Charges possible in dog stabbing

by Sarah Fay Campbell


Clara, a pit bull who had spent several years in foster care awaiting adoption, was euthanized after an incident Sunday at the Newnan PetSmart. 

The investigation is ongoing into the stabbing of a dog Sunday at the Newnan PetSmart store.

There have been news reports from other outlets saying that no criminal charges would be filed. However, it is premature to say that no charges will be filed, said Newnan Police Chief Douglas “Buster” Meadows.

“We are still investigating,” Meadows said Tuesday.

The incident occurred when a pit bull terrier named Clara that was at PetSmart for Newnan-Coweta Humane Society’s weekly adoption event broke loose from her handler and ran up to a female terrier mix dog owned by Craig Emory Hayes, 56, of Newnan.

According to the police report filed by Newnan Police Officer E. Lee, the pit bull ran up to the terrier and started sniffing it. Clara then grabbed the terrier by its ear.

Hayes told the officer that he started kicking the pit bull but it would not let go, and he started yelling for someone to get the pit bull off his dog. Hayes told the officer that after 15 to 20 seconds, no one was helping so he took out his pocketknife and began stabbing the pit bull.

Both dogs were initially treated at the Banfield Pet Hospital located inside PetSmart. Clara was stabbed multiple times and was later euthanized because of the extent of her wounds.

Hayes’ terrier sustained a bite to the ear, and later had to be taken to the emergency vet hospital in Union City, where it stayed overnight for observation, according to Sandy Hiser, a volunteer with NCHS. The dog needed to be transported to the emergency vet because of a clotting problem, according to Hiser, who is also an employee of The Newnan Times-Herald in the graphics department.

The terrier was released early Monday. Hiser said it was her understanding the dog left the veterinary hospital “needing only antibiotics and some ointment.” The humane society covered the vet bills for the terrier, Hiser said.

While he was stabbing Clara, Hayes repeatedly shouted “f***ing pit bull,” according to several witnesses.

Mike Wohler and his fiancée, Teresa Reeves, were at the adoption event looking for a male pit bull when they heard a commotion.

“We were literally there for maybe two minutes when we heard screaming from the front of the store,” said Reeves. “When they (the dogs) first got into the scuffle, the man started screaming and that is what we heard.”

Erin Barr was at PetSmart when the incident occurred. According to Barr, Clara had been taken outside to go to the bathroom. After Clara and her handler came back in, Barr said the man said, “If you bring that f***ing pit bull near me I’m going to stab it.”

Barr said the smaller dog growled at Clara.

Another witness, who asked to not be identified, said she and her family had just walked down the aisle where the dogs available for adoption were located and were standing outside the grooming window. Hayes was speaking to a vet tech and his dog was on its leash on the floor in front of him.

She said that, before Clara bit his dog, Hayes didn’t do or say anything “that labeled him a pit hater. Neither he nor his dog were doing anything wrong at the time.”

The woman said that the pit bull “came charging past me and my family and straight toward this small dog … it was terrifying.”

“My granddaughter was very upset. She kept asking – what if she had her dog with her? He is smaller dog than the one attacked and he would not have survived the attack.”

When they heard the commotion, Reeves ran toward the front of the store, with Wohler close behind.

Reeves said Clara had a hold of some loose skin and hair on the terrier’s neck. The two dogs were standing there, not struggling.

“The guy was just screaming ‘f***ing pit bull, why are you even allowed to have these dogs?’” according to Reeves, and Hayes was pushing and kicking and “making things worse.”

“By the time Mike got up there, he had already pulled out the knife and stabbed her once or twice. I had my arms around the dog,” Reeves said, trying to stop the man from stabbing her.

Wohler came around to the other side and had his hands in Clara’s mouth, trying to get her to let go.

“Clara wasn’t clamped down on the dog. Mike was able to put his hands in her mouth,” Reeves said. “It wasn’t an attack; they were just standing there. It could have easily been broken up,” she said. Instead, the man took out his knife, she said.

“He wasn’t stabbing like he was trying to save his dog. He was stabbing trying to kill this dog,” Reeves said. There was tremendous force to the blows, she said.

The man’s son was screaming for his father to stop, according to Reeves. There was blood everywhere, she said.

Wohler said that when he got to the scuffle, there was already blood. He assumed that the blood was coming from the terrier, but it was coming from the stab wounds on Clara.

“My first instinct was – we’ve got to get these dogs apart,” Wohler said.

As he was trying to pull Clara’s jaws apart, someone from PetSmart sprayed them all with a citronella spray, and Clara released the terrier’s ear.

“He got one more stab into her after she let go,” Wohler said. “I didn’t, at this point, realize he was stabbing her. I thought that he was hitting her.”

