Stray dogs blamed for cat deaths on James Island
A piercing cry from Andrew King’s pint-size Chihuahua awakened the James Island man and his wife one recent evening. But it was the cacophony of barks and growls outside that had the dog fussing.
Call for help
People whose cats are attacked by dogs on James Island are urged to contact the authorities. Call animal control specialists at the Charleston Police Department at 577-7434 or at the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office at 202-1700.
King stepped from his Kentwood Circle house and into the dark of night. Buttercup, his cat, paced on the driveway and meowed at the commotion down an adjacent cul-de-sac.
That’s where King saw seven medium-size dogs sinking their teeth into his neighbor’s cat. King, 30, yelled and flailed his arms, a display that scared off the pack.
But it was too late. The cat later would die.
What King initially figured was an isolated incident became a general fear for his own small pets this week when he heard that the feral dogs had been constantly preying on other helpless felines. Now, many James Island residents lock up their animals at night and wonder if they should take up arms against the canines running amok.
The dog troop has declared a virtual war on neighborhood cats, King said. The death toll is at least four. But the people here fret that humans will be next.
“Those seven dogs were going to town on my neighbor’s cat, National Geographic-style,” King said. “They’re roaming around at night, killing animals. It’s only a matter of time before it’s a child.”
Contacted by The Post and Courier, King and the owners of several cats slain by the same nocturnal predators want neighbors to know that their furry companions are in danger. At least one homeowners association has distributed emails, alerting residents of the problem and saying a county animal control deputy had caught one of the dogs Wednesday.
They appear primarily after sunset, when they freely ramble through neighborhoods north and south of Fort Johnson Road.
“They travel at night and are creating issues in other areas,” said Charles Francis, spokesman for the Charleston Police Department, which has fielded some of the complaints. “Traps have also been set by the sheriff’s department in areas the dogs are staying during the day when they are not roaming.”
Francis said the police department’s animal control officers advised residents to keep their cats inside at night until the issue is settled.
Chief Deputy John Clark of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said the mutt trapped this week was a stray, but deputies haven’t confirmed that it was a member of any vicious pack.
Deputies set other traps in a wooded area off Stiles Drive in the fork between Harbor View and Fort Johnson roads.
“I don’t want to minimize what people are going through; people care about their pets,” Clark said. “But they need to call the sheriff’s office if these attacks are going on.”
The dogs have been described as terrier mixes weighing about 35 pounds. One appears larger than the others, witnesses said, and their coats vary from short to long hair. Some are tan, some black, some a mix of those colors.
Witnesses and pet owners said the dogs are killing cats for sport and not partaking in flesh.
After the attack he saw, King followed the pack for miles until a police officer arrived. The officer recommended that specialists be called instead, King said.
“People are going to start shooting these dogs because that’s the way we do it out in the country,” King said. “Something needs to be done.”
Guard is up
Kristina Skalak, 28, whose cat, Gray, was mauled before King’s eyes late Saturday, said she lost a pet she took in a decade ago as she attended the College of Charleston.
Skalak was having dinner with friends at the time and returned to her home in the Lynwood subdivision after King called her about the incident.
She found the feline panting heavily on her front porch. Puncture wounds pocked her legs.
Hours later, as the cat lay in an oxygen chamber at a West Ashley animal hospital, a veterinarian informed Skalak that Gray’s sternum had separated and bruised a lung. An estimated $3,000 surgery to repair the damage wouldn’t necessarily work, the vet said. Skalak agreed that her cat should be euthanized.
Now, Skalak keeps Gray’s twin sister, a calico named Cali, inside a room. Cali isn’t allowed outside, a measure taken by many neighbors who have heard about the attacks.
“That cat never left my yard, so this is infuriating,” Skalak said. “Everybody’s got their guard up whenever we hear any kind of barking.”
The attacks typically occur in the late evening or early morning and have popped up throughout a swath of James Island.
About three miles from Skalak’s home, Maggie Branks’ tiger-striped feline, Mikey, appears to be the latest to fall victim to the dogs.
Branks, 53, of Salt Marsh Cove in the Bayview Farms subdivision learned through a phone call early Tuesday that her 10-year-old cat was jumped by the gang of dogs in a neighbor’s yard.
The gruesome scene, in which Mikey’s orange marmalade-colored fur went flying, unfolded in front of a group of neighborhood children.
The witnesses told Branks that one dog first attacked Mikey, then others came running to join the action. Some residents suspect that the pack’s largest dog is a mother teaching her offspring to hunt.
Outside her house Tuesday morning, Branks found her cat in a trash bag, placed there by a police officer who responded to the incident, she said.
“My cat was one of the unfortunate ones,” Branks said. “But these are just cats. What if this happens to a child? Kids probably shouldn’t be out at night, but you never know.”
Branks recalled an evening incident this past spring in which a toddler wandered through a back door and was mauled by two dogs outside his Mount Pleasant home. A relative of the boy’s had been feeding but not housing what the authorities called “yard dogs.”
Residents of the area near U.S. Highway 17 had recalled seeing loose dogs before that fatal encounter.
Animal control officials haven’t ascertained the precise origin of the James Island animals.
One of the earliest cat deaths happened on July 30. Beth Adams, 59, who lives a few houses down from King on Kentwood Circle, said she discovered her cat, Gracie, on the roadside that morning.
As a 15-year-old, Gracie liked being outside. Adams reckoned that the heat soothed Gracie’s aged joints.
Gracie often sprawled under parked cars in Adams’ driveway and never strayed from the yard. But when the cat didn’t come to the door for her morning meal that Monday, as she always did, Adams knew something was wrong.
Adams walked a few houses down and found Gracie’s body. The cat had been bitten and licked: Saliva matted much of her fur coat.
“My other cat, Junior, was sniffing in that area where they killed her,” Adams said. “Now Junior doesn’t even like to go out anymore.
“It’s like he senses something.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.