The sound of dogs barking at 6 a.m. on Jan. 30 alerted Toni Ellerbe, of Rockingham, to something that was happening in the woods that back up to her house.
“It sounded like 30 dogs were out,” Ellerbe said.
She said she didn’t go outside because she has no outside lights at the back of her house.
When she got off work the next day, she told her boyfriend, Kenneth Nicholson, who had also gotten off work, what she had heard. After he went to check on the animals, “he came in and his mouth was on the floor,” Ellerbe said.
When she walked outside to look at her six pit bulls, she found three of them dead. “I have never seen anything like it in my life,” Ellerbe said.
The animals had been slashed and brutally killed. One of the dogs had been ripped away from his collar and chain and there was blood all over the ground, she said.
“I didn’t know who to call,” said Ellerbe.
She first contacted the Cooley Veterinary Hospital, in Rockingham, who told her to contact the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. While waiting for the Sheriff’s Office to respond, Ellerbe got a call from Animal Control. Ellerbe said that Animal Control told her it was a State Wildlife Office issue.
Ellerbe tried to contact the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission and accidentally contacted Wildlife Habitat Realty, a realty company in Hoffman.
She talked to the owners, Joe and Abby McDonald, and they gave her a 1-800 number to call for the Wildlife Commission. After calling that number, she was put in contact with the wrong district biologist. Jason Allen, NC wildlife biologist for District 5, gave the call to the North Carolina Wildlife Biologist for District 6, Rupert Medford.
Medford said that he didn’t get a chance to view the bodies of the dogs because by the time he was notified of the killings, they had already been buried. But, he did get a chance to view some gruesome photos that were taken by Ellerbe and Nicholson after the attack.
Two weeks after the attacks, another pit bull of Ellerbe’s was killed, which was also found by Nicholson. “This one was even worse than the last three,” Ellerbe said.
Medford opted not to go to Ellerbe’s house to see the animal because, “it’s not a wildlife issue,” he said.
Even though Medford decided that it wasn’t something he normally deals with, he gave her the best advice he could and offered her some tips on how to find out what was killing the animals. “I informed her of things to do such as raking the area,” he said. Raking the area where the bodies were found would give them a chance to look at prints left by the animal that could be used to determine what the animal was, Medford said.
Medford also suggested that she put up a surveillance camera at the spot of the incident. He said he has to use discretion when placing the Wildlife Commission cameras because he doesn’t want them to be stolen. “I don’t want my camera to disappear,” he said.
Medford said that he turned the case over to Animal Control but Ellerbe said she and Nicholson have not been contacted by the agency since the first time they called her.
“There is no way of knowing what it was,” Medford said of whatever killed the dogs. He said that it could have been another dog or a person that committed the attacks, but there is not enough evidence to make a clear conclusion.
“I don’t know what it was. It was big and vicious and strong,” Ellerbe said.
“This is not a wildlife issue,” Medford repeated, “It is definitely not a large cat or a bear.”
Medford said that as a safety precaution, animals should be kept in the house or in a pen that is completely enclosed.
Ellerbe, who has four children ages 20, 10 and 2-year-old twins, said that she is now afraid to go outside or let her children outside.
Ellerbe and Nicholson have moved their remaining two dogs to houses of family members.
— Staff Writer Laura Edington can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.