He said that Clara sat back and was wagging her tail, with her tongue hanging out, and some of the terrier’s hair on her tongue. People were petting her and he saw the blood flowing. And then her breathing became labored and they could hear gurgling as she breathed. She was wrapped up and taken to the veterinary office.

Wohler said he doesn’t think the man should get away with what he did. “He straight murdered this dog in front of 30, 40 people,” he said. “He didn’t like pit bulls. This just gave him the excuse he needed.”

Hayes told police that “he was defending his dog like he would his child if a dog attacked them,” Officer Lee wrote in the report. “He stated that he was not going to let the pit bull kill his dog and he was also afraid that the pit bull would turn and attack him and his 8-year-old son.”

Hayes was contacted by The Newnan Times-Herald on Tuesday. “There’s so much going on, and they’re vilifying me,” Hayes said.

Clara had been in foster care a long time. One of her advocates, Trish Manns, set up a Facebook page, “Clicks for Clara,” in January 2013. The page shows happy pictures of Clara throughout the time, hoping for a forever home, including one visit to Northgate High School. According to the page, she’d lived more than half her life in a boarding kennel in Peachtree City.

Clara had problems being “dog tolerant,” according to the Facebook page. In a post on Dec. 12, 2013, Manns states she “started this FB page after she was banned from adoption events, in an attempt to get her visibility … she needs some training to be more dog tolerant ...”

Hiser said Tuesday the person who “banned” Clara from adoptions last year was not authorized to do so and the ban did not stand.

NCHS had Clara temper tested by a Ph.D and she had no history of harming other animals, according to Hiser. “A lot of dogs don’t like other dogs. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to have a chance at adoption,” she said.

The man who evaluated her “said she could be trained to be more dog tolerant, and it just really kind of depended on the dog.”

“No one labeled her vicious or anything, but dog reactive,” Manns said.

On Aug. 6, someone posted on the Click’s for Clara page about the PetSmart adoptions. “Have you taken her there? Odd no one will adopt her … maybe try there,” the woman said.

“Clara does not show well at PetSmart; I tried that for several months,” Manns posted in response. “Although she gets a lot of attention, she is too excited by the activity and most people there already have multiple pets. Clara initially needs a human-only family, once she has that she will need some training to become more dog tolerant.”

Manns said Tuesday Clara often got excited at the adoption events, but she attended an adoption event last week at Maguire’s in Senoia and it went well, so the “dog coordinator and I talked and said maybe it was time to try taking her.” It was thought that, if Manns, who spent the most time with Clara and took her on walks, wasn’t there, “maybe she wouldn’t be so hyperactive.

“Everything was done with the best intent and heart, wanting to help her find the home she deserved. She certainly didn’t deserve this,” Manns said.

Clara was not a vicious dog, according to Hiser. “If Clara had wanted that dog dead, if would have been dead,” she said. “If she was vicious, she would have turned on the owner.”

“Clara lived in a kennel and absolutely loved people,” Manns said. She thinks most of Clara’s issues with other dogs came from living in a kennel, where she was deprived of social interaction.

Clara’s wounds were worse than originally thought. “They were so extensive that if she had pulled through, it would have impacted her quality of life,” Hiser said. The dog was stabbed approximately three to six times, according to various reports. The police report cited three stab wounds.

So the decision was made to euthanize her. “It was a heart-rending decision. And the people who made it were the people that loved her and knew her the best,” Hiser said.

There had been some social media reports that NCHS made the decision to euthanize because of the cost of treatment and because they didn’t think Clara would be adoptable after the incident.

That was not the case at all, according to Hiser. They could have raised money to cover the treatment, but euthanasia was the best choice for Clara.

NCHS has always been a major advocate for pit bulls, Hiser said. “Nobody wants to kill her because she’s a pit bull,” Hiser said. “No one is a bigger advocate for pit bulls than NCHS.”

Hiser was asked if the incident would have an effect on future adoption events. “They haven’t contacted us, and we haven’t heard of any new guidelines,” Hiser said of PetSmart.

Company officials issued a statement on Tuesday, saying, “Our top priority is the safety of pet parents and pets in our stores. We are working with the pet parent of the terrier to make sure it makes a full recovery.”

Manns said she called Clara her therapist. “I would literally go [to the kennel to visit her] “after a bad day, and I would come back feeling better.”

What happened to Clara is “one of the hardest things I have ever dealt with,” Manns said.

She hopes that Clara’s story might bring attention to “the plight of other dogs that are stuck in long-term foster care.”

“Everybody wants to help,” she said. “That could be something positive … she wasn’t alone.”

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