Although they appeared healthy, and with no indication of abuse other than being found chained outside in the cold and driving snow, at least one of 15 pit bulls taken by police from a wooded area on Toll Gate Road near Kent Hospital shows signs of having fought other dogs.
City officials have questioned whether they will pursue charges against Clifford Dennis when he appears before Judge Joel Gerstenblatt in Municipal Court this evening, because of the wording of the city law. The law prohibits owning more than three dogs at a single domicile, unless the owner has a kennel license. As the pit bulls were not kept at a residence – Dennis’s last known address is in Potowomut although he’s known to sometimes stay in a trailer at the property – the question has been raised whether the city would have to return the dogs to him.
“They have to decide whether to prosecute the case or not,” City Solicitor Peter Ruggiero said yesterday.
City Council President Bruce Place is outraged at the thought Dennis could get his dogs back.
Place learned of the pit bulls from a Dec. 17 call. He subsequently received more calls and, when he heard the dogs were still outside during the blizzard of Dec. 27, he filed a complaint with police. The animals were quickly liberated from 6-foot 25-pound chains, staked beside some small shelters, and taken to the Warwick Animal Shelter.
Dennis was charged with 15 counts of not properly sheltering the dogs; 15 counts of unlicensed dogs; 15 counts of unvaccinated dogs and a single count of possessing more than three dogs.
Col. Stephen McCartney, Chief of Police, could not say yesterday how the city would proceed.
“I see some strengths and some weaknesses,” he said of the city’s case. He said one of the problems is that one or two of the dogs have been adopted. “I wish we had held on to the animal.” He said he has talked with Ann Corvin at the shelter and asked her to keep the dogs until the case has been heard.
“All of these animals are evidence. I would rather wait [for adoptions] out of an abundance of caution.”
Earlier this week, Place received an email from Matthew Adams who, with his fiancée Bethany Calkins McGuire, adopted one of the male pit bulls. Adams has since sent more than 20 pictures of signs of abuse on “Bubba.” Adams worked for two years as an animal control officer for the Narragansett Police Department and was a deputy for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in Florida for four years. McGuire is a certified veterinary technician at Atlantic Animal Hospital and a certified dog trainer with a focus on taming aggressive behavior.
“We began to notice apparent and extensive signs of animal abuse with him,” Adams wrote to Place. “If one of us is sitting next to him and we stand up he will wince and cower profusely. He has a crooked jaw, no left K9 [canine] tooth, missing top teeth and signs of trauma to the face and mouth region. He also has extensive scars on his nose, face, and body area as well as a massive deep scar on his side.”
Adams says Bubba was checked by Dr. Seychelle Ricard at Atlantic Animal Hospital and that he found, “the scar is not from a previous surgery, a dog bite, or like anything she has ever seen in her years of practice.”
He said Ricard found the shape of Bubba’s lower jaw consistent with a break that never was properly treated.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Adams said he believes the dog was used in fights but because of its age – he estimates eight or nine years – would not be of interest to someone fighting dogs.
“He’s a very loving dog,” he said.
Adams said he and his fiancée have a younger pit bull and wanted to get it a companion. They brought their dog to the shelter and, after finding the two got along, brought Bubba home. Even with another dog, Adams said, Bubba freaks out, cowers and hides his head when there is the slightest bit of excitement.
Given what appear to be scars from fighting, McCartney was asked if the department might bring additional charges against Dennis.
McCartney said police have no evidence of how the dog was injured, or for that matter, when it occurred. He said that Dennis told Corvin that the dog sustained the injuries from getting “hung up on a fence.”