fault. What I wanted to know was why she was allowed to run an animal rescue shelter in a residential neighborhood? And yes she does bare some responsibility!

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